OCTOBER 6, 2011
Ordinarily I don’t check cable too much for qualifying HMAD entries at this time of the year, when I’m trying to find time for new shows as well as keep up with my returning ones. As I tend to fail at this, my DVR fills up pretty damn quickly, so recording movies as well isn’t the best idea. But when I saw that my hero John Carpenter was hosting a few movies on TCM, including It! The Terror From Beyond Space, I made an exception (I also recorded Rio Bravo, the sole non-genre film in his lineup*), especially since the movie was only 68 minutes long.
The recording was 75 minutes though, as it included some thoughts from Carpenter, who was being interviewed by Robert Osborne. In typical Carpenter fashion, he starts off by saying what a big a fan he is of the movie before pointing out all of its flaws – characters frequently shooting guns and even bazookas in their space shuttle, a couple of poor performances, the hilariously chauvinist depiction of the ship’s female crew members – but makes the (correct) point that the movie still works despite all of that.
He also points out that it was an influence for Alien, which is obvious once the monster starts picking folks off when they’re alone. However, the pacing here is much faster; only about 25 minutes have gone by before the entire crew is aware of the monster and thus sticking together and being proactive, which limits the body count some. It’s funny to see how things have changed; while the movie still offers 5-6 kills, the fact that there are still about as many left alive at the end, as opposed to the now standard one or two, can give a modern audience a minor feeling of being ripped off. They could have at least sucked a guy out of the airlock at the end when they’re attempting to deprive the monster of oxygen (they’re all wearing spacesuits).
That’s their final and only successful plan, out of what seems like a half dozen. Since they’re aware of the monster early on, there’s not a lot of folks talking normally or carrying about their normal business; everything is always part of a plan to kill the thing. Hilariously, one plan actually involves “acting normal”; two guys go outside the ship and re-enter below the deck the monster is on, and to distract him the others just wander in circles and mumble vague things like “check that gauge” “what time is it?” and such. I’ve seen a zillion movies but I must say, this is the first one where having the cast mutter was a crucial part of the plan. Others involve exposing it to radiation, shooting it, gassing it… you can’t accuse these guys of sitting around waiting to die.
Well, except for the one that sits around waiting to die. One guy gets his foot caught on the base of a tank of some sort, and somehow this breaks it. So he spends the rest of the movie just sitting there with a little blow torch, which somehow keeps the monster at bay even though a goddamn bazooka barely fazed him. It’s a bit silly, and made worse by the fact that it’s very difficult to understand the geography of the ship and/or where the monster is in relation to him or the others. Every level looks pretty much the same, and I couldn’t understand why the monster was just sort of hanging out on one level instead of going up or down to find other people to kill. Same with the guy – even with the broken foot it seems like he could have dragged himself out of harm’s way, but it’s impossible to know for sure because it’s hard to understand where exactly he is in relation to the others or a door to another section of the ship.
But the pace works in its favor; unlike most old monster movies where you’re constantly just listening to dudes drone on or finding evidence of something that happened off-screen, we’re constantly on the go here, with the added bonus of the “lone survivor” storyline. Our core team picks up this one guy Carruthers who is the only survivor of another crew, and they all assume he killed his own men. We know he didn’t, of course, but it gives a fun dynamic to the early scenes where they think he’s a killer yet let him wander around the ship unsupervised or retrained in any way. Plus the monster itself is cool; it sort of looks like Creature From The Black Lagoon, but with a face that resembles a werewolf/beast creature. Most of the time he just lumbers around (read: looks a bit silly), but there are some minor scares, such as when he approaches while smoke (from the gas grenades I think) blankets him and his surroundings – very eerie visual. There’s no real explanation of what he is or how he came to be, but we do know he’s from Mars, and back then that was pretty much all that was necessary anyway.
Speaking of Mars, I LOVED the end of the movie, in which a bunch of reporters are informed about the events of the movie by a guy who caps things off by pointing out that Mars also means death (it does?) and that it should be left out of any further space exploration. How wonderfully cynical, and a far cry from any other movie where life is discovered – where the hell is the Weyland-Yutani of 1958 to be like “No way, we need to study it!”. But it makes sense that Carpenter would love this movie when it ended this way; most of his films also had this sort of cynicism built into their conclusions, so you gotta wonder if this is where he got the idea.
I could see this being a cool remake (different name might be in order); having the team show up and find Carruthers, not sure if he’s the killer or not. And we could be unsure as well – did he kill them? Is it a monster? Or is HE the monster and this is some sort of Thing type scenario? Play up the mystery, improve the spaceship concept (as with many space movies; including Alien at times, it’s easy to forget that they’re flying through the emptiness of the galaxy – put some damn windows in or something!), and populate the cast with genre vets, and you got yourself a pretty kick-ass monster movie.
Final note – between the gunplay and anti-exploration message at the end, why does NASA beat up on Armageddon but leave this movie alone? So what if Bay and co. got the science wrong, at least they were all for what you guys do!
What say you?
*He also hosted the original Thing From Another World as well as Curse Of Frankenstein, in case you were wondering. I would have loved to watch his segments but alas I couldn’t afford the space on my DVR, even temporarily.