I’d like to begin this short article with a quote from the movie:
“We were almost back to the ship when Cartwright just disappeared. One minute he was there and the next minute he was gone as if something just plucked him out of the jeep… like candy out of a box.”
This was a quote from Col. Edward Carruthers, when he was describing his first encounter with the alien menace on Mars. As I listened to him talk about it, I couldn’t help but feel a little creeped out by his story. Putting myself into that era of sci-fi made me compare the speech to when Quint was talking about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws. Carruthers’ story is so frightening because you could actually visualize how everything went down: the windy red sandstorm, the near-fatal conditions, and the way the alien came out of nowhere and grabbed his shipmate. I couldn’t imagine how scary it must have been to know that there is a monster circling your convoy and you can’t even see it. Talk about being in the bear cage. After this point in the film I realized that I was in for a pleasant treat; that It! is actually a pretty frightening movie, at least for generations in the 1950s.
The scariest aspect of the film, and this goes for a lot of 50s sci-fi movies, was that the alien was completely shrouded in shadow. However, in most sci-fi movies of this decade the aliens walked incredibly slow or acted like Frankenstein. It!, conversely, had an alien that worked things out, that had intelligence and was a violent creature. To give the audience no idea what the alien looked like… the lighting was focused off of It so that its face and features were left to the imagination. These elements, all mixed into one, made this alien one of the scariest sci-fi villains of the 1950s. Every time that alien came on screen he was shown as a hulking, hideous, monster of a being that would brutally attack and maim the crewmates to the point where the rest of the crew would give up and retreat. Just the noises that damn thing made were chilling. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to sit there, in the theater, watching this thing howl and screech.
But it wasn’t just the alien that made this film extra creepy. It was the mood and atmosphere that was occurring. Before the alien attacked and even after it killed its first victim, the spaceship was bright, operational and had a joyous vibe. The minute that alien revealed itself to the crew; the ship suddenly became dark, gloomy and very noir. I’ll never forget the beautiful scene where the alien began attacking one of the crewmates with a broken leg. The way the shadows covered up the dead machinery, the small pockets of light that revealed a climactic struggle in progress and the alien shrouded in darkness. It was truly haunting but beautiful. Even the scene when the crewmates walk outside of the rocket to envelope the alien is so surreal and typifies the idea that space by itself is dead. It’s a perfect image to juxtapose to the morbidity of the film.
I was shocked to see how dark and how fearsome this film can be, especially considering that it was produced and made in the 50s, which is a decade that became notorious for making bad sci-fi films. It just goes to show you that there are past hidden gems that can still inspire fear for modern audiences. The audience may be kids but it shows that the film can stand the test of time.