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Seldom do we think of the humble origins of certain iconic movie monsters. Prior to George A. Romero redefining zombies forever, they were just mindless drones that gave not a moment's consideration to playing double-dutch with your intestines. Thirty years before John Carpenter gave us the grodiest shapeshifter in special effects history, James Arness skulked after victims in a bald cap and greasepaint in the original Thing from Another World. And while Alien scared the world's collective trousers off upon its release, 1958's It! The Terror from Beyond Space beat it to the punch in featuring an ensemble of poor saps trapped in claustrophobic quarters with a nightmarish beastie. Ridley Scott's picture wasn't a straight remake, but one can easily see its writers borrowing more than a few pointers from this B-level exercise in cosmic horror. Unfortunately, that also means that the narrative flaws Alien managed to polish over are doubly evident in It!, resulting in a dreadfully empty film that may last an hour and change, but, due to its leaden pacing and cookie-cutter characters, feels thrice as long.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
Feature
Mankind's first attempt to explore the surface of Mars has ended in tragedy. Six months after touching down, only Col. Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) remains alive out of the group of pioneers tasked with this historic assignment. The colonel stands accused of killing his comrades, but he claims the deaths were the doing of an unspeakably horrible monster. In any case, a rescue ship has finally arrived to haul Carruthers back to earth to face trial...but they're not leaving alone. It turns out that Carruthers' story isn't as far-fetched as it seems, for a not-so-little green man with a particular hankering for chunky white guys in jumpsuits has stowed away. The creature proves to be impervious to everything in the astronauts' arsenal, brushing off bombs and electrical shocks alike. Facing a threat beyond all comprehension, the crew members are going to have a dandy of a time saving their own skins, let alone stopping this bloodthirsty behemoth from making it to our world.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space is of the school of sci-fi schlock that hasn't riled my blood pressure in some time. I could don my snooty critic's cap and mock how the film's "futuristic" '70s setting still looks an awful lot like its mother decade or how the characters see nothing wrong with letting grenades go off willy-nilly in a pressurized spacecraft. But the fact is that I've laid eyes on too many papier-mâché monsters in my day to let the budgetary shortcomings of something like It! upset me -- and all things considered, there's a decent amount of good to be found amidst the surplus of cheese here. The movie has a legitimately suspenseful hook, with Carruthers' story of his initial encounter with the unstoppable creature related to us in spooky, campfire tale fashion. We're also thankfully spared a protracted chunk of time spent doubting Carruthers' claims; the crew expresses some skepticism to start, but once the first bodies pile up, they realize he wasn't fibbing, and it's off to the races. Also, while the picture's violence obviously isn't very graphic, the titular terror's victims are left in a surprisingly chilling state, turned into vacant-eyed ghouls whose bodies haven't a drop of water left in them.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
But it's at about the halfway point that It! ceases to be an unexpectedly ominous treat and starts running in place. Things begin going downhill once the creature is brought out of the shadows, and as much as I hate to rag on an innocuous cheeseball of a flick for having a crummy monster suit...yeah, this thing has a crummy monster suit. Prolific stunt man and frequent gorilla performer Ray "Crash" Corrigan portrays the outer-space ogre (his last role in a long career), and as legend goes, the costume department didn't have his precise measurements when they assembled his get-up. As a result, Corrigan's chin ended up poking through the monster's mouth, which the powers that be scrambled to cover up by hastily painting it as a tongue to pretty pathetic effect. While the creature's imposingly stocky build and gnarly reptilian facial features are cool, the suit as a whole has too many glaring errors to make it wholly memorable. The claws are a particularly glaring issue, as they're unwieldy things whose fingers bend all over the place in numerous shots and leave our villain looking as though he's wiping his victims into submission rather than clawing their faces off. Speaking of which, our protagonists are among the dullest excuses for heroes that '50s science fiction cinema has to offer. Few exude enough charisma for us to even recall their names, so staying perched on the edge of one's seat as they essentially sit around waiting for the monster to punch his way up from the basement is a tall order.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
Video
Olive Films presents It! The Terror from Beyond Space in its original, 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Grain and film scratches are obvious in a handful of shots, and the picture retains a certain blurriness during a few scene transitions. On the whole, however, it's a crisp transfer with decent detail and a balanced black-and-white presentation that looks neither too murky or too washed-out.

Audio
It! comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono English audio track. Compared to the fairly inconsistent video quality, the sound is in great shape, doing a fine job of preserving everything from the eponymous horror's roars to Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter's endearingly archetypal sci-fi score. The score booms and bathes the film in an eerie quiet in equal measure, supporting an unearthly sense of ambience even when the script falls short.

Extras
The sole bonus feature is a theatrical trailer (1:09).

It! The Terror from Beyond Space
Overall
I'm glad that It! The Terror from Beyond Space inspired Ridley Scott and company to improve upon its premise, because it's a corker of an idea that doesn't deserve to go to waste. The notion of being trapped with a monster that defies description in a metal tube floating through the heavens can be frightening as hell, and while this film has moments that are as freaky as its budget can allow, it's laden with just as much dead weight to make watching it feel like a terrible slog. I won't begrudge a soul who gets a kick out of It! to this day, but in the pantheon of atomic-age creatures and classic invaders from Mars, this ditty is a marginal step up from the Z-grade likes of The Astounding She-Monster.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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