It! directed by Herbert J. Leder
I have a feeling that I wasn’t the only baby-boomer boy to fall in love with the late British actress Jill Haworth after seeing her, over 50 years ago, in her very first film, 1960’s Exodus. Then only 15 years old, Jill – via her sweet portrayal of Karen, a tragically fated Jewish immigrant to the new Israeli state – was certainly an actress to move hearts and garner attention. Over the next few years, that attention was mainly centered on her budding romance with Exodus costar Sal Mineo, and as the decade wore on and the ’70s began, Jill gradually became enamored by those devotees of less mainstream, more “psychotronic” fare. Today, Jill is admired by those horror fans for her appearances in five films: the 10/14/63 episode of television’s The Outer Limits, the one entitled “The Sixth Finger” (an especially fine episode, by the way) and four middling, British theatrical films, It! (1967), The Haunted House of Horror (’69), Horror on Snape Island (’72) and The Mutations (’73). Although the last of these films has been available on DVD for some time, Haunted House and Snape Island only seem to be viewable via an occasional airing on TCM, and It!, until recently, had never been available on home video. It! was the only horror picture of Jill’s that I’d never seen, so it was with great pleasure that I learned of the Warner Bros. DVD release that pairs It! with another British horror film from 1967, The Shuttered Room. Besides their common year of release, both films were creations of Seven Arts Productions and both feature a beautiful blonde actress in the lead role (Carol Lynley, in the case of The Shuttered Room). And sadly, both films feature rather disappointing endings, although the Lynley film is clearly the more artfully composed of the two.
In It!, we meet a rather odd assistant museum curator named Arthur Pimm (played by the great Roddy McDowall, one film away from Planet of the Apes, and referred to by everyone as just “Pimm”). Pimm’s sole existence seems to consist of coveting his boss’ job at the museum (the film was partially shot at London’s Imperial War Museum), lusting after his coworker Ellen (well, he’s got good reason … she’s played by our Jill!), and purloining jewelry from the museum to drape around the neck of his mother, with whom he shares an apartment. Oops … almost forgot to mention that Pimm’s mother is dead, a corpse with a marked resemblance to Psycho‘s Mrs. Bates, bunhead, shawl and all! Pimm’s life markedly changes for the better, however, when the museum acquires a 3,000-lb. Czech statue that turns out to be no less a figure than the legendary Golem … the stone figure that is, according to myth, able to come to life and perform services for those who know how to animate it. And when Pimm discovers the mystical scroll that enables him to do so, he realizes that powers for vengeance and advancement – not to mention impressing the heck out of Ellen – are now within his grasp…
Never rising above a mediocre level of entertainment, It! yet still reveals itself to be a film of modest pleasures. Roddy, of course, is simply marvelous, an actor in complete control of his every vocal inflection and facial nuance, and he almost makes his whacko character an object of audience sympathy. Jill is sweet and appealing, as usual, although she is given too little to do, while the film’s various supporting players are uniformly fine. Director Herbert J. Leder, who had previously written the script for the miniclassic Fiend Without a Face (1958) and directed The Frozen Dead (1966), has brought this particular picture home in a fairly prosaic, unimaginative manner; a little more style might have helped some. The FX in the film range from good (the walking Golem) to poor (the sight of the Hammersmith Bridge that the Golem destroys at one point), and the picture gets progressively loopy as it draws nearer to its atomic ending. The film also sports some very bizarre touches, such as when Pimm hallucinates the naked Ellen in his bedroom one night, only to realize, to his horror, that he is actually seeing the corpse of his mother. Unfortunately, the film makes pretty much nothing of the fact that Pimm DOES live with his dead mother; this little tidbit has seemingly been added to the film to serve as a mere character quirk! I also could not figure out how the Golem managed to kill curator Grove and the museum electrician early on, it supposedly being a creation with no independent will until activated by Pimm and that scroll. Equally bewildering is the film’s final reel, in which Pimm is said to have just stolen his mother’s body from a mortuary (Wha? How’d she get THERE?) and kidnapped Ellen from her apartment (Huh? How did he accomplish this, and why were we not shown this key scene?). A decidedly mixed bag, It! is a film perhaps best watched with your favorite 8-year-old, or by Jill Haworth completists, such as myself. It is certainly pipsqueak stuff when compared to the 1973 Roddy film The Legend of Hell House (one of the real horror champs), but yet still makes for a modest evening’s entertainment. Try it … you might like It!