Herbert Leder's IT!, or CURSE OF THE GREAT GOLEM (the name the film really should have had) is one of the most bizarre and eclectic little monster movies ever made. It's a misunderstood or better yet misguided little project that had really good intentions, a decent cast, a respectable mid-line budget, some decent writing, but ultimately falls a little flat. My association with the film and enthusiasm for it is nostalgic: This used to play on our Monster Movie Matinée and Eivom weekend afternoonevening local film slots. At the age of 11 or so I thought it was one of the coolest movies ever made... my more mature mindset sees it's flaws but still loves every stupid, stiff, very British minute of it.
Roddy McDowall plays a very strange young man named Pimm who works for a respectable British antiquities museum and happens upon a statue slated for display there which may or may not be one of the last of the Golems -- clay juggernauts of destruction made by Hebrew alchemistartist mystics to protect their people from outside oppression. They are infinitely strong, completely indestructible, and have absolutely no will of their own. The problem is that such power corrupts humans infinitely as well, and once you get started on being the most powerful 24 year old nebbish on the planet it's hard to make yourself -- and It -- stop. Especially when you can't get rid of the damn thing. The film is broken up into three stages: Part one involves a series of strange unexplained deaths in and around the museum that McDowall rather slowly realizes must be the work of the Golem. Part two involves his quest to learn how the thing works and his rapid descent into near madness after he learns the secret. And part three involves his ultimately futile attempts to get rid of the thing as it ruins his life, rampages across the countryside, drives him completely insane, and finally walks off into the ocean after the British Army tries to blow it up with an atom bomb. Presumably it is still wandering around down there somewhere.
Along the way we meet various people who touch on Pimm's life, most notably his stuffy museum curator bosses, the pretty daughter of one of them (Jill Haworth), a couple of British police inspectors (one of them cult horror legend Ian McCulloch), and a visiting expert professor on Golemology from America. We also get to meet Pimm's mother, who is dead, and her partially embalmed body is Pym's partner in life. He "borrows" rare jewels from the museum for her to wear, fixes her tea and after dinner toddies while he talks with her about the day's events, and introduces her to others with a kind of blasé offhandedness that suggests we are getting it wrong by reacting with horror to the corpse. The scene where Pimm, the Golem and his mother terrify a museum matron is the best laugh in the movie. All the while the power of the Golem is getting under his skin, leading to the film's finest scene where he asks a Hebrew scholar to translate a script that had been etched into the Golem's side. The subsequent scenes of destruction as the Golem runs rampant pale to the chills sent down the spine by the old man's solemn intonation.
Another great scene is when Pimm loses control of a situation and orders the Golem to commit murder for him, and it is at that point that the narrative begins to spiral out of control. We see a few scenes of carnage but for the most part the film is McDowall's, and fortunately even in 1966 he was a good enough actor to more or less carry the project. His Pimm has an odd ambiguity about him that is certainly "evil", yet sympathetic in the way that is very reminiscent of Anthony Perkins' PSYCHO character. We actually feel suspense hoping he will not get caught and perhaps figure out a way to free himself from the curse of the Golem, but alas he torches an elderly librarian, barricades himself in a secluded manor, and pouts like a spoiled brat when Jill Haworth tells him he is about to be blown up with an atom bomb.
All this is a good premise, but aside from a single incident when Pym looks at the Golem's arm's to see them bent, looks back up in astonishment at it's face, then back down at the arms to see them straightened, then back again to gawk at the stone face, the film lacks any kind of artfulness, existing more as an act of "craft". At one point Pym even tries to light the thing on fire by spilling fuel oil all over it and the director allowed him to shake the can and snarl "This will finish you..." like he was Daffy Duck. One other problem the film has it is that it was made at the wrong time: By 1966 London was going "mod" and this film is about as square as they come. Hammer Films was making big waves with their Gothic shockers and a stiff, somewhat talky movie about a giant walking slab of clay didn't have much resonance compared to Christopher Lee in his Dracula cape. IT! was more or less forgotten except as off-hour TV viewing for 11 year old boys who would think it was the coolest thing ever made, perhaps.
710 nonetheless: Deserves a restoration for DVD where IT! could prove to be a cult hit of some magnitude... and if anyone ever is of the mind to put one together, give me a call.
Review by Steve Nyland (Squonkamatic) from the Internet Movie Database.