My entertainment choices have always tended to be science fiction and horror genres. As I was growing up in the Ohio Valley, I often struggled to stay up late for Chiller Theater hosted by "Chilly Billy" Bill Cardille on Channel 11 out of Pittsburgh, disobeying my parents' wishes by sneaking down to the den where I would adjust the tv antenna so that I could watch those glorious B-movies until the early hours of a Sunday morning.
Nowadays, countless movies are at our fingertips. We can watch anything, anytime and anywhere. And there is just so much to watch: a Golden Corral movie buffet spread over cable, satellite, and internet with slashers, zombies, vampires, robots, and children's dolls wielding knives.
I have spent most of October dedicating every evening to a "scary" movie. I have my big glass of water, Pez dispensers locked and loaded, and an occasional bowl of popcorn all ready to go in my darkened den. Each night, I search Xfinity On Demand, Prime Video, and Hulu, hoping to discover one gem I have never watched. More often than not, I find myself disinterested in the multitude of indistinguishable choices or watching the first half an hour of a movie contemplating whether or not I had already seen this particular one.
I just want to recapture that elusive feeling of yesteryear. I want to be that kid waiting until midnight to catch a good scary movie. I long to relive the anticipation of watching something special, a movie that will haunt me forever. And so I dug through my alphabetized boxes of DVDs in search of the one film that takes me back: The Thing from Another World!
To build my anticipation, I let the DVD wait patiently atop an end table in the den for nearly a week. In the meantime, I kept thinking about the movie, reliving all the scenes as they replayed in my memory. What is it about this seventy-year-old movie that brings me back to it year after year around this time? Many critics acknowledge its rightful place in the annals of excellent science fiction. Rotten Tomatoes critics even have The Thing at 87%, certified fresh. But what about me? What do I love about it?
The plot is classically simple. The Thing from Another World is a 1951 science-fiction movie about a research team of scientists and military personnel discovering a flying saucer and a sizeable frozen being underneath the ice in the Arctic. Of course, the ice melts, and the battle between mankind and the unfrozen "thing" ensues.
Nothing elevates the action in a movie than a setting whose presence seems to create a character unto itself. I can experience the frigid cold of Antarctica with the lights out while wrapped in a blanket. Throughout the stark black and white movie, I accompany the research team as they huddle together on a plane, trudge across the icy landscape in sub-zero temperatures, and barricade themselves against the howling winds pounding at the door. Even better, I stand with them on the frozen tundra as part of an incredibly iconic scene in which they spread out in a circle, extending their arms toward one another while crudely creating the circumference of the saucer buried under the ice.
The characters are unapologetically stereotypical. Two groups embody the research team: the scientists and the military. Leading the research team is Dr. Carrington, a pretentious fellow who cares more about protecting the alien attempting to kill them than ensuring the survival of mankind. Carrington's counterpart is Captain Patrick Hendry, the level-headed military man who wants to kill the alien as soon as he realizes it is alive. The philosophical battle is fought through some glorious, well-written dialogue by today's standards. I always found it a really cool kind of party there in Antarctica where everyone smokes and drinks coffee; if only they weren't fighting for their lives and the very survival of the world.
The legendary James Arness, who was Marshall Matt Dillon for 20 years on Gunsmoke, portrays the humanoid "thing," mutely asserting his presence on the screen. Imposing is the only word that adequately describes the alien as he towers above every human he encounters inside and outside the research facility. Doctor Carrington's scientific curiosity over the alien consumes him as he learns more and more about the creature's genetic makeup. While clearly humanoid in appearance, the alien only looks like a person. In actuality, it is more of a vegetable, one that survives on our blood the way we depend on green beans and corn on the cob. A reporter on this adventure comically refers to the "thing" as a "super carrot."
I know what you are thinking. A carrot? The writers call their own monster a carrot? This sounds stupid. Indeed, there are countless aspects of this 1950s movie that are silly in retrospect. I don't let any of this bother me; I relish the unique quirkiness as something more endearing rather than silly.
This movie did not have the extravagant multi-million dollar budget that a movie produced seventy years later would have, nor does it need it. I am not here to justify some insightful message hidden in the movie. Nor am I claiming it to be a classic.
When I rewatch The Thing from Another World, I am simply amazed at its ability to transport me back to an early time in my life, a time when the only worry I had while watching it was whether or not Mom and Dad would flip on the light and tell me to go back to bed before the movie was even over.
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