The rocket of terrorOr This! the terror from beyond space, is a 1958 American science fiction horror film directed by Edward L Cahn. If his name doesn’t mean anything to you, unfortunately that’s normal because most of his films have not been exported and DVD editions are rare, at least in France. However, in almost thirty years of his career, as a workaholic and jack of all trades, he would have directed less than 70 films! But then how can such anonymity be justified? Perhaps his films, B-movies with very low budgets and often shot in less than ten days, which would not have interested a large audience? Or were his films drowned out by the mass of science fiction productions of the time? Even so, today we got our hands on one of his films for our greatest pleasure.
It is the young Jérome Bixby, screenwriter who will write The fantastic journey by Richard Fleischer in 1966 and The man from Earth by Richard Schenkman in 2007, who was entrusted with writing The rocket of terror. The story is quite simple: a first spacecraft crashes on the planet Mars and a second spacecraft is sent there to rescue and repatriate the sole survivor so he can be tried before a Court Martial. Colonel Edward, played by Marshall Thompson, is accused of having killed all of his companions to increase his chances of survival while waiting for help. He proclaims his innocence and conjures up strange events to justify the death of his companions, but at the moment no one wants to believe him. Among the crew members we find Shirley Paterson who plays a nurse. Obviously, he is telling the truth and a creature has invited itself aboard the ship that is returning to Earth.
If we know very well what is going to happen, the story is a short straight line without surprises but still exciting, we can regret that the doubt about Colonel Edward’s guilt was not maintained for longer. By revealing the presence of the monster on board the ship very early on, the tensions between the crew disappear and the dialogues, already uninspired, lose all ambiguity. Regardless, the structure is effective, the action sequences gain intensity as the noose tightens around the crew, and Edward Cahn relies on his minimalist, confined setting to heighten the impression of claustrophobia. A game of hide and seek begins behind closed doors.
Well, the film’s atmosphere doesn’t provoke anxiety either, but the creature’s appearances are controlled and its costume is well done. It is the work of Paul Blaisdell, an American painter and sculptor who worked for just a few years as a creator of special effects for science fiction films, including three others by Edward Cahn. The interior of the ship, with automatically opening doors and hatches, is very credible and reinforces the immersion. It all works, even for a low-budget film, and the magic of cinema happens when you just tilt the camera to make it look like you’re going to space! It’s even more beautiful when we know that today, in a single sequential plan, five hundred thousand euros can be spent.
The rocket of terror It’s a good film and when watching it we can’t help but imagine a version of it with more means, more depth in the setting, more terror and darkness. In fact, looking at this, we can’t help but think about Foreigner by Ridley Scott. Without wanting to talk about plagiarism or remake, the two films are strangely close in many ways. Certainly, each work is inspired by past works, The rocket of terror looks Something from another world by Christian Nyby, but the similarities are less disturbing with this than with Foreigner. Is it a copy, a reappropriation, a tribute? Difficult to decide but allowing us to answer a question, Edward Cahn’s film did not go unnoticed among the mass of science fiction productions of the 1950s.
If we find out this late, it will probably be because of these low-budget B-movies. Films that are often overlooked and ended up falling into oblivion. It’s a shame because these barely-there films are goldmines of original and inspiring stories, but fortunately for the curious, other curious people are working to rediscover them. This is what Rimini Edition does with this DVD edition to which is added a detailed and surprising portrait of Edward Cahn, of whom we would like to discover more films.