The Thing From Another World, The Thing ’82 and ’11

The Thing From Another World – 1951, US, 86m. Director: Christian Nyby. Streaming: Tubi

The Thing – 1982, US, 108m. Director: John Carpenter. Streaming: Peacock

The Thing – 2011, US, 103m. Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. Streaming: Peacock

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) An American scientific research team, isolated in a remote outpost at the North Pole, discover an alien crash site. The ship—and the frozen body of an extraterrestrial—is buried under layers of ice. The creature is quickly exhumed by members of the U.S. Air Force. But bringing it back to the compound proves to be a big mistake when, once thawed, the Thing comes back to life, hungry for human blood. The tall E.T. has a penchant for stringing its human victims upside down and draining them like pigs in an abattoir—a plot point subsequently used in many sci-fi/horror films, including Predator—and its murderous rampage seems unstoppable. A fifties classic, this Howard Hawks production (it’s rumored Hawks himself directed many scenes) was one of the blueprints for the “visiting alien” subgenre (and a subtext for McCarthyism) so prevalent in that decade. The sparse on-screen use of the creature (played by James Arness) plays into the overall effectiveness of the simple story and helps build an atmosphere of tension. The robust score by Dimitri Tiomkin and a fiery finale help to make this Thing a highly memorable scare show. And remember: keep watching the skies! B+

THE THING (1982) Considered a failure upon its initial release, John Carpenter’s modern take on John W. Campbell Jr.’s story, Who Goes There? (and reworking of the 1951 film), is now viewed as a masterwork in eighties special effects storytelling. A more faithful adaptation, this Thing pits a crew of doctors, scientists, and pilots against a parasitic, alien beast at a remote Antarctic research station. Unlike James Arness’s creature from the original, the alien in Carpenter’s film is a nasty and scary creation that can shapeshift into people or animals, ensuring a tense atmosphere of paranoia—and itself inspiring a whole generation of films with a similar theme. Rob Bottin’s jaw-dropping practical FX are the real star of The Thing, but screenwriter Bill Lancaster took care in delivering a tight screenplay with rich, complex characters not usually found in eighties splatter flicks, including Kurt Russell’s antihero, MacReady. Darker in tone (’51’s happy ending is jettisoned here for a bleaker, Reaganesque one), Carpenter’s movie works on all levels and is the rare remake that’s superior to the original. A must-see for any pulp horror aficionado. A

THE THING (2011) Acting as a prequel to the 1982 film, the story centers on the disastrous encounter between the neighboring Norwegian science team and the shapeshifting alien—before Kurt Russell and gang find out for themselves. After discovering the spacecraft and its occupant buried in the ice, the science division brings in American paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to identify the creature. Lloyd comes to realize her role is irrelevant to the science team when research leader—and all-around asshole—Dr. Sander Halvorson essentially tells her to speak only when spoken to. The audience comes to a similar conclusion when the film disintegrates into a remake of the earlier movie, in the process becoming a nearly pointless endeavor. It doesn’t help matters much that the filmmakers forgo the two most important elements from Carpenter’s version: the overwhelming atmosphere of paranoia, and Rob Bottin’s masterful make-up FX (here replaced by overused, cheap digital effects that make the creature look too cartoonish). Winstead makes a likable protagonist but unfortunately she doesn’t have much to do besides run and scream. As with the victims in these Thing movies, one can’t help feel this film itself got thinged, and is just a pale imitation of Carpenter’s classic. C

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