First Man into Space (also known as Satellite of Blood) is a 1959 science fiction horror film directed by Robert Day and distributed by Amalgamated films. It came from a script which had been rejected for production by AIP and was directly influenced by The Quatermass Xperiment.
Commander Charles "Chuck" Prescott (Marshall Thompson) is not so sure that his brother, Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards), is the correct choice for piloting a Y-13 into outer space. Although Captain Ben Richards (Robert Ayres) of the Air Force Space Command says that Dan is the best pilot they have, he had previously broken flight regulations while flying a Y-12 into the ionosphere, where he began experiencing problems with the ship. He then landed the plane and promptly ran to see his girlfriend (Marla Landi), filling out his report. Still, Capt. Richards wants Dan to pilot the Y-13, after he has been thoroughly checked out and briefed by Doctor Paul von Essen (Carl Jaffe).
Y-13 takes off with Dan at the controls. At 600,000 feet, when he is supposed to level off and begin his descent, he continues to climb, even firing his emergency boost. He climbs to 1,320,000 feet (250 miles) and suddenly loses control of the ship and passes through a strange cloud, forcing him to eject.
Later, the New Mexico State Police sends a report that a Mexican farmer had spotted a parachute attached to some sort of plane land near his farm 10 miles south of Alvarado. Chief Wilson (Bill Nagy) meets with Commander Chuck and shows him the wreckage with the Commander surmising that his brother survived the crash. Tests on the recovered aircraft show that the automatic escape mechanism as well as the braking chute operated perfectly. The tests also reveal an unknown rock-like material encased on the ship's hull, the material also proved to be completely impervious to x-rays, infrared and ultraviolet light.
Later that night, a wheezing creature breaks into the New Mexico State Blood Bank in Alameda and brutally murders one of the blood bank's nurses and then proceeds to drink vast quantities of blood. The next day, the headline in the Santa Fe Daily News reads "Terror Roams State" and tells of brutal and inhuman slaughtering of cows on a farm right next door to where the Y-13 fell. Both the cows and the blood bank nurse show similar wounds—jagged tears across the throat. When Chuck and Chief Wilson examine the body of the nurse, Chuck notices shiny specks around the wound as well as on the blood bank door. They see the same specks on the necks of the dead cattle. They also find a piece of what looks like a "high-altitude oxygen lead" that appears to be one used on the Y-13 lying under the corpse of one of the slaughtered cattle.
Chuck is beginning to suspect that the killings may have something to do with the crashed spaceship and requests that Wilson send samples of the shiny specks to Dr. von Essen at Aviation Medicine. The next day, Chuck stops at Aviation Medicine where Tia, who just happens to work there, has the test results sent down to them. The results show that the shiny specks are particles of meteorite dust "that show no signs of structural damage such as would be expected from passage through atmosphere." Later, Dr. von Essen demonstrates for Chuck the results of metallurgical tests on the encrustation. Oddly, wherever the encrustation occurs on the hull of Y-13, the metal is intact, but in places not encrusted, the metal has transformed into a brittle substance, like crumbling carbon, that can easily be reduced to a powder. Chuck theorizes that the encrustation may be some sort of "cosmic protection", like the primeval creatures that crawled out of the sea and grew skin to protect themselves from the sun.
Meanwhile, Capt. Richards is paid a visit by Senor Ramon DeGareara (Roger Delgado), consul for Mexico at Santa Fe. DeGareara tells them that the tail section of Y-13 fell from the sky into a new bullring in San Pedro. It scared the bull, which jumped from the ring and almost killed His Excellency, the Minister for Social Services. After taking care of formalities and arranging compensation for damages, a crew is sent to San Pedro to salvage the rest of Y-13.
Three more killings are reported, and Chuck is beginning to put the pieces together. He suspects that the same encrustation that formed to protect the hull of Y-13 also coated everything inside the cockpit, including Dan, and that the creature behind the killings is actually Dan, Chuck further theorizes that, when the canopy burst, Dan's blood absorbed a high content of nitrogen while the protective encrustation quickly formed on his body, allowing him to survive in the rarefied atmosphere of space. In addition, Dan's metabolism could have altered to a state that starved his body and brain of oxygen so that he now needs to replace that oxygen by drinking blood.
