Scary Movies: The Thing From Another World

Time for your bath, Mr. Thing!

After reviewing both versions of the Fly in the past couple weeks, and finding both the 1950s and 1980s versions to have a lot of merit on their own terms, now we come to another later-remade movie I was hopeful about. After all, I’ve reviewed John Carpenter’s remake and found it to be an innovative and highly entertaining, if flawed, film. Unfortunately, the 1950s Thing From Another World is nowhere near as good as its remake. Actually, seeing how John Carpenter reworked the lackluster material here gives me a new appreciation for his work.

Ned Scott, a journalist in Anchorage, runs into an acquaintance, Captain Pat Hendry, at the US Air Force Officer’s Club. During their chat, Captain Hendry gets a telegram that he’s to fly a transport aircraft of equipment to a polar research station to look into a plane crash near the station–probably an experimental Russian craft. He takes a large crew of interchangeable men and a pack of sled dogs with him. Ned, sensing a story, asks to accompany them and Captain Hendry agrees.

Upon arriving, they meet the head of the station, Dr. Arthur Carrington, and his large crew of interchangeable scientists (seriously, there are so many people in this movie, and they all look and talk the same), along with Nikki Nicholson, Carrington’s secretary and love interest for Captain Hendry. Early the next morning, Ned, Hendry, Carrington, and some of the men head out to the crash site, planning to beat an incoming blizzard. They find a saucer-shaped craft buried in the ice. When they attempt to melt the ice with thermite, the saucer explodes. They also find a block of ice with an eight-foot-tall alien frozen in it, which they take back to the research station just as the blizzard is arriving.

On orders from the Air Force, Captain Hendry takes command of the station, much to Dr. Carrington’s chagrin. Hendry forbids them from examining the alien body, having it put in a cold storage room and a guard set. Unfortunately, one of the guards is creeped out by the alien and throws a blanket over it…only the blanket is an electric blanket and is plugged in. (Oopsie!) Soon the ice melts and the Thing is free. It heads out into the snow where the sled dogs attack it, but it easily kills them with its great strength.

One of the sled dogs managed to tear off part of the creature’s arm, and when the scientists examine it, they determine the Thing is made of plant matter. Some of the men find another sled dog, drained of blood. It seems the Thing feeds on blood. The airmen and the scientists send out competing groups into the blizzard to try to find the Thing and re-capture it.

The Thing manages to kill some of its hunters and also figures out how to turn off the heat to the Station. Meanwhile, Dr. Carrington, who is obsessed with the idea of the Thing being a wise, superior being from another planet, plants some seeds he found in the Thing’s gnawed-off arm and feeds them with blood plasma. Soon, the seeds are growing into baby Things!

Without heat, the Station’s temperature is falling toward freezing, and if they go outside, the Thing will kill them. But Hendry and the airmen hatch a plan to lure it in the station to kill it. Dr. Carrington is opposed, and wants to try to communicate with the Thing. Will the airmen succeed, or will the scientists undermine them? And what about the baby Things Carrington is growing?

The Thing From Another World (1951)
Story/Plot/Characters— Well, at least it doesn’t suffer from the chief sin of so many 1950s b-movies: poor pacing. The pace is brisk and the dialogue has a sort of snappy patter. Unfortunately, there are seemingly dozens of airmen and scientists (seriously, why so many?), none of whom I could keep straight. The only characters who stick out are Ned, the journalist; Dr. Carrington, the misguided chief scientist; and Captain Hendry, who mainly sticks out because he’s in charge. Oh, and Nikki, because she’s a girl. There are lots of things happening, we just don’t care about who they’re happening to. (2 points)
Special Effects— The only glimpse we get of the saucer is some metal sticking out of the ice, and the monster is…a big guy with big eyes and a mean expression. How do they know he’s not just a really tall Russian? I mean, the special effects aren’t bad, there’s just no ambition to show us anything interesting. (.5 points)
Scariness— Not especially scary, but maybe a certain tension as the men realize they’re trapped in the station with no heat. But who cares if they die? Nobody can tell these guys apart. (.5 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness— This is a convincing snow-bound Arctic base. One thing I’m looking for in horror movies is a sense of isolation, of being forced to face danger with no hope of help arriving, and we definitely have that. Too bad the monster that the men have to face is so lame. (1 point)
Total=4 points (Okay)

Too briskly paced to actually be boring, but a lackluster monster and a whole crowd of interchangeable characters who serve as monster-fodder (were the producers trying to provide jobs for everybody in their extended families?) make for a pretty so-so viewing experience.

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