Sunday, February 26, 2012

Keep Watching the Skies

Before there was The Thing (2011) with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, before there was The Thing (1982) with Kurt Russell, there was The Thing from Another World (1951), a horror movie that deserves to be remembered.

It didn't have the flamboyant shape-shifting special effects or the greater fidelity to the source material (a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr.) found in the 1982 The Thing, directed by John Carpenter. What it did have was Howard Hawks, the great studio-era director whose Winchester Pictures produced The Thing from Another World. Credited as producer, Hawks did not officially direct The Thing from Another World--that credit goes to Christian Nyby. But it has long been thought that he might have directed it for Nyby, and at the least his influence is all over it. It has rapid-fire dialogue in which characters interrupt one another; a focus on men in action; a feisty love interest who talks back to her man; and a curiosity and skepticism about scientists--all hallmarks of Hawks. Above all, it has the tension and style of the master cinematic story-teller.

The Thing from Another World is about an alien buried in Arctic ice who is dug up and accidentally restored to life. A plant-based life form who looks something like Karloff's Frankenstein monster (heavy brow, flat head, big physique)--although he is never seen clearly in the film--the Thing goes ravaging through an army base, seeking the blood on which it lives. Guns won't kill it, and a debate goes on between the soldiers and the chief scientist about whether it should be killed at all or reasoned with. This being a horror movie, reasoning with the creature does not win the day.

There are no stars in the cast, unless you count James Arness as the Thing. Then unknown, he went on to star for two decades as Matt Dillon in TV's Gunsmoke. Other than that, the players were competent character actors who did a good job making the outlandish story believable. With the ending came one of the most memorable lines in horror and science fiction history, a warning called in by a reporter to the outside world: "Keep watching the skies!"

George Ochoa
Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films

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