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Sunday, October 25, 2015

HubrisWeen 3, Day 20: The Thing From Another World (1951)

Written by Charles Lederer (with uncredited input from Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht), based on the story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Directed by Christian Nyby (with uncredited assistance from Howard Hawks)

Margaret Sheridan:  Nikki
Kenneth Tobey:  Captain Patrick Hendry
Robert Cornthwaite:  Dr. Arthur Carrington
James Arness:  The Thing

One of the most rewarding aspects of this whole HubrisWeen boondoggle is that I get to see tons of stuff I never quite got around to, and that I've been hearing great things about for the entirety of my B movie hobby. Pretty much everyone who's seen this movie calls it a masterpiece, and I know one person who rented a movie theater for his 40th birthday so he could screen this sucker for his friends and family. Now it's my turn to see what I think of it. Frankly, after some of the films from this year's alphabetically-organized list, I could use something that damn near everyone agrees is a good movie--and that one or two people refer to as an all-time classic (in Danny Peary's book listing his choices for Oscars with the benefit of hindsight, he calls this one for the Best Picture award for 1951).

Plus I get to solidify the theadbare and half-consistent HubrisWeen continuity, since I checked out the John Carpenter remake (an undisputed masterpiece) and the largely unnecessary prequel (an undisputed mediocrity) the first and second time I decided to do six months' worth of reviews in three and a half weeks. So there's that.

The first thing I noticed is that John Carpenter loved this movie enough to duplicate the "letters burning through the screen" opening title animation. Respect. Plenty of brass on the soundtrack, which is one of my favorite things about old Fifties monster movies--there is no subtlety whatsoever in the scores. Everyone in California that could play a trumpet got pressed into service by Universal (or, in this case, RKO Pictures) when they made a science-fiction movie with an alien menace in it. Or a gillman. Or a gigantic towering crystal. Or a giant bug. You get the point.

The credits roll over a wasteland of snow and ice, revealed to be outside Anchorage, Alaska by the first scene with people or dialogue in it. Ned Scott, a news reporter hoping to find something interesting to write about, enters the Air Force officers' club. He's apparently a veteran himself because one of the pilots recognizes him from previous service (in Accra, which was as hot and humid as the current posting is frigid and windswept). There's nothing in particular going on in the officers' club (banter and gambling, but it'd have to be the slowest news day imaginable for anyone to cover the poker game in Anchorage). A couple of the officers refer to a Dr. Carrington, famed for his work on the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, who is two thousand miles away at the North Pole, doing science with several other people (including the girlfriend of Captain Hendry, currently suffering through some good-natured chaffing at the poker table).

Captain Hendry gets called away from his game by the general in charge of the base (one assumes it's the general who ran over the President's dog or something because Anchorage isn't exactly a plum assignment). The general wants Hendry to go up to the science camp and check out reports of a crashed aircraft--neither the American nor Canadian forces have reported any missing planes, so it looks like a chance to grab an example of Soviet technology, and possibly even quiz the pilot if he's still alive and feels like talking to his ideological enemies. Weather report in hand, Hendry gets permission to take Ned along with him in case there's a story (the general says it's perfectly fine if he leaves Scott up there as well).

The plane turns out to be just as luxurious as you'd expect for military travel in 1951 (there are bunk beds, and a sled dog team in case someone needs to be hauled out of the crash site). As required by Federal law, everyone in this black-and-white science fiction movie subsists on coffee; there are no women with multiple doctorates on the plane to serve it so the Air Force guys have to make their own. A radio call from the science base clues Hendry in to some magnetic disturbance; whatever's screwing with his compass had the plane seven degrees off from its actual bearing--and when you're talking about landing where you need to be or dying, seven degrees is plenty to get concerned about. Secondary measures are put into effect and the plane makes it to the base without further incident.

In the base itself, things look perfectly cozy and comfortable (one of the pilots jokes about the taxpayer expense re:  making the base into a place people would actually want to live in). There's half a dozen scientists in the dining room, and one of them says that there's a big unknown story out there in the ice, but that none of the base staff can agree on what exactly it is. Hendry leaves for Carrington's lab but stops off to let Carrington's secretary, Nikki Nicholson, know that a mild prank she played on him has led to razzing from everyone at the Anchorage AFB (and considering how little there is to do in Alaska, I'm betting that's every airman's newest hobby).