When Dan's encrusted helmet is found in a car with his latest victim, Chuck's theory is proven right. Capt. Richards and Chief Wilson put in a call to Washington. Suddenly, Tia screams. The hulking, wheezing, encrusted creature that was once Dan crashes through a nearby window.
Chuck realizes by the wheezing that Dan is finding it difficult to breathe. He then instructs Tia to get Dr. von Essen to open a high-altitude chamber and then goes after his brother. Chuck taps into the public address system and warns everyone in the building to stay out of the corridors. Chuck then instructs Dr. von Essen to get on the public address system and relay to Dan, who appears to retain some traces of humanity, the directions to the high-altitude chamber. Dan follows the directions while Chuck follows behind him.
Dan enters the chamber, however Chuck realizes that Dan's hands are too badly deformed for him to operate the controls, forcing Chuck to enter the chamber along with Dan to assist him. The chamber technician quickly increases the simulated altitude to 38,000 feet, enabling Dan to feel more comfortable. While Chuck breathes oxygen through a mask, Dan's humanity is restored but has no recollection of the events after he ejected from the ship. As Tia takes metabolism and blood pressure readings on Dan, he apologizes to Tia for the way things ended.
"I just had to be the first man into space," he says, and then falls over dead. Capt. Richards and Dr. von Essen open the door into the high-altitude chamber and let Chuck out. Chuck walks down the hall with Tia following him.
Marshall Thompson as Cmdr. Charles Ernest Prescott
Marla Landi as Tia Francesca
Bill Edwards as Lt. Dan Milton Prescott
Robert Ayres as Capt. Ben Richards
Bill Nagy as Police Chief Wilson
Carl Jaffe as Dr. Paul von Essen
The story idea for the film was conceived by Charles Vetter who was the then the partner of producer Richard Gordon several elements in the script came from an original script written by Wyott Ordung titled Satellite of Blood, Ordung showed the script to AIP who did not want to make it; however Alex Gordon of AIP sent it over to his brother who like it as it went well with Vetter's script and incorporated several elements from Ordung's script into Vetter's own script. Ordung would later acknowledge the film as his personal favorite of the films that he has made. Gordon pitched the idea for the film to MGM Gordon and Vetter who signed on as the film's distributor because of the financial success of their two previous films, Fiend Without a Face and The Haunted Strangler. The budget for First Man into Space was slightly higher than the producer's previous films, a total of ₤100,000 because of MGM's financial involvement with the film.
Filming took place in the United States near an Air base Brooklyn, New York and in New Mexico; though most of the film was shot in a mansion near Hampstead Heath because of the location's similarity to New York Central Park, while some exterior shots were done on Hampstead itself. Other filming locations were filmed in the United Kingdom in London.
Bill Edwards, who plays Dan Prescott and the monster in the film, had his dialogue synched during post-production because of the actor's difficulty maintaining an American accent during shooting. The costume that Edwards had to wear was a suit, which had small holes in the mask in order for the actor to see through. Wearing the suit was rather difficult and could not be worn for extended periods of time because it would become hot inside and it became difficult to breath out of because not enough air was circulating into the suit.
The film was a commercial success at box office, according to MGM records the film earned $310,000 in the US and Canada and $325,000 elsewhere, resulting in a profit of $95,000.
Criterion Collection release cover art
Image Entertainment released the film on DVD on June 17, in 1998. Criterion Collection later re-released on DVD in 2007 as a part of its Monsters and Madmen box set.
Critical reception fro the film has been mixed to positive.
TV Guide gave the film a positive review, awarding it film 2.5 / 4 stars stating, "A scary and well done sci-fi exploitation film". Allmovie gave the film a mixed review calling the performances "uneven" but also commented that certain plot points were interesting enough to keep the viewer's interest throughout and some of the suspense scenes were quite effective. Leonard Maltin awarded the film 2 / 4 stars stating that it was better than it sounds.