December 15, 2009

IT! (1967) - the golem from Merton Park Studios

(1967, UK)

Not the one with the killer clown...

 I wouldn't have bought this on DVD if IT! hadn't been on a double-bill with The Shuttered Room. But seeing a decent presentation of IT! has actually increased my appreciation of IT!. I used to dismiss this as one of my least favourite British horrors, but now IT!'s looking better than ever.

IT!'s still not great, but IT!'s never boring. I'm fascinated that IT! was made close to where I live. IT!'s also the only English-language movie about the golem, the mythical avenger from Jewish legend (more about the golem movies here).

After a warehouse fire, the museum owners are relieved and a little perplexed that a statue has survived completely unscathed. A further surprise is that the statue can be reanimated, follow orders and is virtually indestructible. Knowledge is power, but the only one who knows about it has small dreams, using the golem to get his boss's job and the girl of his dreams.

Quite an ambitious story for Merton Park Film Studios, this also has recognisable locations, by the River Thames at Hammersmith Bridge and in front of the Imperial War Museum. There are even a few visual effects of varying success, though nothing to match the potential scale of the story - especially in the climax. There's some simple modelwork on display and IT! has an impressive monster suit.

An added twist is that the man with the power is a little bit Norman Bates. He still keeps his mummified Mum around the house - a dessicated corpse almost more impressive than the golem outfit. I'd assumed that IT! looked melted because of the warehouse fire, but we soon learn IT!'s indestructible! I'm now guessing that the film-makers couldn't breach any copyrights by using the look from previous golem movies, hence the very different face.

With so much meat for a horror story, the film falls short by lacking in atmosphere and pulling its punches with any action scenes. There's plenty of murder but it's unimaginatively shot and mostly offscreen. It it wasn't for a semi-nude scene by Jill Haworth, IT! could easily pass with the lowest rating.

The fun is in the cast - Roddy McDowall is the main man, the year before he became his most popular screen character - an ape. As Cornelius, then Caesar, then Galen in the Planet of the Apes franchise, where he appeared in four of the original five films, as well as the TV series. He was also no stranger to the horror genre (like The Legend of Hell House, Fright Night) and is as famous for his voice (The Mad Hatter in Batman: The Animated Series and VINCENT in The Black Hole). Here he's at his paranoid best, especially in a nightmare scene that illuminates his character's obsessions far more than his dialogue does.

The obsessional love interest is Jill Haworth, who found fame in Exodus, but soon slipped into genre roles. She was in the classic The Outer Limits ('The Sixth Finger' episode), as well as Tower of Evil, and my favourite of hers The Haunted House Of Horror. In IT! she's less pro-active than her other roles, reduced to the classic 'mummy carrying a girl' cliche that ad-men loved to use in their posters.

Canadian-born Paul Maxwell was getting plenty of work in the sixties, adding an authentic North American accent to movies aimed at the international market. Here he gets some onscreen heroics to match his macho voice, which was so useful for beefing up Gerry Anderson's puppet characters. Maxwell voiced Steve Zodiac, the space-hero of Fireball XL5 and Captain Grey from Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Here's a chance to see him in the flesh.

Horror fans may spot a young Ian McCulloch, before he became one of TV's original Survivors and famously battled the Zombie Flesh Eaters, but he barely gets a word in, in this his movie debut.

The movie has been digitally remastered anamorphic widescreen, and definition and Eastmancolour have never looked better. IT! is on a double-bill DVD with the Lovecraftian The Shuttered Room (pictured above).

Now I'm off to look around for the strange castle used in the climax - it's got to be around here somewhere...


  1. I didn't realize IT was available now. Gotta get IT on my list.

    Roddy McDowall is a hoot. No one can do the Agony Face like he can....

  2. My friend and I were doing a bit of sleuthing, and we eventually identified the castle location as Wayneflete Tower in Esher, Surrey. It's relatively close to Merton Park Studios.

  3. Well done David! I was about to go through the National Trust book looking for this!