Insomniac Cult Movie Theater: The Thing From Another World

GhostAndy

And so it begins.

My least favorite time of the year. Those days when you officially can’t kid yourself any longer that the Christmas season is indeed over. No, there’s no more New Year’s Eves parties, or Boxing Days, or 3rd Christmas at Aunt Edna’s house so you can receive your new pair of itchy argyle socks. It’s just the cold dark days of winter now, and all that seasonal depression that comes from a lack of sunlight, sub zero temperatures, and fretting about hazardous traveling conditions kicks in full steam.

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In fact, if it weren’t for the NFL playoffs this time of year, I would really find some hole to crawl into and like a groundhog not stick my dirty beard covered head out until the first crocuses first started to bloom.

It’s with that in mind that I’m reminded that it was this same time last year that I started delivering these movie reviews on obscure cult movies that I would watch at 2am while struggling with my somewhat regular bouts of the sleeplessness. Honestly, what’s sometimes the most depressing though is how few people out there actually read these ones compared to some of other reviews I’ve done of board games or comics.

Not that I’m looking for sympathy mind you, but it would have been nice if these particular entries caught on among the GotS faithful. Maybe it’s the choice of movies that nobody cares about, or the decided “hey, look at this guy trying to manage his occasional anxiety based insomnia by reaching out to the internet community with silly film reviews” tone that makes people uncomfortable.

Regardless of the reason, unless business picks up, you might see me post a lot less of these kinds of posts in future despite the fact I’ll probably still be watching old science fiction movies when I can’t sleep. So if you like the Insomniac Cult Movie Theater, please drop some comments and let me know that.

I mean, it’s winter. I’m cold, I’m cranky, and some kind words about how people enjoy these would definitely brighten my day a bit.

 

 

Anyways, since we are talking about snow, ice, and crushing horror of the frigid wastes, I figured there was no better movie to review on today’s edition than that immortal science fiction classic about a spaceship that crashes near a polar research station and its extraterrestrial inhabitant starts murdering every living human it can find.

Now before I get the geeks lining up in droves to give me their thoughts on whether Macready knew Childs was actually the Thing all along and gave it gasoline instead of whiskey to drink in the end, I’m not talking about the well known 1982 John Carpenter remake entitled just “The Thing”.

No, no, on today’s session of crushing your expectations like a carton of eggs,  we’ll be discussing the original 1951 film adaptation of John Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?  about space carrot stand-ins for the Red Scare. It’s time to dissect “The Thing from Another World”!

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The Thing from Another World

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Background:

The Thing from Another World as I mentioned above is a 1951 science fiction horror movie adaption of one of the most famous and well regarded science fiction short stories out there in John Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”. However, it wasn’t exactly the most faithful adaptation of the original story, which was one of the main reasons eventually several filmmakers starting in the mid 70s wanted to remake it. Of course, the remake was passed around for many years before ending up in the hands of John Carpenter who gave us Kurt Russell trying to burn the Quaker Oats Guy with a Flamethrower, but I’m getting off topic.

Both the original novella and this movie deal with the military expedition finding a crashed spaceship in the polar region which they accidentally destroy while trying to blow it out of the ice. Both also deal with the fact that a non humanoid alien survivor of that crash is then awaken who tries to recreate its species by cannibalizing members of the research base from which the expedition came. However, the key differences in the book vs. this movie deal with the exact physiognomy of the creature, and the manner in which it attempts to use humans to try to recreate its species.

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In the original book, the Thing is a shapeshifting creature that can take not only the form but the memories and personality of anything it assimilates. Also if it happens to assimilate something that has more mass than it does, it can use that excess mass to create offshoots of itself, similar to offspring. So it kills and absorbs people to create more of itself and thus reproduce. It’s also telepathic so it can read people’s minds for the most part.

In this movie, The Thing is a 6ft tall super strong space creature that evolved from vegetable matter as opposed to animal matter like we did on Earth. It uses animal blood to feed its seedlings. It’s immune to bullets because it’s like shooting a carrot, but you can cook it like you can another root vegetable hence it’s weakness to fire.

So long story short, it’s no wonder they decided to recreate the movie given the Thing in this movie bears little resemblance to the creature in the original story. Especially in regards to some of the book versions more terrifying powers such as the combination of shapeshifting and telepathy which means truly there is no way to determine friend from foe, and you could have the monster hiding in plain sight.

In this movie, you definitely can’t miss the Thing as you just have to look for the super tall bald spiny looking thing in a black turtle neck played by Marshal Matt Dillon from the long running Western TV series “Gun Smoke”. Yeah, pretty much James Arness is the biggest acting star in this entire movie, which is weird given you barely see his face at all during the entire production.

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The only other guy I recognized from the movie was Paul Frees as Dr. Voorhees, and that wasn’t because of his face either. It was because of his voice. Paul Frees is a pretty famous cartoon voice actor, playing such well known characters over the years as Burgermeister Meisterburger in Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, both Boris Badenov and the Narrator in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, and Ben Grimm / The Thing on the original Fantastic Four cartoon show (the Hanna Barbera one with the sweet Alex Toth design work).

However the movie was directed by Howard Hawks, who has many a ton of great movies over his career including His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), and Rio Bravo (1959).  I’m actually a huge huge fan of his work on The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not given they are some of the greatest Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall vehicles out there.

Maybe that should be a review in future….hmmm….

 

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2am Thoughts and Reflections:

First off, let me go on the record by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the John Carpenter 1982 remake.

