In stark contrast to 1979's Alien, which draws deeply from the premise of this film more than twenty years its senior, the crew of the Challenge 142 is heavily armed. They remain every bit as outmatched, however. The creature shrugs off small arms fire. Grenades barely slow it down. Hundreds of thousands of volts of electricity, gas lethal enough to fell a T-rex, and even an unshielded nuclear reactor rate at most as a mild annoyance. One by one, this otherworldly monstrosity drains the life from the ship's crew, and every increasingly desperate attempt at fending off the beast proves futile. If by some miracle the Challenge 142 were to successfully land on Earth, its lone survivor may prove to be this invincible, vampiric creature.
Though it hasn't aged as masterfully as Alien, I remain in awe of how effective It! The Terror from Beyond Space continues to be these many decades later. Director of photography Kenneth Peach may have cut his teeth primarily in television but proves to have a brilliantly cinematic eye, and that's a critical element of It!'s success. Throughout the early moments of the film, the nameless creature is seen in fragments or is blanketed in shadow. Peach introduces this monstrosity with photography that's equal parts ominous and unnerving, teasing at the horror that awaits in much the same way that Jaws and Alien would many years later. This approach greatly heightens the impact of the creature's full unveiling. Although there's never any doubt that the alien is a man in a rubber suit -- "Crash" Corrigan in his final film role, incidentally -- its design by creature feature mainstay Paul Blaisdell still looks outstanding. With its gleamingly sharp fangs, its monstrous brow, and its claws that shred flesh and steel hatches alike as if they were notebook paper, It's! beast ranks alongside This Island Earth's Metaluna mutants, The Day the Earth Stood Still's Gort, and the Ymir from 20 Million Miles to Earth as the decade's most memorable otherworldly beings. The designs of the Challenge rocket ships remain equally impressive. It's also worth noting that not a moment is wasted throughout the film's remarkably lean 69 minute runtime. There's enough characterization for the crew of the Challenge 142 to come across as people rather than forgettable red shirts, but the emphasis is very much directed towards isolation, atmospheric dread, and dashing from one suspenseful setpiece to the next.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a product of its time, and those determined to snark and snicker their way through the film will doubtlessly be rewarded with the ammunition they're hoping to find. It! does have its weaker points, particularly its antiquated sexism towards its underwritten female characters, but this is hardly Mystery Science Theater 3000 fare that demands to be skewered. It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a sharply written, well-crafted collision of horror and science fiction: one I've long pointed to as my favorite creature feature from the 1950s. Particularly for admirers of Ridley Scott's Alien *, this Blu-ray release is a perfect opportunity to discover or rediscover one of the decade's most extraordinary genre efforts. Highly Recommended.
This Blu-ray release marks the first time that It! The Terror from Beyond Space has been presented in widescreen on home video. Previous releases have stripped away the theatrical mattes, exposing more of the image on the top and bottom but mangling the intended framing in the process:
Despite having gotten so used to the boxier presentation since its DVD release nearly fifteen years ago, It! The Terror from Beyond Space looks immeasurably better composed with its theatrical framing restored. This Blu-ray disc doesn't suffer from any of the aliasing or occasional high-contrast ringing from MGM's DVD either. Clarity and fine detail frequently impress, with It! looking far better in motion than the screenshots scattered throughout this review might suggest. Contrast is reasonably robust as well, and the wear and speckling on display are too mild to meaningfully intrude. The image does soften considerably in shots bookending wipes and dissolves, affecting lengthy stretches rather than just a few frames on either side of the optical effect. That is obviously baked into the negative and should in no way be considered a flaw with its presentation on Blu-ray, but that does result in a meaningful percentage of the film looking softer and muddier than the rest.
One anomaly persistent throughout It! The Terror from Beyond Space is noise lurking in the shadows. Open the screenshot below to full-size, for instance, and look at the flurry of tiny, little specks that are noticeably absent in brighter portions of the image.
I didn't find that shadow noise especially distracting, but I'm puzzled by its presence just the same, never having seen anything quite like this before. It! The Terror from Beyond Space has been making the rounds in high definition on satellite and cable for quite a few years now, and I'm not sure if this presentation has been culled from an older master or if it's been newly struck. I just can't shake the feeling that film grain should be more pronounced than it is here, although the image thankfully isn't marred by any excessive noise reduction or assorted filtering. None of these relatively minor flaws dim my enthusiasm in the slightest, given how tremendous It! The Terror from Beyond Space is otherwise presented on Blu-ray, and its long-overdue widescreen debut on home video makes this Blu-ray release that much more essential.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space boasts a 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack in two-channel mono. This is a very solid effort, although the lower-to-mid ranges are perhaps too pronounced, leaving me wishing for a little more treble. Although I did find myself turning up the volume quite a bit higher than normal, I was rewarded with some remarkably hefty bass punctuating a couple of explosions. Dialogue tends to have a sibilant quality to it but is consistently discernable throughout. Crackling is briefly audible in one early sequence, and a handful of pops creep into Pierre Watkin's press conference at the end, but the film is otherwise free of anything else along those lines. Honestly, though, if I weren't approaching It! The Terror from Beyond Space as a reviewer, I can't imagine that I'd have any complaints at all.
There are no other audio options -- not even the English and French subtitles from MGM's original DVD release.
The sole extra is a battered trailer. Though that minute-long clip is technically presented in 1080p24, it's an upscale of the trailer from the fifteen year old DVD: identical scratches and flecks of dust in all the same places.
The Final Word
It! The Terror from Beyond Space has long been my favorite '50s creature feature, and it is such a thrill to experience it again in high definition and -- for the first time -- in its theatrical aspect ratio. Highly Recommended.