Director Edward L. Cahn entered the film industry in 1931 as a novice director at Universal. His second film, Law and Order (1932), is considered a classic western. Maybe it was accidentally good (most of his early filmography is hard to find). By 1935, Cahn was toiling on Poverty Row and soon found himself knocking out undistinguished short films — a lot of them. Basically, he seems to have turned into an adequate director who never said no to a script. Today, we mostly remember him for the low-rent sci-fi and horror pictures he produced in the 1950s. Of these, It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) is probably the best — in a relative sense. This tale of a hokey but nasty-looking monster (stunt man, sometimes cowboy star and professional gorilla impersonator Ray “Crash” Corrigan in a rubber suit) laying waste to the crew of a spaceship was a staple viewing experience for anyone who grew up in the 1960s and even part of the ‘70s. It’s very much of an era where space travel looked a lot more exciting and glamorous than the reality turned out to be — even if the spaceship in this instance is launched with a Gra-Lab darkroom timer (barely accurate enough to develop a photo). The film is really mostly a monster-running-amuck affair. The monster (who appears to drain all your blood) has stowed away on a ship is on its way to Mars to rescue — or more correctly arrest for murder — the only survivor (Marshall Thompson) of the first manned mission to the red planet. Of course, it was the monster itself that killed everybody — and now he’s out to chow down on the rescue crew. The question is whether or not they can stop the marauding creature.
What is most remarkable about the film today is how very much it resembles Alien — or, more correctly, how much Alien resembles It. I remember thinking in 1979 as I watched Alien that the film was nothing but this movie with a budget — and when the space travelers in Alien tried to rid themselves of their monster by opening the ship to empty it of oxygen, it was pretty obvious that this was not coincidental, even if Alien offered no credit to the old movie. Sure, Alien is slicker, better made and has a much more daunting monster, but that doesn’t change the fact that old Edward L. Cahn’s unassuming B-picture got there first.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen It! The Terror from Beyond Space Thursday, April 4 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.