It Came From Outer Space (1953) [31 Days of American Horror Review]

Following on from his on “31 Days of Hammer” in January, his “31 Days of British Horror” in March and May, and his “31 Days of American Horror” in August and October, Jules is fixing to round out 2018 with 31 more days of classic American Horror movies.

So brace yourself, folks.  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Director: Jack Arnold
Starring:  Richard Carlson, Barbara Rush, Charles Drake, Joe Sawyer, Russell Johnson

Much like its predecessor released one month earlier, It Came From Outer Space drew heavily on the Cold War paranoia and fear of The Other so predominant in the public psyche at the time.

Once again, aliens arrive in small-town America and begin to take over the local populace, only this time they’re not just controlling them, they’re actually being replaced. That’s not the conceit that really sets this one apart though.

For once, these aliens aren’t exactly invading. They just want to get home…

John Putnam (Richard Carlson), a writer and amateur stargazer sees what he thinks is a meteor land in the Arizona desert bear his home. Taking his girlfriend Ellen Fields (Barbara Rush) and friend Pete (Dave Willock) to investigate. Putnam is the only one to climb into the crater though, so when he discovers a crashed spaceship containing a hideous alien that is then covered by a landslide, nobody believes him and he’s dismissed as a crank.

Slowly though, the local population begin to act strangely and out of character. It emerge that the inhabitants of the spacecraft have the ability to impersonate human beings and are doing so to move around the town to collect materials they need to repair their ship and escape from Earth. While not deliberately hostile, the aliens (who resemble giant floating eyeballs) have no compunction about eliminating anyone who gets in their way…

Once again, it’s fascinating to see the tropes of ‘50s sci-fi horror evolve from the ground up. Hurriedly thrown together to take advantage of the predicted 3-D boom (and it did) from an original story treatment by Ray Bradbury, It Came From Outer Space really goes to town with the new idea of first-person monstervision. So many of it’s shots are from the aliens perspective, all screaming victims and dramatic scores, meaning the reveals of the actual creatures are few and far between, but the tension and frights are the complete opposite.

It’s a technique that would become ubiquitous not just throughout the genre films of the decade, but forever more to the extent it’s now a cliché, so seeing it here being utilised in its infancy is a real thrill.

It Came From Outer Space also stands out by dint of, if not sympathetic aliens, at least understandable ones. Like ET would nearly 30 years later, they just want to go home. True, they’ve got no real moral compass or even compassion about how they achieve that goal, but it’s refreshing to see visitors from another world who have no interest in ours and can’t wait to get away from it.

With the cast being fairly unspectacular (it’s not enough to spoil anything, but nobody really stands out here at all, weirdly) the other star of this film is Jack Arnold. The director would go on to helm classics like Creature From The Black Lagoon, Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man makes both the Arizona desert feel like another world, the perfect environment for his and barely glimpsed eyeball monsters.

That desert is naturally eerie at the best of times, it’s barren surface not unlike the surface of Mars or somewhere equally alien, but Arnold ramps it up, giving it an oppressive, inhospitable feel, suggesting that since the aliens arrived, even this wasteland isn’t our home anymore. Everything is different.

It Came From Outer Space isn’t the best film you’ll ever see. Hell it’s not the best film from 1953 you’ll ever see, but it’s still got enough going for it that it’s well worth checking out.

Rating: 3/5.

JULESAVThe Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy

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