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The "Thing" About Halloween…

By Bert Ehrmann
2006-10-20
The great thing about Halloween is that it's the one time of year that lots of good sci-fi/horror films turn up on television —  and I'm not talking about any of the recent Saw movies. I'm talking about classic sci-fi/horror, where the men are real-men who use large caliber weapons and flame throwers to send the beasts of hell back from where they came. My absolute favorite sci-fi/horror movie from this period has always been The Thing From Another World (1951).

Some might claim that Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) is a more frightening film or that Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) has more political commentary and that may be the case, but I'd dare anyone to have more fun watching these movies than they do while watching The Thing From Another World .

In The Thing From Another World , a group of scientists working at the North Pole record the crash of something from space into the ice. They request help from a nearby Air Force base and at the crash site find a downed UFO encased under the ice.

Their "discovery of the century" is short lived, though, when an explosion designed to free the craft instead destroys it. Fortunately for them, they manage to find the UFO pilot's remains some distance from the crash-site. Back at the science station, this frozen "Thing" is accidentally freed and goes on the rampage, literally out for blood in order to grow a crop of new baby "Things" to take over the world.

The initial genesis of The Thing From Another World was the short story entitled "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell in 1938. In this story, scientists at the North Pole uncover a telepathic creature frozen in the ice that can mimic humans and animals at will. However, when it came to a theatrical adaptation of Campbell's story, the limited special effects technology of the 1950s meant that a monstrous looking humanoid creature would replace a shape-shifting one.

Also changed from the original story was the ending. In "Who Goes There?" the reader is left with the real sense that the "Thing" has escaped the North Pole station and will become a threat to all mankind. In The Thing From Another World , the creature is destroyed via electricity; though newspaperman Scotty (Douglas Spencer) warns the world of future alien menace in the most famous line from the movie, "Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!"

One scene that stands out from the others in The Thing From Another World is the fire scene, one of the best scenes of that type in movie history. Here, the "Thing" finds a group of people in the mess hall, and they fight back with the only things at their disposal – kerosene and flare-guns.

Generally, movie fire-gags where a stunt performer is lit aflame look controlled, and that's because they are. No one wants a burned stunt performer on the set of a movie. But in The Thing From Another World things are a bit different. Here, the stunt looks to be completely out of control. Actors toss bails of kerosene at the "Thing" setting it, and the entire room ablaze. At one point some of this burning fuel nearly scorches a female actor huddled under a mattress.

Seen as a simple b-grade horror picture since the release of the movie, The Thing From Another World would receive the ultimate dishonor in the 1980s when Turner Home Entertainment released a colorized version of the movie on VHS. Gone were the beautiful black and white images, replaced with sickly brown soldiers being chased by a weirdly green "Thing". Luckily, this colorized version of The Thing From Another World has been out of circulation for many years.

In 1982 director John Carpenter remade The Thing From Another World as The Thing and this movie was adapted into a line of comic books in the 1990s and a video game a few years back. More recently, there's been talk of writer director Frank Darabont ( The Shawshank Redemption ) adapting the original Campbell story as a television mini-series.

Still, there's something to be said about the original – I know how I'll be spending this Halloween. Both The Thing from Another World and The Thing are currently available on DVD.