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Monday, October 9, 2017

The Thing from Another World (1951)




It amazes me how many people have never seen this movie, especially younger horror fans. They are aware of it because of Carpenter’s The Thing but haven’t seen this first take on the story. While it has a much different tone to the remake it is just as much a classic in its own way.

Captain Hendry and his aircrew are sent off to a remote polar research base in response to a call for help. The scientists there have tracked what appears to be an unknown aircraft crashing nearby and need the plane to reach the crash site. So, after picking them up they fly to the site. Of course, it is a UFO and while they lose the ship trying to free it from the ice they do find one of the occupants frozen in the ice. The scientists want to defrost the body, but Hendry won’t let them and wants to wait for orders first. But there is a storm and the radio isn’t working so he sets a guard over the block of ice. A mishap with an electric blanket and suddenly our alien friend is free and very much alive!

The remainder of the movie is our heroes doing battle with the invader from outer space. Not only is he damn near indestructible due to being more plant than animal, but he also lives on blood. It is a space carrot vampire! Not being silly they actually refer to the creature in the movie as a super carrot. Now isn’t that cooler than a shapeshifting alien? Okay probably not, but it is still neat.

For a movie that was made sixty-five years ago The Thing from Another World holds up really well. The characters are interesting and the conflict between the scientists and military help drive the story along. The Dr. Carrington character comes right out and says that knowledge is more important than their lives. While of course Hendry wants to protect everyone by destroying the alien. It is interesting to see that flipped because in many later sci-fi/horror movies it is the military that doesn’t care about lives. The ‘50s were a more innocent time. This friction brings some drama to the human side of the story and gives us something to be interested in when the creature isn’t on screen.

Please do not throw electric blankets on the frozen Alien!
Now time for the creature. The great James Arness, best known for Gunsmoke, is the actor in the makeup. He was a big dude and outside of makeup had a screen presence that was undeniable. Put him in the costume, have him jump out from the shadows, and the results are an awesome alien invader. While the he never speaks Arness does give a performance as the alien. The best example of this is towards the end of the movie when Carrington runs up and tries to speak to the creature. Watch his face as Arness gives the impression that there is some thought process going on before he bashes him out of the way. While the creature is alien it isn’t stupid, perhaps just dismissive of the human race. I dig that.

One other thing that I wanted to mention about The Thing from Another World is how much it has inspired the movies that have followed it. The basic formula of conflict between your human characters with one of them becoming as dangerous or perhaps even more so than the threat of the monster started here. I honestly can’t think of another movie before that used this and if it does exist I’d still say that this movie cemented that particular plot device. One other thing that amuses me is their use of the Geiger counter to track the alien. They can’t see it but because of the radiation it gives off they can stand in the dark hallways with the little device clicking and flashing at them more rapidly as the threat gets closer. Have we seen that in later movies involving aliens…? I vaguely remember something like that. Seriously know your roots horror/sci-fi nerds!

This is a classic movie that everyone interested in monster movies should at least see once. If for no other reason than in their own words it was one of the movies that inspired John Carpenter and Joe Dante.



© Copyright 2017 John Shatzer



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