Monday, July 24, 2006

Vamp or Not? It! The Terror From Beyond Space

This is one that was reviewed very recently by Exclamation Mark and Mark posted here to ask me my thoughts about the film’s vampness. The film, directed by Edward L Cahn and released in 1958, does have an alternative title “It! The Vampire From Beyond Space.”

Intrigued I checked for it being listed at Vampyres Online only to find that they do not list it at all. However I also checked the most astoundingly complete vampire filmography supplied to me by Leila at Leila's Vampire Movies and it was listed on that. Incidentally Leila would probably email you a copy of said filmography if you asked her nicely.

And so, with a rapidity that surprised even myself, I managed to get hold of a copy of “It!” to watch, in order that I might check out its vampire type elements. First thing to note is that the title (either version) is inaccurate. The It of the title is not from beyond space (though what is beyond space, anyway?) and is actually from Mars. It is interesting to note that the film poster states that it “gorges on blood” – always a good start, though we should note that the film posters often lie. In this case the claim is mostly accurate, as we shall see. I do not intend to go into the general story, check Mark’s excellent review for that, but a brief synopsis is in order. Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) is the only survivor of the first manned mission to Mars. The rescue party assume, as do the people back on earth, that he murdered his crew. He says that they were killed by some kind of monster. Said monster has stowed away on the rescue ship and begins to make its way through that crew.

It is the monster we are interested in. Firstly we should note that It is not a supernatural being, It is a native of Mars. Of course being a supernatural being is not a necessary qualification for being a vampire but many purists balk at the idea of a natural creature being the focal point of a genre film. I guess I’m just not a purist.

Like a more traditional vampire, It is very difficult to kill. The crew use grenades (on a spaceship, I ask you), guns, gas grenades, an electrical charge powerful enough to kill 30 men, radiation exposure powerful enough to kill 100 men and even a bazooka. All to no avail. So the creature is tough. It is not invulnerable though. The flame from a welding torch, aimed at It’s eyes, was enough to hold It at bay and they do find a way to kill It eventually. However, in a vampire sense, this difficult to kill aspect is good, though certainly not a perfect barometer.

More important is It’s feeding pattern. It seems that it uses a form of osmosis to drain the body of all fluid; water, blood, bone marrow (although the film also states that all oxygen is gone from the body, which is not actually a fluid, but I took the point!). This feeding upon bodily fluids is important as such feeding ties in with the genre very well and I loved the look of the victims. The gaunt faces with black ringed eyes looked particularly effective. It was also clear that the creature was incredibly strong.

The film makes the point crystal clear that It is hungry and intelligent. This hunger was problematic (I mean It was very, very hungry) in that it made me wonder exactly what It fed upon on Mars. There was no indication that the Mars of this film was teeming with life. It made me wonder as to whether It would go into a form of hibernation (almost a state of undeath), but the film does not look that closely into such things.

The film had a definite missed opportunity. Early on Carruthers is shown a skull of one of his crew with a bullet hole in it and this was done to underline his perceived guilt. Carruthers can only respond by saying that, when he and the crew where attacked, there was a sandstorm and the crew were shooting at It. The unfortunate (or fortunate) fellow must have been hit accidentally in the confusion. I hoped that this might have been a red herring and that It actually penetrated the skulls for feeding. Alas it was no red herring and osmosis was the order of the day.

I found interesting a couple of references that, given I was watching this for vampire references, made me prick up my ears. A couple of crew members are injured by the creature and the wounds are infected by an alien bacterium. This bacterium caused (what sounded like from the dialogue) leukaemia like symptoms, certainly it attacked the bone marrow. These victims needed plenty of infusions of fresh blood. Certainly the amount of fluids the rescue ship captain, Van Heusen (Kim Spalding), needs is enormous and there is a concentrated shot on the empty fluid bottles. Whilst I don’t for a moment imagine that this was deliberate (given that it was added for a specific plotline), it did bring to mind the idea of the vampire’s victim becoming a vampire.

Also, at the head of the film Carruthers tells us that on Mars he “Came to know only death.” He then goes on to say that, when he returns to earth, his superiors at Washington will prove to be another kind of death. These are the administrators and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that such administrators are (generically) a kind of vampire and bureaucracy is their fang of choice! This, of course, is my own warped view of the universe and, in no way, effects my final thoughts on whether this movie was vamp or not.

To answer that I am relying on the following evidence. It is very strong, intelligent and virtually indestructible, It hungers and It drains (all) bodily fluids to feed. Because of this (especially the last two points) I would say yes, this is a movie that can be classed in the vampire genre but, to be fair, it is one that is right on the periphery of the genre.

The imdb page is here.


Mark said...

Very interesting! You have a good eye for this stuff.

I never thought you'd explore my question so thoroughly (or quickly!) but I'm glad you did.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

No probs Mark, I was just lucky enough to get hold of a copy to watch.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Incidently the Star Trek episode I mentioned in a previous post was The Man Trap, the first episode aired, where McCoy's ex-girlfriend is dead and has been replaced by a shapeshifting monster that sucked the salt out of it's victims. This episode is often classed as a vampire episode and, whilst the monster is different from IT!, I can see the similarities

Mateo said...

I know it wasn't a review.. but was it any good? I love Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Beneath and similar campy monster movies, and this seems to be in the same vein... worth seeing?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Mateo. The film, to me, was below par. The acting is fairly dire and the director fails to gain the tension levels needed.

The creature should have been drawn as a fast, stealthy thing, but instead was such a lumbering hulk of a thing that the screenwriter had a redraft and left it in the shadows so as to hide it a little more. As Mark pointed out in his review the spaceship seems very large and airy (as though shot in a warehouse) rather than being small and claustrophobic.

That said it does have some camp appeal and it does resonate with the later Trek episode as well as being on the cusp of the vamp genre. I'd have to say that it is one that I'd be tempted to see if you could borrow or catch on tv rather than buy - but I would also recommend checking Mark's review for more info. All in all I'd probably give this either 2.5 or 3 out of 10 - though I wasn't watching it with a review hat on. Mark gave it 2.5 out of 5 if memory serves.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Correction, Mark gave it 3 out of 5.

Mark said...

Of course, when I give a film a rating, you have to take nostalgia value in to account. I also gave points for camp appeal.

It really does not compare to a fine monster movie like Creature from the Black Lagoon (which I gave a 5 out of 5, by the way), but it is a fun film for fans of 1950s sci-fi.

I also gave it some points for being an inspirtation for the much better Alien (1979).