How many times have you watched a movie that’s really good, and then... it’s ruined by a horrible-looking creature? I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one that’s not that good, and then… it’s rescued by a great-looking creature. Such is the case with Destination Inner Space, during which I was about to doze until the amazing underwater monster appeared.
It just dawned on me why, prior to Monster Kid Radio, I was not previously aware of this movie. I was just checking the indexes in the vintage monster movie books I’ve been using to research the films I review, and only two mentioned it… briefly. If I didn’t grow up reading about the movie, or seeing pictures from it, it just didn’t reside in my consciousness.
Unfortunately, the two references that I found were negative. In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies, Phil Hardy wrote:
A failed attempt to give an extra fillip to yet another low-budget monster-from-the-depths offering, but making the monster an amphibian alien.
And in Horrors from Screen to Scream, Ed Naha wrote:
Director Francis D. Lyon tries really hard with this monster-aboard-the-ship potboiler, but the script doesn’t offer any assistance and the absurdly created rubber monster from below the sea is even more laughable.
Even though these books provided capsule reviews, there were no pictures. Now, I’m the guy that unironically loves the space bird from The Giant Claw, but I will admit it’s a little goofy. Nevertheless, I will debate anyone who claims the creature in Destination Inner Space is absurd! Head on, it looks pretty cool, but in profile, it exceeds all expectations.
It has a large, thick humped back that causes it to look like a mutated fish grown to human size. It has underarm webbing and scales that actually move in the water when it swims. It’s not just a rubber suit; it has texture and depth. It has colorful fins and is painted (?) in different shades of green. Why is there no love for it? Why, it doesn’t even have googly eyes.
The creature design is credited to Richard Cassarino, who created another monster that I adore: The Hideous Sun Demon (1958.) His only other film was Hell Squad (1958,) which doesn’t look like it has monsters. I can find nothing about the man; his IMDb biography doesn’t even provide his birthday. What is the story here? There has to be one.
Honestly, the other elements of Destination Inner Space are not as impressive. The story, which on the surface is awfully familiar to that of The Thing from Another World (1951,) is bogged down by a heavy-handed and repetitive subplot about the traumatic history between Commander Wayne (Scott Brady) and Hugh Maddox (Mike Road.)
But that part moves with lightning speed compared to tedious mini-sub rides between Wayne’s sealab and a UFO that lies at the bottom of the ocean. Later, when the creature chases them through the water, it’s a little more exciting. Back and forth they go, several times. One time would have been fine, we can imagine the other journeys after that one.
The budget really shows aboard the two primary locations: the sealab and the UFO. There’s a noticeable difference between most of the underwater footage and the miniatures used for long shots. You know what, though? Once the creature appeared, I was more forgiving. I even began to appreciate the accomplishments of the creative team.
Believe it or not, director Francis D. Lyon was an Oscar-winning editor, with Robert Parrish, for the boxing drama Body & Soul (1947.) For genre, he directed Cult of the Cobra (1955) and Castle of Evil (1966.) It seems the latter was made at the same time as Destination Inner Space and shared actor Scott Brady.
Writer Arthur C. Pierce must have felt right at home. He also wrote some movies I’ve never seen: The Cosmic Man (1959,) Invasion of the Animal People (1959,) and The Human Duplicators (1965,) as well as some with reputations that proceed them: Women of the Prehistoric Planet (1966,) The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966,) and Cyborg 2087 (1966.)
The cast is OK, perhaps delivering their lines in the melodramatic manner for which they were intended. This was the “comeback” film for Sheree North, who had not appeared on the big screen since Mardi Gras in 1958. Not surprisingly, Destination Inner Space didn’t quite take her to superstardom. But that creature?!? It’s a superstar in my book!
Written by Arthur C. Pierce
Directed by Francis D. Lyon
Starring Scott Brady, Sheree North, Gary Merrill, Wende Wagner, Mike Road, John Howard
RT 83 min.
Released in May, 1966
Home Video YouTube
Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies
1986, Minneapolis, MN, Woodbury Press
Ed Naha, \Horrors from Screen to Scream
1975, New York, NY, Avon Books