Wednesday, October 15, 2008

#93: The Thing from Another World


The Thing from Another World
Directed by Christian Nyby (and an uncredited Howard Hawks)
Written by Charles Lederer, Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht (from John W. Campbell Jr.'s "Who Goes There")
Released April 29, 1951

Nearing the top of my personal Greatest Horror Films list definitely has to be John Carpenter's 1982 gorefest The Thing, a remake of tonight's The Thing from Another World. A lot changed in the 30+ years between the two movies, namely the amount of blood and guts an audience could withstand.

I've always been interested in seeing the original, not only because of my love for Carpenter's flick but also because I wondered if the 1951 black and white relic could bring with it even a modicum of that version's suspense. The differences could definitely be seen at their beginnings, with The Thing from Another World taking many more minutes to introduce characters and let the mood build. From the moment Carpenter's Thing begins, you can sense that something is wrong.

Still, once the men in an Air Force Arctic expedition discover a possible flying saucer buried in the ice at the North Pole, things start to get interesting. While attempting to extract the saucer from its icy grave, the ship self destructs, leaving behind a strange passenger. A fast approaching storm forces the men to extract the "pilot" within a massive chunk of ice and leave it in a storage room while the scientists and soldiers argue about whether to thaw and investigate their find.

One notable and interesting detail that makes this movie ahead of its time is the realistic way in which the characters speak to each other. I don't necessarily mean the dialogue, which is very well written, but more in the way people interrupt each other or talk over one another. If it was unintentional, it definitely lends authenticity to scenes. Overlapping dialogue was always a technique that Robert Altman employed in his films, so it was somewhat interesting to see it in play in an older film.

One other notable detail: this movie kinda kicks ass, especially for being almost 60 years old. Once the Thing escapes, losing an arm to the sled dogs outside the Arctic compound, scientists discover that it is actually a form of plant life that uses human blood to feed and reproduce. Soon, "it" begins preying on the crew (it is here where this film departs from Carpenter's movie, with his creature inhabiting the bodies of its victims and using them as human disguises as he decimates his captors).

There's a tense scene with a Geiger counter, which the Air Force men use to track where the creature is, that definitely lead to one of the better scenes in James Cameron's Aliens. This is followed by what looks like one of the least safe uses of pyrotechnics in film history.

My only real complaint, and this is typically a good one to have with a film, was that I could have handled another 10 to 20 minutes of movie. It's probably just the modern moviegoer in me, but I wouldn't have minded a higher bodycount and maybe a more ominous ending, either. My loyalty still lies with the 1982 version, but that's probably because I'm a big fan of fucked up, nasty special effects and the always reliable Kurt Russell.

Still, The Thing from Another World deserves its status as a Sci-Fi classic. Make your grandpa proud and watch it with him some night in the coming weeks. You'll earn extra points if you throw in a little, "They don't make 'em like this anymore," too.

For more on The Thing from Another World:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- Buy the DVD. Five bucks!

The trailer for The Thing from Another World:

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