Face-Off: It! The Terror from Beyond Space vs. Alien

When Ridley Scott saw the first STAR WARS film upon its release in 1977, he was inspired to abandon the Tristan and Isolde adaptation he was working on and instead do a film set in space. He took the job to direct ALIEN, a sci-fi/horror hybrid that made its own huge impact on the world of cinema... and which also happened to have many similarities to a 1958 film entitled IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE. With a new installment in the STAR WARS franchise hitting theatres this weekend, it seemed like an opportune time to pit ALIEN against the older sci-fi/horror film that inspired it and see how such a face-off would turn out.
The beleaguered spaceship crew in this film are the members of a rescue team sent to retrieve the sole survivor of the first mission to Mars, famous astronaut Edward Carruthers, so he can be taken back to Earth, where he'll face a court martial for the murders of his fellow crew members. People Carruthers claims were massacred by some kind of ferocious beast. Although the crew is likeable, they are also rather bland and interchangable for the most part. Aside from Carruthers, the antagonistic Van, and the female crew members, you might have trouble keeping the rest of these people's names straight.
The crew of a commercial towing vehicle, the characters in ALIEN are working class heroes who just want to get back home to Earth and get paid for the job they've done. The ship's computer has ideas of its own, forcing them to respond to a mysterious transmission from an uninhabited planetoid, where they make a deadly discovery. Each crew member has their own distinct personality (or lack of one). They are well written and brought to the screen by an excellent cast, and you will remember all seven members of this crew for one reason or another.
There's some great old school charm in the look of this Martian monster, designed by Paul Blaisdell and performed by Crash Corrigan. It's very obviously just a person flailing around and roaring while wearing a costume, but that's exactly what I want to see from a movie like this.
Designed by H.R. Giger and performed by 7 foot tall Bolaji Badejo, the Xenomorph instantly became one of the most iconic creatures in cinema. It only has a few minutes of screen time, but this "person in a costume" monster is presented in such a way that there is nothing cheesy about its appearance at all.
This is my kind of movie. With a running time barely over an hour, IT! has no time to waste. We're made aware that the monster has made it aboard the space shuttle just 4 minutes in, and it has claimed its first victim within the first 17 minutes. From that point on until the end credits, it's a nearly non-stop battle for survival between the humans and the relentless creature that wants to suck all of the moisture out of their bodies.
Taking inspiration from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Ridley Scott was not afraid of spending many quiet minutes letting the viewer soak in the imagery, ending up with a film nearly twice the length of IT! This approach works for the film and helps build up its dark, unnerving atmosphere, and the visuals on display are very impressive, but my preference is that things move along a bit quicker than some of these sequences do.
Those unlucky enough to get too close to the Martian may catch a bacterial infection. When the Martian goes after these astronauts, it finds itself staring down the barrels of multiple firearms - confident in the structure of their ship, these people aren't afraid to let the lead fly. They also throw around smoke grenades, rig explosive boobytraps, wield flaming torches, electrify a metal staircase, expose the creature to a massive amount of radiation, and more. These folks really know how to put up a fight.
The Xenomorph has one of the greatest defense mechanisms a monster has ever had - it bleeds a very powerful acid, so you have to be extremely careful about where and when the creature is when you puncture its skin. This severely limits the humans in their fight against it; they have to try to make due with a cattle prod, a net, a tracking device, and flamethrowers. The only real option they have is to somehow blast the alien out into space, which isn't such a simple thing to make happen.
Whatever horrifying punch IT! may have packed in 1958 has weakened a bit over the ensuing decades. Viewed in modern day, there really isn't anything scary here at all, but the film does provide a great deal of entertainment.
Filled with tension, ALIEN has scares that still work to this day. Even scarier than the fully grown Xenomorph are its earlier stages; the freshly hatched facehugger, which wraps itself around a person's head and plants an embryo in their chest. That's the stuff of nightmares.
ALIEN pulling off the victory may have been a foregone conclusion for many, but while it is an excellently crafted film and has a lot going for it in the character and creature departments, its predecessor IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE has a lot of appeal for me as well. If you're a fan of ALIEN but haven't seen IT!, I would highly recommend seeking out the earlier film to see how the same scenario plays when made as a fast paced, '50s-style black and white film. IT! is a lot of fun.

Have you seen both films and feel that IT! should have been the victor in this Face-Off, or do you agree with ALIEN's win? Let us know by leaving a comment below, and if you have any suggestions for future match-ups, let me know by sending an email to [email protected].



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