In the lab, Dr. Carrington is doing science. He's wearing a blazer and a turtleneck, which makes me wonder if this movie is where Carl Sagan picked up his main fashion statement. Carrington wants Hendry to fly him about fifty miles out to find...something that he won't tell the pilot what it is. It turns out that Carrington himself doesn't know what it is, so he can't tell Hendry. He can describe its behavior, though--the magnetic distortion suggests a 20,000 ton meteorite has landed in the Arctic. The super-science ViewMaster that was rigged up for an unrelated experiment shows that the object, whatever it is, moved up in the atmosphere before landing on the ice. One of Carrington's assistants, Redding, gives a quick rundown of how the distance and bearing of the whatever-it-is out in the wastes was determined, but Hendry doesn't understand all that "math" and "computation" so he just takes the guy's word for it that 48 miles east is where he needs to go.

This they now do.

From the air, Hendry and everyone else crammed into the cockpit see a huge damage track scraped into the Arctic ice while the compass spins and the Geiger counter blinks rapidly (I'm guessing loud clicking noises would be a distraction nobody wants while they're a few thousand feet up). Hendry lands the plane without incident and a theremin supplements the brass players as the scientists, airmen and Ned Scott, Ace Reporter, approach the impact site. Paul Frees' unmistakable voice is heard during the sequence where all the various scientists explain what happened (in short:  The whatever-it-was landed, skidded along the ice, melted a vast quantity of that ice until it sank into the water, which re-froze over it). There's some kind of tailfin poking out of the ice, which means that the "meteorite" theory is officially getting discarded in favor of the "weird aircraft or possibly spaceship" one. The various investigators spread out to find the perimeter of the craft and wind up in a perfect circle; there are, of course, no round aircraft in the American or Soviet military forces. One of the men announces that they've found an honest-to-goodness flying saucer (well, crashing saucer, sinking saucer and immobile saucer at this point). There's a reference to this scene in the photos and videos at the Finnish camp in John Carpenter's remake, by the way, with all the scientists in their parkas standing in a circle on the ice field. It's a fine tip of the hat to a previous adaptation of the same material while refusing to slavishly copy the way the 1951 film handled everything (for one thing, there are at least two female characters in this movie; two more than Carpenter's film).

The metallurgist says the tailfin's made of some kind of metal he's never encountered and starts trying to file pieces off of it for later study (when he's got access to a microscope and air warmer than 25 below zero). A plan is hatched to use thermite bombs to melt the ice and excavate the alien ship--with the supplies everyone has with them, there's no way in hell they can chip away enough ice to take a look at the crashed vehicle. Ned Scott takes a couple pictures and yells for the radioman; Captain Hendry politely informs him that national security trumps freedom of the press and that Scott won't be sharing this story until someone higher up in the Air Force says it's okay.

The bombs are set and primed, and the radioman is told to check and see if it's okay for the journalist tagalong to tell the world about their discovery (the overlapping dialogue in these conversations are a real treat--they're completely understandable even though multiple things are being discusses at the same time; it's the conversational equivalent of those multiplane-focus shots in Citizen Kane).

The thermite's supposed to clear all the ice off the flying saucer in about half a minute. Carrington says a little pompous speech about the wonders waiting to be discovered under the ice field but whatever that saucer was made of, the thermite sets it off like a Roman candle. This wipes out the entire discovery and also makes sure the budget for the film saves tens of thousands of dollars on set construction. All is not completely lost, though; the man with the Geiger counter finds a humanoid shape frozen in the ground. Rather than set it on fire as well, several airmen (and Ned) chip it out of the ice with axes, throw it on a sled and drag it to the plane. The ship's pilot makes it back to the science station without further incident. The ice brick looks to be about ten feet long and four or five feet tall and wide. It gets stashed in a storeroom and Captain Hendry orders one of his airmen to break a window so there's no chance of the ice melting; the scientists all want to study the alien lifeform inside but Hendry wants to get proper clearance and proceed slowly rather than risk melting, shattering or otherwise destroying the only remaining object from the saucer crash site.

