With snow forecast (and arriving overnight), I decided to spend my Sunday evening in the company of a couple of DVDs set in the snowbound wastes, and as I couldn’t contemplate another viewing of Nine Songs that could only mean one thing (or rather, two things).
The Thing From Another World (1951)
Directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, based on a story by John W. Campbell, this has the team of scientists at an American base in the Arctic discovering a craft of extra-terrestrial origin and recovering an alien being, frozen in a block of ice. The alien thaws out and goes on the rampage. A life form evolved from vegetables, it has come to Earth to seed the planet with its own kind, and feeds its offspring with human blood. There’s a bit of conflict on the human side, with the lead scientist wishing to communicate with the alien despite the danger to our species, but eventually good sense prevails and the thing from another world is zapped.
This has stood up rather well I think, for a film that is now more than sixty years old. I had a few quibbles – I couldn’t believe that the US military would be so blase about taking a reporter along with them, or that thermite bombs would destroy a craft that had crossed the galaxy, and how they managed to raise a huge block of ice without lifting equipment was beyond me, as was why the super-intelligent alien had to roar like a beast every time it attacked. But quibbles, as I said. I loved the casual camaraderie of scientists and soldiers, Captain Henry’s flirting with the sassy Nikki, and that the camp didn’t divide along scientist/soldier lines, with most of the boffins showing good sense. Making the alien feed on blood was a nice touch that added an extra frisson, and the various attempts to destroy it were well handled. James Arness of Gunsmoke fame played the part of the monster with considerable presence, though for my money the best performance came from Margaret Sheridan as Nikki, a woman well able to keep up her end when the shit hits the fan, even if her apparent desire to marry the dashing Captain Henry seems a little too ‘retro’ for modern sensibilities, though there is always the possibility that she is kidding the Captain.
The Thing (1982)
Thirty years later and John Carpenter heads south, transplanting the story from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and gender equality seems to have taken a backward step with no women at this polar base. In fact it also seems to be short on scientists, with one guy referred to as doctor and another using a computer to plot infection vectors, but most of the others seem to be there simply as shreddies for the monster or straight men to star Kurt Russell’s chopper pilot hero. Problems with the alien craft and the ice block are circumvented by having some nearby Norwegians dig it up and then get blitzed by a creature that assimilates others, looking like them. It arrives at the American base disguised as a sledge dog, and then sets about its work, replacing the others one by one and ushering in distrust as they all look at each other, wondering who is human and who only looks human.
I haven’t read Campbell’s story that I can remember, but I have seen people claiming this is the more faithful adaptation, and generally it’s regarded as superior to the 1951 film. Certainly it’s the better ‘horror’ film, with the snowbound and isolated setting put to good use, creating feelings of claustrophobia in the viewer and contributing to the general air of paranoia that the creature brings. There are some excellent sfx also, with my particular favourite scenes the head that sprouts legs and the stomach that collapses in on itself to bite off the doctor’s hands. Visually, it’s a treat, with plenty of tension and edge of the seat moments. What it lacks is credibility, at least as regards the purpose of this research station. The people in the 1951 film were doing science, there was the sense of important work being conducted, but as I said above these guys in the main were just dicking around, and while I liked the other film’s characters this lot left me cold. I also found it very derivative of Alien, with the ‘what happened here’ moment, the stalking of the station’s crew, the equivalent of the chest bursting scene, and the lone survivor(s). So yes, the better movie, technically if nothing else, but not by that much of a margin, and overall I think 1951 had the more intelligent interpretation, heretical as that thought might be.