Column: The Vault of Secrets: It! (1967)

By Orrin Grey

It! (1967). Directed by: Herbert J. Leder. Starring: Roddy McDowall, Jill Haworth, Paul Maxwell.

Welcome back to the Vault of Secrets, where we’ll be unearthing another classic (or not-so-classic) vintage horror film for your delectation. Tonight’s film is a personal favorite and one of the best movies that most people have never seen! Written and directed by Herbert J. Leder, whose filmography also includes The Frozen Dead, a movie with a logline so bizarre that it begs for an eventual Vault of Secrets column of its own, It! (complete with exclamation point, so you know it’s quality) is also known by the more revealing, though perhaps less bombastic, titles Curse of the Golem and Anger of the Golem. Since my affection for golems and, indeed, all construct lifeforms has been well documented, it probably comes as no surprise that I love It!, especially given that movies about golems are particularly thin on the ground. (I know of only a couple.) However, its subject matter is only the first of the many, many pleasures to extract from It!, which remains one of the most delightful and most unexpected films I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying for this column.

The beating heart of what makes It! so great is not actually the melted-candle-looking golem, but rather its master, Roddy McDowall, doing his best Norman Bates as mad assistant museum curator Arthur Pimm. As anyone who is reading this column is probably already aware, McDowall is rarely less than wonderful and this is one of my favorite of his many, many performances. It’s also the one that really cements my belief that there was never anyone living who was more perfectly suited to play just about any Lovecraft protagonist; it’s a shame he never got the chance. In Pimm, we get the next best thing: a character who is by turns mousy and megalomaniacal, who uses the golem for grandiose deeds of destruction to impress the pretty girl who works at the museum (Jill Haworth, veteran of a pile of other unknown horror flicks, including the bizarrely-titled Horror on Snape Island), but who turns away when the golem commits a murder at his behest.

In the first of the film’s many incredibly bizarre turns, Pimm unsurprisingly lives at home with his demanding mother who, perhaps more surprisingly, is a mummified corpse, in grand Psycho tradition. She’s also the root of at least some of his problems, as he has to “borrow” priceless artifacts from the museum’s collection for her to wear as jewelry, a habit that would be bound to get him in trouble were it not for the fact that he snags himself an indestructible killer golem long before the authorities catch on to his other indiscretions.

As Pimm learns from a translation of an inscription on the golem itself, it cannot be destroyed by, well, anything. The inscription is a list of cautions for those who might evoke the golem in various centuries, ending by saying that whoever might do so in the 21st century must be God Himself, because “on this earth the person of man existeth no more.” Writing this in the year 2015, that is good information to have. (Given the way the movie ends, with the golem walking off into the sea, we all assumed that by the 21st century, it had simply killed everyone on the planet one person at a time.)

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the wonders this movie has in store, and the best — and most incredible, or perhaps just least credible bits — are reserved for the film’s final reel. Talking about them would get into the realm of spoilers, and they’re better if you just get to experience them yourself in all their WTF-ness, but look forward to the string of increasingly ridiculous solutions to the problem of Pimm and his golem before the film’s final credits.

That’s it for tonight, but be sure to join us next time when we unearth The Vampire’s Coffin ….

If you want to catch up on past Vault of Secrets entries, check out Orrin’s latest collection, Monsters from the Vault, out now.