Kenneth Tobey    Capt. Pat Hendry
James Arness    The Thing
Margaret Sheridan    Nikki Nicholson
Robert Cornthwaite    Dr. Arthur Carrington
Douglas Spencer    Ned "Scotty" Scott
James Young    Lt. Ed Dykes
Dewey Martin    Bob
Robert Nichols    Lt. Ken Erickson
William Self    Sgt. Barnes
Eduard Franz    Dr. Stern
John Dierkes    Dr. Chapman
Kurt Russell    MacReady
Wilford Brimley    Blair
T.K. Carter    Nauls
David Clennon    Palmer
Richard Dysart    Dr. Copper
Richard Masur   
Donald Moffat   
Charles Hallahan   
Keith David

Directed by Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks. Written by Charles Lederer (based on the story "Who Goes There" by John W. Campbell). 1951. Running time: 87 Minutes. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Bill Lancaster. 1982. Running time: 108 Minutes.

thing2.jpg (9963 bytes)We recently watched the 1950s Thing from Another World back-to-back with its 1982 remake The Thing. Here are our unconsidered film school comparisons and observations:

  • The remake is actually better. Believe it or not. A remake better than the original? Heresy you might say - but go watch the 1951 movie again: what constituted scary back in the early 1950s no longer does I'm afraid. A pointy-eared alien no longer hacks the grade I'm afraid.
  • The original isn't bad. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed it. In the beginning it is effective in setting up a sense of dread and even has one or two jolts along the way. Not bad for a Black & White 1950s movie. Unfortunately it doesn't maintain its chills - problem being said pointy-eared alien.
  • The special effects in the remake remain special to this very day. Masterminded by the legendary Rob Bottin they are definitely a "landmark in gore" as critic Pauline Kael remarked. Think the chest-bursting scene in Alien multiplied several times and you get the idea. However, the effects held up really good and are actually better than a lot of the CGI seen in the likes of The Faculty and so forth. Is it just me or is CGI no substitute some real clever model work and makeup? Made before the term CGI was so much as a glint in some programmer's eye, The Thing makes a lot of special effects in recent movies look like the work of amateurs.
  • My! Have movies and times changed! All of the killings in the 1951 version occur off-screen, 31 years later John (They Live, Dark Star) Carpenter's version has most of the cast killed off in gruesome and graphic ways like having their arms being lobbed off with blood spurting and so forth. In the original movie, the members of the research crew consisted of upright Air Force pilots, idealistic scientists (who wants to communicate with the alien instead of just wanting to destroy it) and a pert secretary. No one swears, everybody smokes (back then everybody did you know!), alcohol consumption is restricted to social occasions and (almost) everybody co-operates and is well disciplined. Also, more importantly, no one wanders off by themselves like they do in almost all modern horror movies from Halloween to Friday the 13th.
  • thingfrom.jpg (14308 bytes)Contrast this to the 1982 version: drinking is an acceptable pastime and definitely not restricted to a social occasions. In fact, when we first meet the character played by Kurt Russell, he is busy nursing his bottle of Bell's while playing chess against a computer. (When he loses, he spills his drink in the machine's innards causing it to short circuit.) Everybody swears, not everyone smokes but marijuana is on the menu for some of them, absolutely no one co-operates and everyone is out for himself and distrusts the others. Not exactly a well-disciplined bunch. There are no pert secretaries. And everybody wanders off on their own for extended periods of time.
  • Thus the square-jawed heroism of the Korean War era makes way for the cynical and jaded posturing of the post-Vietnam generation. Russell's character is a true Carpenter anti-hero in the line of his previous Snake Plissken role in Escape from New York (which he later reprised for laughs in Escape from L.A.).
  • "Watch the skies," the journalist cautions the world in his radio broadcast at the end of the 1951 movie. The 1950s were to see more alien invasion tales such as War of the Worlds and Invasion of the Body Snatchers just to mention two, the only notable exception probably being The Day the Earth Stood Still. The other, being commies or McCarthy witch hunters (whichever way you read these parables), being the enemy. By 1982 the enemy is probably ourselves: "Let's sit here a while and see what happens," Kurt Russell wearily eyes the only other surviving member of the crew. Is he the alien? Or is Russell? We don't know and the screen cuts to black . . .


Copyright © September 1999  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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