The Outer Limits: S1E11 “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork”

A maid vacuums up the wrong pile of dirt at the NORCO lab. The vacuum whines, then explodes into a living cloud of dust, debris, and energy. A new hire is determined to make his NORCO career work for him, even after a security guard warns him with a message on a matchbook to stay away.

“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” is campy sci-fi. It’s the kind of story that dominated B-movies at the time. This has everything. There’s a ridiculous monster, a vaguely human-shaped being made of clouds stuttering in and out of the screen. The NORCO lab is filled with mad scientists hellbent on destroying humanity for their research. People go missing all the time without consequence or reason, setting up more people to show up and confront the mysteries at the facility.

This kind of story throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. The greater social issue is the lack of control over new technology. There are little bits of dialogue about computers reducing critical thinking skills and potential new hires not really able to survive in the real world of scientific labs. The story doesn’t actually do anything with this concept, but it swings around to it again and again to make something this silly seem important.

The big issue with “It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” is the character development. The script is so concerned with setting up a conveyor belt of victims for the energy monster that we never learn much of importance about any central character. The maid is gone after the opening credits; the guard lasts all of one scene.

What they reveal is stock character types. A girlfriend pretends to be a witch. A new hire is overly confident in his skills. A professor is cold and obsessed with rules. The actors do what is asked of them, but there isn’t enough substance to create compelling characters. There’s an implied narrative reason for this by the end that doesn’t really make up for what came before.

The Outer Limits team does a great job creating the visuals of the monster. The creature is shaped from footage of swirling storm clouds. The storm is cut into various human-like poses to float in midair. It stutters in and out of existence, snapping into its next pose as it moves closer and closer to its victim. This is animation made from live action footage overlaid on live action footage. The result is disorienting, a showcase of creative solutions for bringing this kind of monster to life onscreen.

“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” is what it is. This is the id of the drive-in double feature reconfigured for an hour of television. It’s a very specific style of sci-fi storytelling that is better remembered now for being lampooned in programs like Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Up Next: S1E12 “The Borderland.”