Hendry sets a guard in the sub-freezing room to keep everyone away from the body in the ice slab and all the scientists start theorizing about whether or not it's a good idea to chip the alien out of its icy prison. There's some very valid points against doing it, including the idea that alien bacteria could infect everyone on the base and the possibility of the cadaver bursting into flames when it comes into contact with the Terran atmosphere. Carrington eventually cuts through the nonsense and says Hendry needs to talk to a general and get orders about what to do; until then, nobody's going to break the saucer pilot's body out of the ice slab.

That's easier said than done, though--Tex the radio operator has a message from the general telling Hendry to use thermite bombs to free the crashed ship from the ice (oops!) and await the general's arrival at the science base; once an authority figure is there, more things can be done. But there's a storm blowing, and the base radio can't reach 2000 miles from the North Pole to Anchorage while the atmosphere's all screwy. For the time being, everyone's on their own. Hendry takes command of the base with almost no complaints from the scientists, mollifying Carrington when he adds the doctor's opinion re:  the importance of examining the dead spaceman to the message that's going out to the military at Anchorage.

The mood on the base settles into one of peevishness--the scientists want to start on their alien autopsy and Ned Scott wants to tell the world about the amazing scoop he's stumbled on to; instead, everyone's waiting around until the radio operators can get a signal through the storm (which could last anywhere from a couple hours to several weeks). Meanwhile, the lieutenant guarding the ice block is trying not to freak out looking at the thing (or, properly, The Thing) inside. The ice is clear enough that he can see it's humanoid, hairless, and its eyes are open. It doesn't take much to freak him out after making eye contact with a dead Martian. It's also telling that Hendry (and the audience) find this out when another character, Sergeant Barnes, tells him about it; rumor and innuendo travel faster than the official channels. Hendry cuts the four-hour guard shifts down to two in order to nip freakouts in the bud. The sergeant also mentions that he gave the lieutenant guarding the ice block and electric blanket to avoid hypothermia while on guard duty.

Hendry cuts a booze-and-smooching date with Nikki Nicholson short so he can get some sleep before taking over a guard shift at 0200 (which is 2 AM to us civilians); meanwhile, the guy on guard duty throws a blanket over the ice block so he doesn't have to look at the creatuer any more. An electric blanket, which means that the slab starts to melt. That's some excellent, high quality work there, Barnes. He empties his gun at the monster, hitting it at least once, and runs screaming for the officer in charge. Hendry goes into the store room and finds the semi-melted ice slab, with a huge recess shaped vaguely like a space monster inside it. The sled dogs outside start going nuts as they encounter the creature and Carrington says they've got to save the monster from their pack animals. A look out the windows shows that the dogs have more to worry about than the Thing.

Four of the airmen go out armed with rifles (and I wonder why the hell they don't let their sled dogs sleep inside during a howling snowstorm--one imagines a dozen pupsicles after a night like this one). The alien runs off into the snowy wastes and was in such a hurry that it left one of its hands behind (good dog!); the airmen still don't let the dogs come inside even though it's really cold and there's a monster on the loose.

I really dig the next shot--all the scientists that can fit around a table are examining the severed monster hand and all the other cast of the film are standing in a half-circle around them wondering what they're going to find out. The airmen each describe something they saw while the dogs were working the monster over (more of that overlapping dialogue; something I'm really not used to in a film from 1951) and the scientists all mutter about the chitinous barbs on the severed appendage's knuckles. Ned Scott, Ace Reporter, says that with an arm ripped off and wandering around in the storm, the creature is as good as dead; Carrington, having taken a look at the structure of the limb and being a scientist, is far from convinced. He gets to drop one of those awesome Fifties SF lines when the doctor says he's not certain that the monster can die (and having lived through a flying saucer crash, being frozen in ice, shot multiple times and having a hand ripped off by a dog, I'd have to agree--even Rasputin would have given up at this point).

