Remembering It!, the Alien Schlocker That Taught Pandorum Everything it Knows
Despite having a miraculous 8.8/10 user rating on IMDb, this week's Pandorum has been hidden away from critics more efficiently, say, than an alien egg in the chest cavity of a British character actor. Which led me to prowling the archive's ventilation shafts in dismay until I kicked across a copy of It! Terror From Beyond Space, the schlocker that inspired the whole stalked-on-the-spaceship genre, leading to Alien and countless imitators -- from Horror Planet and Event Horizon to this week's creature feature in which Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster and Cam Gigandet perhaps stir themselves from cryosleep to face the horror of mutants aboard!
Released in 1958, director Edward L. Cahn's flick is set in that distant year of 1973, in which voiceover from hero Col. Edward Carruthers tells that something picked off his nine fellow space explorers after they all crash-landed on Mars. The Red Planet is "alive with something we came to know as Death." Rescue by a follow-up ship just means he's to be transported back to Earth to stand trial for the murders of his spacemates; as he puts it, back home he'll "find another kind of Death."
Saving him from capital fate is It!, which has crept aboard the rescue ship through the emergency hatch, oddly left open during blast-off from the Martian surface. This hulking creature -- whose foot we see at the five-minute mark, sadly dispelling any suspense as to whether Carruthers is a lying nutjob -- kills off a few lower-ranking cast members before it's finally asphyxiated when the B-list hierarchy open an air lock to suck all the oxygen out of the rocketship. Apparently, their precious air supply will somehow replenish.
Also worth noting, It! is no classic, though it is fun. Character introduction is achieved with each crew member holding up a radio mic and saying "Secure." Every long shot of the finned rocket rising through space is accompanied with a weee-aaa of a theremin -- or at least the distant recording of one. And why has the spaceship been devised so it's always on the vertical? Our astronauts spend most of their time climbing up and down ladders that, while good for the calf muscles, ain't good for evading the alien or for horizontal room-to-room spatial suspense.
More enduringly, Cahn's movie, while well put together for the budget, doesn't ever make sense -- starting with the title, given that Mars is visible from Earth with the naked eye. While Bixby said his script was meddled with, that hardly discounts the dialogue's reliance on quintessentially 1950s-style expository chauvinism. "Every time Van sees you he floats, even though the ship's equipped with artificial gravity!" says one space monkey. That he says it of comely Ann, who's along for the ride to serve coffee to the guys (just like Dr. Mary, the ship's surgeon) completes the picture of a future in which women have advanced to remain subservient.
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