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It! The Terror from Beyond Space

One of the more memorable rubber-suit-space-monster B-movies from the 1950s, It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) has a singular claim to fame. According to the text on this MGM Midnite Movies edition: "The film's plot was neatly lifted nearly 20 years later and used as the basis for the enormously successful ALIEN." Well, hardly, though we can't fault MGM's PR department for taking advantage of such a good legend. Okay, the superficial similarities between this modest trapped-in-a-spaceship-with-a-killer-alien flick and 1979's Alien are plain as day. However, we can also point out It!'s resemblance to a memorable predecessor, The Thing from Another World, an alikeness freely acknowledged by It!'s screenwriter. And before any of them, magazine-reading science fiction fans enjoyed author A.E. Van Vogt's "Voyage of the Space Beagle" series, which possessed enough points of contact with both It! and Alien that both Van Vogt and representatives of It! sued the producers of Alien, claiming plagiarization. In Hollywood we call that the circle of life.

Granted, the plot — professional explorers/soldiers/monster-hunters/whatever are picked off one by one by the titular terror — has been done time and again in the movies. This time it's set in the distant future year 1973. Col. Edward Carruthers (Marshal Thompson, familiar to fans of Fiend Without a Face, also '58) is the only survivor of a doomed expedition to Mars. A rescue ship has arrived to bring him home. His story of a murderous thing on the red planet not only goes unbelieved, but the authorities and his fellow spacemen are more inclined to believe that he killed his entire crew.

Of course, on the way back to Earth everything goes to hell in a way that gives Carruthers every reason to say "I told you so." The Martian monster (sort of a pug-nosed Creature from the Black Lagoon) has managed to sneak on board and begins to do away with the crew and skulk through the air vents. The spaceship is a classic '50s V-2 rocket shape with lots of levels and metal staircases, so the battle against the monster takes place on a vertical, rather than a horizontal plane, the valiant astronauts pushed up and up until their final struggle at the tip-top of the ship. (Although why the imperiled space jockeys don't just pull a ladder up after them, trapping the monster below, goes unexplained.)

It! proudly displays all of the limitations of its bargain-basement budget. The special effects are self-spoofing '50s cheese and the interior of the spaceship (bigger inside than out) looks like it was constructed from World War II surplus. And the whole thing would benefit if we didn't see the monster as clearly and as often. But there's a mood and suspense to this effort that raises it above so many other space monster flicks made then or since. The taut script was by Jerome Bixby, well known today for his perfect short shory, "It's a Good Life," and his work on TV's Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. (That said, the movie's final line is a howler.) Plus, to our eyes today It! provides a condensed sociology lesson in the period's gender roles — the primary duties of the highly trained women crewmembers seem to be serving the coffee and clearing away the dishes.

"It" was played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan, famous stuntman and former serial hero who at this point in his career was too large for the suit and reportedly too drunk for the job. This was his last movie.

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As a DVD, MGM's It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a bare-bones release consistent with others in the studio's Midnite Movies series. The image and audio quality are both quite good, considering. It's a better-than-average unrestored yet plenty clean print in full-frame 1.33:1. Some unremarkable source wear is evident, and don't show off your sound system with this disc, but it's all clear and clean enough. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack comes in English plus French and Spanish subtitles. The original theatrical trailer is the only extra. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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