Another doctor takes samples of the material inside the severed hand and checks it out under a microscope--there's no blood vessels or nerves inside it, just an undifferentiated cellular mass. Ned says that it sounds like a vegetable and the scientist agrees. The journalist says he can't quite accept a super carrot as the thing they've all seen moving around outside and Carrington points out that the being (and its race) built a flying saucer that conquered the immense distances between the stars and flew using some enormous power that nobody on the base can even guess at. Not too bad for a Shambling Mound in a jumpsuit. Carrington gets a brief monologue about how the plant creature's intellect is superior to a human's because its species wouldn't have grown and evolved with emotion as a factor--and yes, I'm willing to bet he wants to try and communicate with the Thing once it comes back. There are a lot of willing-collaborator scientist characters in alien invasion movies (the quisling psychiatrist from Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes immediately to mind--take your pick between the 1956 or 1978 versions of that film). This might well be the wellspring of that character type.

Ned Scott says that he doesn't think Carrington's a lunatic for suggesting the seemingly impossible existence of the plant alien, but that his readers will never buy it. Carrington responds by mentioning two species of terrestrial plants that can capture prey and apparently communicate with each other on a rudimentary level. If this film was made in the mid-Seventies, I'm sure one of the scientists would have referred to Kirlian auras and used that to bolster their claims as well.

Carrington finds a seedpod in the creature's palm and wistfully talks about the possibility of reproduction without emotion, pain or pleasure, saying the monster is superior to humanity in every way. And yes, there he goes, talking about how essential it is to communicate with it and learn the secrets of the universe. Which does make sense, and would be great if that were possible, but this film is firmly on John Wyndham's side--that author always believed that two intelligent species would fight to the death when they encountered each other; alien modes of thought are too alien (and human thoughts just as incomprehensible to the aliens) to ever allow actual communication and understanding between species. And even if it were possible to have a civilized conversation between the Space Carrot and the people of Earth, don't forget that the first thing humanity did when encountering this being was set his car on fire.

This line of reasoning gets cut off when a new capability is revealed--the hand starts moving and clenching rhythmically into a fist--Carrington theorizes that the plant flesh absorbed the dog blood covering it (the alien fought pretty roughly against its canine attackers) and was restored to life. So it's a Vampire Space Carrot to boot. Hendry gets an axe and goes out looking for the monster; Carrington says that the alien has so far only attacked in self defense--and he does have a point there. The creature thawed out and was shot shortly thereafter and attacked by dogs. Hendry says he's got no problem with the chief doctor trying to establish a line of communication with the alien as long as that alien is securely locked up and unable to hurt anyone. Hendry's also all right with Ned taking a picture or two of the Thing, which one would assume makes the journalist's day.

The posse stops by the radio shack to warn Tex that the monster woke up, can't be hurt by bullets and is on the loose--Tex is understandably concerned but nobody on vegetable-hunting detail can spare any time to console the guy. One of the airmen uses a Geiger counter as an improvised Thing-detector but it turns out that the mineralogy room at the air base has some pitchblende samples, and gives him a false positive. During the search it's revealed that the outpost has a greenhouse, and that it's kept locked to keep pilfering to a minimum (one imagines that fresh fruit and vegetables are among the most desirable commodities when you're at the top of the world). Carrington looks all shifty while standing among the potting tables and has everyone leave rather quickly.

The airmen plan to search for the monster outside in half-hour shifts since they're not immune to the cold. While they're out doing a search and destroy mission, Carrington and three other scientists check out some stuff in the greenhouse that the military men didn't notice--some very specific damage to some of the plants that would have been caused by brief exposure to the outside. Turns out the door to the outside was forced open, closed, and the lock physically bent back into shape (the Thing would have been able to do this with one hand). The cabinet that the scientists open--expecting to possibly meet the plant creature from another world--turns out to have the body of a sled dog inside it instead. The alien exsanguinated the dog (leaving it completely drained of blood) and fled when it heard the approaching search party.

Carrington polishes up his Science Traitor bona fides by telling the other men that the Thing will undoubtedly return to the greenhouse and that nobody should tell Hendry or any of his men about this new information. The other scientists raise some objections, but get overruled by their boss. Carrington says he and two of the other scientists will guard the greenhouse overnight and that other scientists--who are to be sworn to secrecy--will take over in the morning. Meanwhile, the military men come back in after performing as thorough a search as they can in such awful conditions. No dice (and no plant creature either). The radio crew bring in a stack of increasingly ticked-off messages from the AFB's general--giving orders to preserve the crashed ship and the bodies of any aliens in it at first, and then issuing a series of strident commands to acknowledge receipt of all the previous orders. Then one of the doctors, badly injured, staggers into the mess room and collapses but not before telling everyone that something's up in the greenhouse.