I feel it’s a decent movie that manages to capture both the isolation and paranoia that the original short story conveyed. It’s also got some great performances mainly from Kurt Russell who does a dynamite job at playing a tough as nails survivalist who is also willing to lay down his life to ensure this insanely deadly extraterrestrial threat is contained within this icy tomb at the South Pole.

However, the main issue with the movie is that its somewhat disgusting.

I’m not really a fan of slasher horror, with blood and other bodily fluids sprayed all over the walls for a cheap gross out thrill. I feel like The 1982 Thing takes that one step even further, and I sincerely almost lost my lunch when I saw the scene whether that guys chest turns into a giant set of jaws and munches the hands of doctor performing the autopsy off. I mean that’s just unnecessary and nasty. There are other ways to ratchet up the suspense than resulting to David Cronenberg-esque visceral nonsense.

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However, I will also say that at least in terms of building suspense, the remake did actually do things better as it’s my main gripe with “The Thing from Another World”. This movie is just plain boring.

I mean there are a couple pretty exciting little moments. I love where the soldiers first find the spaceship buried in the ice. That’s thrilling from the perspective that it almost looks like documentary footage, like real people finding this craft from another world buried in the unforgiving frozen wastes. What could be inside? How did it get there? It’s all very good from a sense of peaking your curiosity and getting you invested in the mystery.

There’s also a great scene when the soldiers first test out their theory that fire can hurt the creature and they dump kerosene on him before hitting him with a flare gun. The flaming monster thrashing about before diving through a window and running away in the snow, that’s good stuff! Plus it manages to capture the close quarter claustrophobic feel that I think is again necessary to make this story work.

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However, the rest of the movie is just a lot of stuff happening off camera. Like the monster gets locked up in the greenhouse and we are being told he’s draining the blood of two of the scientists he captured and killed there to feed his batch of offspring. Draining the blood mind you like cattle in slaughterhouse, like feet dangling from ceilings upside down.  But we never get to see that! And other than one scene where they unlock the door for a second and he attacks, we have to take the movie’s word that it’s even happening!

I understand this movie was made in Post Hays code Hollywood, and showing graphic violence like that was probably frowned upon. I also am okay with it not being terribly graphic with blood gushing out of open decapitated bodies like John Carpenter’s movie might have shown. But there had to be some way to at least show SOMETHING!?!

Howard Hawks is a super competent director. Surely he had some Alfred Hitchcock type tricks in his bag that could have given us a couple chilling glipses of the described horror factory that was supposedly going on in that greenhouse. But nope…na da…zilch!

My other complaint is that none of the characters are very fleshed out or interesting. Especially the soldiers, all of whom seem to have interchangeable personalities other than Captain Patrick Hendry who is running the show. Even Hendry just seems dull and plain in the end, barking out orders and showing absolutely no chemistry with the supposed leading lady and love interest in Nikki Nicholson.

In fact, the only interesting character is the reporter character of Ned Scott aka Scotty. He has a world weary yet happy go lucky charm about him that makes for a nice change of pace from the drab cookie cutter servicemen this movie carts out one after another. Plus he gets some pretty good sarcastic zingers in which helps endear him to the audience.

But yeah, from the evil obsessed scientist sporting a traditional “bad guy” goatee, to the less than threatening monster that does do much other than fail around a bit, there’s just not much here from a character perspective to get excited about.

 

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Final Grade: D-

Despite what the internet says about this being one of the greatest Science Fiction movies of the 1950s, I have to say I disagree strongly. I get it that as a Cold War allegory piece about the threat of communism and the fears around being assimilated, it’s supposed to be important from a historical perspective. But wow, it was just dull!

I have watched other science fiction movies from this decade, many of which I have already reviewed on this very website. Movies like “Invaders from Mars” or “It Came from Outer Space” or hell even “The Monster that Challenged the World”, all of them are a lot more interesting, thought provoking, and most of all engaging than this movie is on its best day.

This is a movie that tells rather than shows, and these are the movies I hate the most. Mainly because they defeat the purpose of the medium in that we can see the action. It’s not radio or books where we are asked to participate with our imaginations to fill in the gaps, it’s a movie where we should be shown stuff to build excitement.

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And I know I yack a lot about the importance of suspense and that sometimes it’s better to be shown a bomb under someone’s chair as opposed to the action of someone blowing up, but gosh you have to be actually be shown the bomb! You can’t build suspense if you don’t even get to see the bomb ticking away.

That’s the same thing as the greenhouse/charnel house that the monster evidently created. We have to be shown that periodically. It can be just flashes or moments, but we have to be reminded of the threat to make it seem real and worth fighting. This movie is just happy to tell us a vague threat exists out there…somewhere…and that we should be afraid.

Well maybe that is why this movie is the perfect allegory for the Cold War. Vague threats out there…from godless commies…all around you. Nope we don’t have to show you. Just believe us. They have death camps. They will suck your blood. We have to destroy them. They are all in that metaphoric “greenhouse” that we will never give you a chance to see for yourself. We’ll just show you some dottering old men staring at a bunch of pod plants. Ooooo…so chilling.

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Yeah…I’m too educated for that type of fear mongering. That said, this is pretty much a failure of a movie.

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As an aside, there was a comic book put out by Dark Horse in the early 90s, entitled “Thing from Another World”. It actually follows the events that happened in the 1982 John Carpenter remake, not this movie that shares the same name. It was done that way because they didn’t want to get the series confused with the popular Marvel character of “The Thing” so adding the “From Another World” was a way to separate it from the adventures of everybody’s favorite ever loving blue eyed Benjy Grimm.

I never read these comics mainly because they looked somewhat gross, similar to how I felt about the movie…

 

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