Commander Chuck Prescott (Marshall Thompson) of the United States Air Force is overseeing a mission to fly higher than any aeroplane has before, though he is not in the pilot's seat. That position goes to his brother Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards), who is rather more reckless than his sibling though Chuck can usually keep him in check, but today when the craft goes so high it is at the outer reaches of the atmosphere, Dan is not easily persuaded to come back down. He does so nevertheless, and is admonished, but he sees himself as an adventurer - though even Icarus flew too high.
First Man Into Space was another horror movie produced by the British team of Richard Gordon and John Croydon, whose crowning achievement in the field of low budget shockers would be Fiend Without a Face made shortly before this. They took their cue from the more successful Hammer in being more violent than their contemporaries - Fiend had the memorable scenes of animated brains feeding on their victims - and with this one it was that studio's version of television-derived hit The Quatermass Xperiment that they drew inspiration from. The parallels were there in the plot: the astronaut who goes too far and pays the price.
Though he doesn't go too far right away, as to pad out the storyline it's not the first excursion that is the trigger for the unfortunate incident but the second, taking place nearly halfway through a movie that's only an hour and a quarter long anyway. There's a lot of character business before then, good that they took care to build up the personalities, but not so engaging when those characters were pretty much taken from stock with the no-nonsense military hero, the pilot's anguished love interest Tia (Marla Landi), the boffin who endeavours to explain what is going on (Carl Jaffe), and so on. Therefore it's a comparatively lengthy wait for the actual mayhem to get off the starting blocks.
Especially when we know something nasty is about to jump out, though perhaps the idea that moving into the heavens was bringing death and destruction onto the heads of mankind was the most potent here. Yuri Gagarin had yet to make history as the actual first man in space, and the concern that such breakthroughs could result in disaster may have been relegated mostly to science fiction B-movies such as this, but they were tapping into an unease many felt at the time. Not something which put them off trying, but the worries were there, though the possibility of a spaceman returning transformed into a crusty, bloodsucking abomination was obviously not exactly plausible, yet slotted into a horror flick very nicely, thank you.
That's what occurs when Dan finally reaches space and flies through a cloud of "meteorite dust", whatever that may be, which causes him to lose contact with ground control. Chuck and his team find the capsule in the countryside of New Mexico, which eagle-eyed viewers will notice looks uncannily like the countryside of England, this being filmed in the United Kingdom and pretending to be American to bring in the punters who thought British movies were inferior to the ones from across the Atlantic. What they don't find is Dan, who has escaped, and in gradual reveals we finally see he is a horrible monster now who slashes throats and drinks blood, as his sole remaining eye stares manically from his ruined face - stronger stuff than many chillers would have indulged in, but leading the way to the gore shocks of decades to come. If this isn't top notch, then it's perfectly passable with some scenes very effective even if it wasn't able to do much more with conventions than intensify them. Music by Buxton Orr.