When the stricken scientist wakes back up he says that two of the scientists were killed by the Thing in the greenhouse, hung upside down and bled dry. Two military teams move towards the greenhouse; Hendry's in charge of the one that plans to do reconnaissance. He whispers orders as everyone gets ready to move and there's a great jump scare when it turns out the Thing is right there at the door. They manage to shut the door on the monster and brace it with lumber (better than nothing), and when Carrington arrives Hendry tears into him for not reporting the dead dog and for getting two of his colleagues killed. One of the scientists wonders why the dead men are still hanging upside-down in the greenhouse like slaughtered cattle and Hendry--military man taking charge--says that gestures like that are going to have to wait until the danger is over. He also puts Dr. Carrington under house arrest to minimize the risk of any more "I thought about telling you but didn't" stuff that will result in further deaths. It's only at this point that Carrington points out that Hendry is taking over and giving orders without any authority to do so; Barnes' rifle is incredibly persuasive when it comes to getting the good doctor to play nice and go to his room.

Once he gets to that room, Carrington calls the surviving and uninjured scientists in to give them a pep talk--the alien monster is stronger, tougher and smarter than all of them, and appears to view every human being in the base as a food source, nothing more. Carrington says that only science can defeat the monster, but he doesn't have any idea what would actually work. After a brief pity party, Carrington reveals that he has been growing little tiny alien conquerors in a botany table--he's swiped plasma from the base's medical center and planted seeds from the monster's severed hand in dirt. Using the blood supply as fertilizer, it looks like about a couple dozen pulsating sprouts are growing steadily along, and in only a few hours. I wonder if the alien plan was to plant a few thousand seeds in some place like the Mississippi River delta and make a continent-subjugating army in a couple of weeks. Two of the scientists agree with me, for what it's worth, but Carrington overrules everyone, declaring that "there are no enemies in science".

Hendry figures out that there are shenanigans afoot when the injured doctor has been given live-donor blood transfusions instead of the bottled stuff. He's got a good enough memory to know that he flew 35 pints of plasma to the base earlier and wonders what Carrington is doing with it. He asks Nikki about it, accurately surmising that she won't lie to him. When Hendry confronts Dr. Carrington about the experiment, the other scientists tend to agree with the captain rather than the Nobel prize winner--the creature is incredibly dangerous and making a few dozen more of them is suicidally risky. One of the scientists mentions that if the creature wants to spawn more of its kind in the greenhouse, it's going to need more blood and that puts everyone on the base at risk.

Carrington accuses Hendry of being scared like a child; this attempt at pushing the captain's buttons and making him act rashly and masculine fails to work because Hendry is perfectly willing to admit that he's scared. He also thinks that destroying the creature is the only way to guarantee the safety of everyone on the base (in the immediate future) and on Earth (in the long term). Carrington gets all smug when a message from General Fogarty in Anchorage arrives, giving Hendry a direct order to protect the alien from injury until the general arrives at the outpost and takes command of the situation. Hendry isn't willing to disobey a direct order but he does tell his radioman to call Anchorage back and try to convince them that killing the monster is necessary.

Two of the airmen who were outside guarding the greenhouse and watching for the Thing come inside, frostbitten and unable to see anything outside at night during a massive snowstorm. Hendry plans on getting everyone together in the mess hall and protect each other from the monster. They theorize that since bullets, dog teeth, cold and blunt force trauma won't hurt the alien it's time to think of something else. Nikki says that boiling or frying vegetables takes the fight right out of them but before anyone can rig up a flamethrower the Geiger counter starts registering a radiation source. The readings are going up even though nobody's moving the detector anywhere, so the radioactive thing must be coming closer to the base.

