This is one of the first handful of sci-fi movies I ever saw. I think I was about eleven years old when it cropped up on a late night TV slot. It was the summer holidays so staying up to watch it wasn’t a problem, and having already seen the likes of War of the Worlds and Them, it merely fuelled my hunger for a never ending procession of monster movies. So, up to this point, I’d seen a giant ape wreak havoc in a major city, the Martians had succumbed to the common cold and I’d seen giant ants ( more of those later, Them will be featured in an upcoming article) - but this one kind of re-set the bar.
I’d seen and read countless stories about invading aliens who come to Earth to lay waste the human race for whatever purpose, but It Came From Outer Space featured a bulky one-eyed alien who’d crashed here by accident and only wanted to repair his ship so he could get the hell away. Now THAT’s a game changer right there for an impressionable kid. The movie is also set in the desert, which consolidated my love for desert-set monster movies, started by Them, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was my first exposure to two sci-fi legends. The first was director Jack Arnold, who’d go on to enthral me with The Creature From the Black Lagoon and the Incredible Shrinking Man among others, the other was legendary writer Ray Bradbury - still writing to this day, and a constant inspiration.
The film opens with astronomer, writer and oddball (in the eyes of the locals, at any rate) John Putnam (played by fifties stalwart Richard Carlson) and his fiancé at his house. They witness what they think is a meteorite crash in the desert. Investigating, Putnam goes onto the huge pit driven in the ground (it’s crashed by a mine) and sees the ship with a hatch door just closing before an avalanche buries the whole thing. It’s just too good a scene to worry about reasoning why Putnam hadn’t fried to a crispy death from the heat - the damn thing was a fireball minutes earlier.
Anyhow, nobody believes his crackpot story about there being a ship under all those tons of soil and earth - until things get a little strange, and we’re kind of in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers territory where people aren’t who or what they seem.
Adding to the weirdness is the fact that all we see of the aliens is a glittering trail they leave behind, and for the first two thirds of the movie, we see only their point of view, demonstrated with a strange shimmering, wobbling bubble effect on the camera lens.
There are some things that just aren’t made clear in the movie. There’s definitely something going on with the telephone lines. Remember the days when cabling would run for miles along the roadside? Well, in a couple of instances, just before a sighting of the aliens we see Putnam’s car being driven along a long straight desert road, with the emphasis on the telephone lines - then there’s my favourite line, when a telephone engineer is checking the desert lines and hears some strange sounds.
"Might be somebody up that way tapping the wires, or back that way, listening to us, like we’re listening to him"
That line always gives me a chill.
Now, whether the aliens (called Xenomorphs) monitor us somehow via the telephone lines, or whether they somehow transport themselves by them is never made clear and I’ve pondered that for years. Almost as long as I’ve pondered how we KNOW they’re called Xenomorphs - they never exactly introduce themselves, or how come they speak perfect English - but they are a bizarre looking bunch.
They’re able (as I hinted earlier) to replicate us humans, and they do this in order to move about freely to get all the various bits and pieces they need to blast off this sand pile. The Replicants don’t appear to have any soul or emotions, and have a strange tendency to give themselves away by speaking in a weird echo and being able to look directly into the sun without blinking. But they’re not hostile, they mean us no harm and the abducted and replicated people are being kept safe and sound to be released as soon as the Xenomorphs are able to leave.
So, it’s a twist on the regular sci-fi monster movie fare of the time, we, the humans are the destructive, unreasoning element. The townspeople, led by the square jawed, earnest but fatally dim Sheriff quickly become a mob and want to kill the aliens for no reason other than they’re different. It’s a race against time to save the peaceful aliens’ hides.
This was one of the 3D movies during that fad of the fifties. Sadly, I’ve never seen it in its intended format, but to its credit - it works perfectly well in 2D. In fact, the first few times I saw the movie, I had no idea of its 3D origins. But hey - I was only a kid.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.