Horror Movie A Day: THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep watching the skies!
Published at: Oct. 20, 2008, 1:15 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[The regular A Movie A Day list has been frozen in order for me to do an all-horror line-up for October. I’ve pulled many horror titles from my regular “to see” stack and have ordered many more horror and thriller titles to make sure we have some good stuff. Like the regular AMAD column all the movies I’m covering are films I have never seen, but unlike the regular AMAD column I will not connect each film to the one before it. Instead I will pull a title at random every day and watch whatever the movie Gods determine for me.]
Of all the horror titles up for grabs this month, Howard Hawks’ production of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is probably the biggest gaping hole in my film education. I have seen clips of this movie going far back into my childhood, but never the whole thing from beginning to end. Until today.
Let me start by saying I’m a die-hard fan of John Carpenter’s THE THING, his remake of this film. Who isn’t, right? But that’s one of the holy grail movies for me, something I’ve seen many dozens of times, quote in my daily life and hold up as one of the best examples of horror cinema ever made.
With that high opinion of the remake I don’t think it was ever possible for me to have a fair and balanced view of the original. No matter how much I try to stand back and view it as its own thing (ha!), I can’t help but draw comparisons to the Carpenter film. The remake is too ingrained in me.
In that respect, I greatly prefer the Carpenter version. I love the paranoia, the lack of a love interest, the creatures and overall dark-ass despair that lays over the movie.
However, I’m not an idiot. I can appreciate the original, but I have to put it in the context of its release, what it was like when it original hit.
Even though I’ve covered many films of this era (‘40s and ‘50s) during my AMAD run and have seen many more on my own time, I don’t claim to be an expert on this era of filmmaking by any means, but I can recognize how this film was different from the other films of the era.
For one, Hawks and director Christian Nyby make a big effort to ensure the banter between the cast is realistic. There’s overlapping dialogue and real sense of panic once the alien gets loose. It feels real, like what would happen… just in the body language and line delivery.
The cast assembled is perfect for their roles, especially Kenneth Tobey as Capt. Patrick Hendry. He’s incredibly likable, but strong. In other words you buy him as a leader immediately.
Also great is Douglas Spencer as Scotty, a newspaper reporter along for the discovery. That’s one of the main differences between this film and Carpenter’s remake. Carpenter focused on paranoia and isolation whereas the main thrust of this movie is a group of soldiers and scientists having to band together to survive an alien horror.
Instead of doubting the identity of your fellow humans, the main struggle is between the scientists who want to study The Thing and the army dudes who want to kill it. Hey, I’m pro thinking before killing, but not when you’re in a horror movie, trapped in an arctic base with a plant-monster-alien.
That’s another big difference. The monster is only one and it’s humanoid, basically a tall dude (James Arness) with a big prosthetic head and claw-like hands. He doesn’t infect his victims and none of the movie is about mimicry. Instead they make this monster damn near impossible to kill.
So, the creep-factor, for me, was lesser than the remake, with one big exception. They make a big deal in this movie about how similar this being’s genetic structure is to a plant, even going so far as to have the scientists find a seed pod in its dismembered hand.
There’s a scene where the scientists, unbeknownst to the army dudes, take the seed, plant it in soil and then irrigate the soil with the blood reserves on the base, causing a little garden of plant pods. When this is discovered, the scientists offer a stethoscope to one of the group to listen at one of the pulsating pods. He listens and says it sounds like the screaming a hungry newborn.
Now, we never hear that. I think if we had heard it, it would have been a goosebump moment because the scene as it is is really goddamn off-putting.
One sequence that blew my mind in this movie was the big fire scene. The army guys quickly realize bullets don’t do much against this thing and they decide to douse it with kerosene. I’m sure this scene influenced James Cameron for ALIENS as these guys are barricaded in a room and they know it’s approaching by the beeping of a Geiger Counter, growing more and more rapid as The Thing gets closer.
When he shows up… well, first, The Thing strikes a great horror pose, silhouetted in the doorway, then dashes in, getting instantly covered in kerosene and set on fire… then the crazy bastards throw MORE kerosene on the stunt man that almost causes a fireball effect.
Keep in mind, these fearless bastards are doing this stunt in a small room with the majority of the cast in there. It looks dangerous and probably was. That particular scene makes this movie stand-out by itself, especially by today’s standards where everything is regulated and overseen by different groups. You’d never get a fire stunt done in cramped close quarters with the main cast within inches of the flames… and THROWING MORE GAS ON THE FIRE! Crazy bastards…
Final Thoughts: Overall, it is an impressive film and one I greatly enjoyed watching, but I have to side with Carpenter’s version. I think it was better filmmaking, to be perfectly frank. This one is a product of its time and as a result we have a standard girl to be romantic with Kenneth Tobey and a cast that never really conveys the actual horror of the situation. After this thing attacks, we’ll get a scene of the guys joking around with each other… while the thing is still on the loose… like they’re in a war comedy or something. You don’t see the horror on their faces outside of the scenes with the actual monster. But the iconography is there. It’s just not as impressive to me as John Carpenter’s film. You might be able to argue that’s unfair, to compare the two, but that’s the only way I can review this movie with any honesty because I couldn’t help but compare the two as I watched.