Hendry warns everyone that the creature is approaching and a hasty plan is put into action--three people are going to have buckets of kerosene (!) to splash over the Thing and a fourth one will shoot the creature with a flare pistol. That might well kill the monster, but it also stands a great chance of burning down the outpost, which will kill everyone inside. When the Thing breaks down the door there's a fantastic full-body burn suit effect and apparently being set on goddamned fire hurts the monster because it dives out a window and runs off into the snowy desolation. Everyone who didn't get their wrist or hand broken by the Thing plans to go out looking for the monster so they can kill it for good. The "buckets of kerosene" plan worked the first time, so they're trying it again--a rarity in monster movies. Usually the military tries a different plan the second time rather than modify something that almost had the effect they wanted.

One of the technicians says that rigging up an electrical trap for the Thing would hurt it more than fire (just roll with it; he's a scientist) and also probably not burn down the entire base and doom everyone. He gets the go-ahead to build his trap in the base corridor while Hendry goes to the radio room and tries to get word to General Fogarty that they need weapons and soldiers, pronto, before they all get killed by the creature and their blood used to generate dozens or hundreds of homicidal alien plant monsters. Nikki notices that everyone's breath is fogging in the air and theorizes that the monster has wrecked the heating oil pump, which means everyone's got about half an hour of heat left and then it's lights out for every character in the movie.

Hendry gets everyone into the generator room, figuring that the power supply for the base will be the natural next target for the monster. The enlisted men and technicians work up a grid on the floor (made of repurposed fencing wire) that's hooked up to the base power supply; when the Thing steps on it, they'll connect it to the generator and flash-fry the carrot monster. But until the creature shows up everyone's stuck waiting in a chilly room with a couple small space heaters and hoping not to die.

When the trap is rigged, someone runs in with a new message instructing Hendry to protect everyone on the base but not to hurt the "prisoner", which might not even be possible. Carrington says that Hendry's disobeying a direct order from his superior officers if he manages to kill the alien--and Hendry says that the scientist is welcome to testify at his court-martial after everything goes down. Carrington also says "knowledge is more important than life", which is usually an admirable sentiment but at this point it isn't helping anything.

Two men are stationed with Geiger counters at opposite ends of the corridor; one of them starts flashing and the other stays dark. One of the enlisted men points out that the alien is smart, and won't willingly go into a trap so the corridor lights go out and Hendry plans to use himself as live bait to get the Thing to follow him down the correct corridor. As the Geiger counter signals the creature's approach, one of the flight crew worries that the Thing might be able to read minds (as if they didn't have enough to worry about), which leads to the awesome line "It'll be real made when it gets to me" from one of the axe-toting airmen. The Geiger counter reaches its maximum display and the monster smashes through the door and barricade, staring down the knot of airmen and technicians in the hall.

This is the first really good look the viewer gets at the monster, and it's a pretty fantastic makeup job--James Arness, who would go on to television superstardom in "Gunsmoke", is the guy in the monster suit and he looks absolutely massive. His physicality works out well in the scene where the Thing picks up a wooden beam with one hand--I have no problem believing the alien is just that strong. As the Thing advances, Dr. Carrington shuts off the generator and keeps the airmen back by threatening them with a pistol (until another scientist gets the gun away from him). For all his attempts at sabotage, Carrington displays an inhuman amount of courage when he runs up to the monster and tries to communicate with it. He attempts to tell the Thing that he's there to help and that he wants to learn from whatever civilization produced the plant creature, but gets swatted aside with one hit.

And with nobody left to speak for the Thing, it advances on the group of military men until it's standing on the voltage trap. Hendry throws the switch and massive arcs of electricity light up the monster, making its flesh smoke (which can't have been much fun for James Arness). The flickering electricity and smoke increase as the monster's body boils away (the filmmakers swapped out the hulking Arness for a little person in identical costuming and makeup for a brief shot to show the Thing diminishing). Only when there's nothing left of the monster does Hendry turn the power off to the trap and tell Ned Scott that he can take his picture (the journalist faints dead away instead).

