B-Movie Inspirations: It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)
It! The Terror from Beyond Space
When I first started this idea of watching B-movies as inspirations for GMing, I knew there were bad movies that I would get nothing out of or at least struggle with. Well, this movie is one of them, I suppose, but not because it is bad. It! is a story that has since been told in many ways, some better and others not so much. It has much of the 1950s sci-fi trappings of low budget filming while at the same time had some interesting aspects to it as well.
To begin with, I will give you the IMDB summary:
In 1973, the first manned expedition to Mars is marooned; by the time a rescue mission arrives, there is only one survivor: the leader, Col. Edward Carruthers, who appears to have murdered the others! According to Carruthers, an unknown life form killed his comrades during a sandstorm. But the skeptical rescuers little suspect that “it” has stowed away for the voyage back to Earth… Written by Rod Crawford
For all intents and purposes, this is an alien stowaway movie that has since been done better with movies like Alien. The alien is not well done but probably scary for its time. It’s a big scaly body suit with a cheesy mask that has very little articulation. The creature’s roar is something you would hear off of Lost in Space or something like that. In fact, the entire movie felt like a bad episode of Lost in Space.
The movie’s pacing is about what you would expect for its time – slow. Where movies like Aliens focus on the tension and suspense of having an alien on board, this one approached it a little too casually. “Oh, we have an alien on board. Let’s stop and have a smoke while we wait for it to go away….” That was sort of the sense I got from the movie. You get the feeling back then that it took a lot less to put an audience in suspense.
The gratuitous smoking was a great sign of the times. Never mind that fact that you are around highly explosive oxygen tanks. Also, despite the fact that this is the future – 1973 – they still had Korean War era weapons on board. Even in the real 1973 we had new and more menacing looking weapons than that. And of course, they are slug throwers. I guess they have strong hulls. It wasn’t so bad that they had old .45 pistols and a bolt action rifle, but they also had GRENADES and a BAZOOKA on board! Holy cow! That’s some serious firepower!
The creature seemed to have no explanation other than perhaps it was a devolved version of a Martian from their dead civilization. It seemed impervious to any of their weapons, including grenades and the slug throwers. It was also immune to radiation and some kind of poison gas they threw at it. However, for some reason, it was afraid of a blow torch which a crew member used to fend it off for a long period of time. I found that quite silly.
What I liked was the ship set. It was the standard vertical design, with stair cases linking each level. The only problem with that was they were not always consistent with the order of levels as the characters ascended and/or descended. However, it was a rather well-done set, with lots of bells and whistles of a 50s style rocket ship. They seemed to be selective about when explosive decompression would occur when the airlocks were open, however.
So what value can a RPG game master get out of this movie? Not a whole lot that has not been done before. A few plot points can probably be used if you change a few things.
- Man Accused: The basic initial premise of the movie is that a second mission to Mars is sent to retrieve the survivor of the first so that he can face trial for the murder of the crew. Of course, he didn’t do it but no one believes his story that some strange alien did it. This could be the basic premise to set up whatever the GM wants, from sci-fi settings to fantasy. The key things to remember are that (1) it’s in an age of exploration and unknown, and (2) the creature needs to be unbelievable for whatever location they are exploring. The sense of mystery and exploration sets the mood and sets up the environment perfect for this kind of plot. Idea: Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde – Imagine if the man accused was telling the truth from his perspective and the alien he claims is actually “in him” somehow. Perhaps a parasite, a demonic possession or an alternate personality, but it’s good to keep the mystery for as long as possible.
- Alien Stowaway: This kind of adventure, regardless of setting, has been done over and over again. I think I have done it at least 20 different times in different settings. But there are key things you need in order to maximize this kind of adventure’s experience for the players. (1) Fully flesh out the alien. When I say alien, it could be something demonic or foreign, in any setting. As long as it is something the players are not familiar with and fully fleshed out, it will keep the players interest. (2) The location needs to be fully mapped out. In this location, have secret passages, crawl spaces, and/or tight areas for the creature to hide. If you are using miniatures, you need to have a scale map as well. Flesh out the location also. Empty rooms are boring. Lay out supplies, special items, and equipment for the players to find and perhaps use against the new visitor. (3) Give the visitor a goal and/or a reason for being there. Anything the players have to figure out gives more challenge to them.
It! The Terror from Beyond Space wasn’t really original, at least for today, but it was a good example of a very good RPG plot, the alien stowaway. Use with caution.