Sunday, October 4, 2009

Horror Movie Review: The Thing from Another World

The Thing from Another World

Starring: Margaret Sheridan, Kenneth Tobey, Robert Cornthwaite, Douglas Spencer, and James Arness

Directed by: Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks

Written by: Charles Lederer, Howard Hawks, and Ben Hecht based on a story by John W. Campbell, Jr.

Release Date: April 29, 1951

Awards: Added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2001

There's something pleasant about watching an old, black and white sci-fi horror film when heros and heroines smoked cigarettes shamelessly. The simple, low tech movies show that you don't need a lot of money spent on CGI and other special effects to make a good film. They showcase the true artistry of directing removing the ease to get the shot you want using greenscreens and computers. If the camera can't shoot it, the director can't do it.

Before Invasion of the Body Snatchers became known as the 1950s sci-fi analogy of Communism invading America, Howard Hawks brought us The Thing from Another World. Hawks's film, loosely based on a story, "Who Goes There?", written by John W. Campbell, Jr. in 1938.

Hawks and Charles Lederer, the screenwriter, adapted the alien to be a plant based lifeform from Campbell's original alien which would take on the physical appearance and mental characteristics of others. John Carpenter would return the alien to Campbell's version in his "remake" (really a more faithful adaptation of the novella). But Lederer and Hawks's movie is a sci-fi classic worth checking out.

An Arctic base headed by scientist Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) was lucky enough to detect an unknown airship's crash. The Air Force, being requested assistance with investigating the downed craft, sends Captain Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and journalist Scotty (Douglas Spencer) accompanies. Hendry and Carrington discover the ship and are shocked to discover that it is perfectly round. They attempt to excavate the clearly alien aircraft form the ice, but it gets destroyed in the efforts. Not all is lost, however, as a body is discovered and returned to the science station.

A guard watching the frozen, alien body unwisely covers the block of ice with an electric blanket and soon the being is loose. The creature attacks the pack of dogs kept at the station, and a dismembered arm from the slaughter tells the scientists and Captain Hendry some about the menace: It's a plant based organism and it feeds on blood.

As the alien terrorizes the base killing soldiers and dogs, Carrington debates with Hendry whether the alien should be killed or if communication should be attempted. Will the thing from another world continue to feed and get the chance to reproduce off the blood of its victims? Will Carrington be able to reason with the visitor? Will Hendry be able to kill the beast and win the heart of Nikki (Margaret Sheridan)? Watch the film to find out...

Hawks's analogy of Communism, intended or attributed after the fact, paints a different threat than the later Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Where Don Siegel's more lauded film shows Communism as an insidious threat almost undetectable, Hawks's Red threat is a more straight forward danger: hard to stop, emotionless, and driven to spread. The Thing from Another World works better as a figurative tale of a Communist country, Russia, than the concept of Communism that we see in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But then maybe Hawks just wanted to tell a story of an aggressive alien being in an isolated locale, and its representation of Communism is just film critics trying to give the simple story more literary weight than was intended. Sometimes an alien threat is just an alien threat. Either way, it's a classic that every sci-fi and horror fan should check out.

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The War of the Worlds

Robert Cornthwaite gets caught up in another alien invasion in The War of the Worlds. The film adaptation of the H.G.Wells story told on radio of the invasion of Earth by Martians.

This Island Earth

Douglas Spencer takes a walk as an alien rather than a reporter in This Island Earth. Aliens come to Earth seeking scientists to help them in their war.

James Arness, who played the alien in The Thing from Another World, fought against giant ants in Them!. The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.

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Considered a remake, but probably more accurately a more faithful adaptation of the source material, John Carpenter brought us The Thing starring Kurt Russell. Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills.

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