In the aftermath, Ned sends his story out to the world at last, ending his Fifties Sci-Fi Wrapup Speech with the iconic "Keep watching the skies!". In a film from 1951, constant vigilance was enough for the forces of righteousness--they would prevail over any enemy forces. Contrast this with the big-budget War of the Worlds adaptation made just two years later, where it takes divine intervention to stop the alien invaders. My guess is that as the Cold War started to get going, the American faith in our invincible fighting spirit and superior know-how was starting to fade. Once the threat of atomic extermination started to sink in to a nation that was experiencing unprecedented prosperity and influence, it probably seemed more likely that a war was inevitable and the courage of individual men and women wouldn't matter at all in it. But in 1951, a ragtag bunch of outclassed American military and scientific people could work together to overcome any obstacle.

I don't think I'd call this one a total masterpiece, but it comes rather close--I'd put it a little below the John Carpenter version from 1982 but far, far ahead of the prequel-to-the-remake from 2011. I was a big fan of the overlapping dialogue and frequent attempts from the characters to blow off steam and disguise their nervousness--they might have been in a horrible situation but everyone other than Carrington keeps their cool and works together in order to triumph over their adversary. And it really helps that all the characters are smart and work together; never have I been happier to see that there is no Brooklyn Guy comic relief in my monster flick.

Speaking of the Space Carrot, the monster barely ever shows up on screen (and we only really get a good look at it about five minutes from the end). But nearly every line of dialogue and action from about the twenty-minute mark is in reaction to its presence; like the shark in Jaws, the monster doesn't have to be on screen to influence the characters. And the cramped sets and small number of locations help sell the crisis to the viewer--the characters have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide once things start to go wrong, and they're forced to cobble their solution together out of what they have on hand. It's a film in the "figure out the solution before we all die" tradition of Destination Moon, which is one of my personal high-water marks for science fiction in film.

But I'm still kinda ticked that the sled dogs had to sleep outside in the cold.

This review is part of HubrisWeen, the blogging roundtable where people review 26 movies in alphabetical order. Click on that banner to see what people picked for T this time around.


  1. I would say that the two versions (I don't count the inexplicable "prequel") are actually different genres. Carpenter's film, of course, is horror, one of the best horror movies ever made. This one is really science fiction--though it is creepy at times, there is never a real sense that the good guys could lose, which undercuts the horror. And as a science fiction film it is as superlative as the '82 version is in the horror genre.

    Incidentally, regarding the sled dogs, my understanding from reading about Arctic and Antarctic exploration is that the dogs were generally left outside. Often they would just make little burrows in the snow (check out Jack London's White Fang or Call of the Wild); in more extreme conditions the dogs would be given tents, but still directly over the ice (Amundsen's fascinating account of his trip to the South Pole.)

    By 1982 I guess they had started bringing the dogs indoors, but in 1951 the treatment of the dogs is actually standard practice, and the dogs, by all accounts, didn't seem to mind. Sled dogs are amazing creatures.

  2. Oh, certainly. It's like any other time the same material is adapted by two different filmmakers (think of the two versions of TRUE GRIT, for example--the same book gets filmed twice, and the Coen brothers version isn't a remake of the John Wayne film).

    I'm sure that was the way people treated their sled dogs in 1951, but it still rubs me the wrong way. I'm sure the dogs wouldn't mind getting to sleep in a warmer room if they had the chance.

    Oh, and according to my friend Chad, that was the first full-body burn suit effect in cinema history. It's all the more effective because the movie doesn't dwell on it. The monster gets lit up and hightails it out the door because it is on goddamned fire. Makes perfect sense to me.

  3. Oh, certainly. It's like any other time the same material is adapted by two different filmmakers (think of the two versions of TRUE GRIT, for example--the same book gets filmed twice, and the Coen brothers version isn't a remake of the John Wayne film).

    I'm sure that was the way people treated their sled dogs in 1951, but it still rubs me the wrong way. I'm sure the dogs wouldn't mind getting to sleep in a warmer room if they had the chance.

    Oh, and according to my friend Chad, that was the first full-body burn suit effect in cinema history. It's all the more effective because the movie doesn't dwell on it. The monster gets lit up and hightails it out the door because it is on goddamned fire. Makes perfect sense to me.

    1. Oh, I dunno, the guys in the Carpenter version probably would've been a lot happier if they'd kept their dogs outside. : )

    2. Yeah, but they were going to wind up Monster Pulp one way or the other. At least the dogs were comfortable up to the point where they were absorbed into the writhing biomass of a Lovecraftian horror.