Sunday, October 5, 2014

Silver Screen Stories: It! The Terror From Beyond Space

Well, it's that time of year again, and so without further fanfare, here is the first in the 2014 Retro Revelations Halloween series!

It could very well scare DEATH!

So I figured I'd kick off this year's Halloween countdown with a nice little slice of classic cinema. And for this, I decided to introduce you to none other than, while it may not seem like it on the surface, what would quietly become one of the most important science fiction/horror films in history, along with "Forbidden Planet". While not as widely or highly regarded as that bonafide classic, nor as successful in it's day, "It! The Terror From Beyond Space", is not only a pretty decent film, but also very important, if nothing else, for one major reason: it's massive influence on the genre, or more specifically, one key movie in the genre. Just as "Forbidden Planet" was a major influence on Star Trek and many other future sci-fi properties, "Terror" was, in point of fact, a direct influence on many films, but most importantly, 1979's "Alien".

An ill-fated rescue attempt on a dark, desolate planet.....

Whether screenwriter Dan O'Bannon or director Ridley Scott have ever fully admitted such, their 70s classic was absolutely inspired by "Terror", and even directly mirrors the film in many ways. In "Terror", the film starts as a spaceship has landed on Mars, on a rescue mission to look for survivors of a previous expedition that went "missing". Now in "Alien", the crew of that ship is responding to a strange, alien distress call (or so they thought, SPOILERS), which they assumed might be a ship in need of rescue as well. In "Terror", unlike Alien, they find a survivor of the wreck they explore, astronaut Col. Edward Carruthers, whom they assume has killed his crewmates to steal their rations to survive, though he refuses to admit it and insists that they were all killed by a mysterious force from the planet itself. Like "Alien", however, the crew decides to leave at once, unknowingly taking a very special, and very deadly stowaway with them as they leave...

Still pretty damn creepy......

The similarities don't stop with the setup though. The pace of the film is very slow and menacing, the film spends much of it's time in very dark, very isolated, very claustrophobic scenery, as the crew spends it's time hiding from/fighting their uninvited guest. The creature moves about the ship seemingly at will at times, hiding and traveling in air ducts, etc. At a certain point, a crew-member goes climbing into the ducts, hoping to drive the creature out. All things that in some way directly happen as well during the course of "Alien". The two films even employ the use of what were, for their time, hardly "big name" actors. All in all, I merely wanted to make it known the profound influence this film had on "Alien", as well as perhaps other films like the Italian "Planet of the Vampires", a movie itself that also had some influence on "Alien". The influence is a good thing, certainly, as there have been many great "send ups" to previous generation's films throughout movie history, and "Alien" is a great example of that.

Fighting for their lives.

Back to the movie at hand though. I remember seeing this on TV as a kid, most likely as part of TNT's MonsterVision, and at that age, naturally, it scared the shit out of me. Not as bad as some other movies did, but it was still damn spooky. The crew figures out early on that poor ol' Carruthers was innocent and telling the truth about the monster. Turns out, because water is scarce on Mars, this creature absorbs the fluids around it, including bodily fluids, and even bone marrow. And this is how it takes out crew member after crew member, always catching them alone, dragging them off into the air ducts or some other dark corner, and draining their bodies totally dry. That alone is, especially for a kid, a pretty frightening concept, and the movie does a great job with setting a scary and tense tone, taking the subject matter very seriously and not "camping it up" as some 50s films wound up doing.It presented the struggle to survive against this alien predator (see what I did there?), in a very convincing light (for it's time).

Seemingly unstoppable.

Another way in which the later "Alien" would seemingly mirror this film, is the way in which the crew of the ship seem terribly ineffective in their efforts to stop the creature. Of course, in "Alien" (SPOILERS) it doesn't help that there's also a psycho, sabotaging robot to contend with, but still, the crew in "Terror" try absolutely everything at their disposal to hurt or kill the creature, from axes, to guns and grenades, to fire, and even trying to trap the creature in the ship's nuclear reactor. But it seems to remain largely unscathed from every attack, and eventually chases the crew up the rocket, level by level, as they try to lock it out through a series of hatch-locks, which it is strong enough to eventually break through, one by one, till finally the crew is stuck up at the very top level, the ships control room.

The desperate, final confrontation.

So it winds up that the few survivors are about to become lunch for this horrible beast, just like the lone survivor in "Alien" (Ellen Ripley, oops, spoilers), and just like in that later film, again, it all comes down to a last ditch stroke of human ingenuity. In "Alien", that meant tricking the monster into getting sucked out the airlock, and then blasted by the ships thrusters. In "Terror", in the control room, as they are waiting for the beast to break through the final hatch and kill them, they realize that the ship's oxygen has been depleted at a rate far higher than normal, which they then deduce is due to the creature's large lungs. So, in desperation, donning their space suits to survive, they decide to flush all the oxygen out, suffocating the beast right as it's about to get them. (again....spoilers)

My memories of this as a kid, in spite of it scaring me, were pretty favorable, and upon watching it again as an adult, it holds up. It's not one of my very favorite classic sci-fi/horror films, but it is very good, and worth watching if you're a fan of those kinds of movies (which you totally should be), or even if you're just a fan of "Alien" and it's sequels, and are curious to see where some of it's major inspiration came from. It's very good taken either way, and I would highly recommend it as a nice, classic "chiller" to watch in this Halloween season.

Cheers, and stay tuned!

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