Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Film Appreciation - Another Name for Mars Is Death

Film Appreciation leaves orbit as Cody Hamman discusses It! The Terror From Beyond Space.

If you put Edward L. Cahn's 1958 film It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Mario Bava's 1965 film Planet of the Vampires in a blender, the resulting mixture would be something a lot like Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien. Alien feels very much like Planet was the direct influence for its first half, while the second half is based on It! Watching It! now, it really does come off as being "Alien before Alien", and in recent years I have taken to watching it much more often than I watch Alien. While I grew up with Alien, I find that I have to be in a very specific mood to watch it and enjoy it. If I'm not in that right mood, its tone and pace can be rough to sit through. It! is the sort of a movie I can easily watch at any time, because it's a simple little black & white, 69 minute long creature feature that wasn't aiming to be anything more than an entertaining B-movie... and yet it did have a huge impact on the world of cinema, thanks to the influence it had on Alien.

The story, crafted by Jerome Bixby, is set in the far-off futuristic year of 1973, United States Space Command has sent a spaceship to Mars for the first time ever. Unfortunately, the ship cracked up on landing, communication was lost, and it took six months for a rescue ship to arrive. When the second ship got there, they found that the mission leader - Colonel Edward Carruthers, interplanetary space travel pioneer and the first man ever to be shot into space - is the sole survivor. According to Carruthers, the entire rest of the crew was massacred by some kind of Martian beast. That's a story most of the rescue crew find hard to believe, especially when one of the corpses is sporting bullet holes. Carruthers explains that by saying the crew had bullets flying everywhere when the monster was attacking, and whoever fell by friendly fire was spared being killed by the creature.

That explanation doesn't do him any good. Carruthers is considered a prisoner on board the rescue ship, and he will face a court martial when they get back to Earth in four months.

Never mind four months, It! barely lets four minutes go by before we're given visual proof that the monster responsible for killing Carruthers' crew has made its way on board the rescue ship. When the ship takes off, Carruthers and the crew are now trapped with this bloodthirsty beast. It claims its first victim before the 20 minute mark, leaving more than two-thirds of the movie to deal with the crew's desperate struggle to survive riding through space with this thing.

I'll be honest, I couldn't tell you who's who with most of these people, there aren't many standout characters other than Carruthers and a couple others, so I get the crew members mixed up. I don't mind, they're just fodder, people for the monster to pick off one-by-one. They may not be interesting, but they're certainly proactive, coming up with several different methods to try to kill the creature before it gets them. Electricity, radiation, fire, explosions, bullets, they're all put to use. Yes, they are able to set off explosions and fire guns on board this ship without compromising it. That's one well crafted vehicle. Even though the creature can tear through its doors with no problem.

At one point, a welding torch is used to protect someone from the monster, which is very reminiscent of how the crew in Alien carried around flamethrowers.

The crew in Alien is certainly more memorable than the one in It!, and Scott's film also has an advantage when it comes to the design of its monster. The Alien xenomorph is iconic, while It! is kind of goofy looking and very obviously just a man, in this case a fellow called Crash Corrigan, making his way around the set in a bulky rubber suit. It works just fine for this movie, though. The suit was designed by Paul Blaisdell, who didn't have Corrigan's measurements when he was putting together the suit, therefore it didn't fit perfectly. In fact, the monster head didn't fit Corrigan's head well at all - his chin juts out of the monster's mouth, and had to passed off as its tongue.

It may be more dangerous than the xenomorph, though. When the creature attacks people, it drains every bit of moisture from their bodies - blood, bone marrow, glandular secretions, everything. Those who get too close to it have something worse to deal with than acid blood. They become infected with a bacteria that attacks bone marrow and causes a condition like leukemia. I'd rather deal with the xenomorph than something that could give me an illness like that.

I usually don't like to reference one movie too much when writing up another, at least when it's not a Remake Comparison, but it's nearly impossible not to bring up Alien when discussing It! You really could do a Remake Comparison type of article for those two, it's so clear that It! inspired Alien.

Taken on its own terms, though, It! is good old school fun that fits the bill anytime you want to spend an hour taking in some fun, fast-paced sci-fi horror. It drops its characters into a desperate situation with a nightmarish but not so visually impressive monster right away, throws a bunch of action at you, then lets you get on your way before it wears out its welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment