When listing the scariest movies of all time, many people include Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi screamer, “Alien.” But in 1958, there was another film that featured a spaceship crew battling a nasty alien creeping around their ship. Could it be that the inspiration for Alien actually came from It! The Terror From Beyond Space?
It is the year 1973 and man has made it to the planet Mars. However, there is only one survivor of the Mars mission, Colonel Edward Carruthers, played by Marshall Thompson. Carruthers is suspected of murdering the other crew members, though he insists that a creature they encountered on the red planet is really to blame. Another spaceship crew has been dispatched to bring Carruthers back to Earth to face justice. But soon after take-off, crew members begin ending up…well…dead, as it becomes apparent that the creature described by Carruthers has stowed away on the ship.
Like in Alien, the creature in this film is often hidden from view…we often see just it’s shadow or silhouetted figure. This may have been primarily to hide the cheapness of the rubber suit being used, but it ends up creating some creepy atmosphere and making the creature more fearsome than it really is. Early in the film, the filmmakers only show us the creatures gnarled hands as it reaches through openings in the ship. When we finally see the alien’s face, which kind of looks like an angry turtle, it’s a bit of a letdown. But the creative photography and lighting makes the creature work.
There are many other similarities to Alien. The crew members use improvised weapons to try and battle the creature, such as wiring the metal stairs for electricity and going at it with a blow torch. Plus, the way the alien is finally disposed of is undeniably close to the final fate of the creature in Alien. There are no aliens jumping out of people’s stomachs, however…it was 1958 after all. But I don’t think any jury would believe that the makers of “Alien” weren’t, at least, inspired by It! What is lacking is that the crew members have zero personality. There is nothing interesting to distinguish one character from the other, so they all just start to blur together. I honestly lost track of who was who…who was dead, who was alive, etc. Some of the crew’s behavior is downright hilarious. Such as how the male crew members expect the female scientists on board to fetch them coffee, or the way guns and grenades are set off quite haphazardly around the ship, and the way everyone on board relishes the opportunity to smoke in space.
Even if the characters are weak, and the alien costume is a little cheesy, the sense of tension is still there. The use of shadows when showing the creature is very effective, and the ship definitely has a claustrophobic feel to it. In these departments it is an advantage that the film was made in beautiful black and white. I’m not sure that it would’ve worked as well had the film been in color.