The second flick in my 1950s ‘Creature Feature’ double bill was the inspiration for one of my favorite genre films, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). And I can see why. Compared to ‘IT! The Terror from Beyond Space’ this one is a winner, hands down. The story centers on the military and civilian inhabitants of an isolated base north of Anchorage, Alaska who, while investigating a seismic phenomenon, find a flying saucer crashed in the ice. After accidently blowing it up, they discover the radioactive ships frozen occupant and, oh so wisely, decide to take it back with them. This is where 1951 and 1982 really diverge. Where Carpenters brilliant, Antarctica-set film becomes a riveting study in icy paranoia and gore-splattered terror, this one eases into a straight-forward tale of a humanoid alien (in this case, a tall bipedal vegetable) stalking around the base; searching for warm blood to feed it’s young. It’s in the cast and the way that they interact that the flick really shines. One thing director Christian Nyby seems to have encouraged was having the actors overlap their dialogue, at times flat out interrupting each other (a Spielberg-favoured method). They weren’t a bunch of stilted mannequins who waited patiently till the person next to them finished their lines before launching into their own wooden delivery; like a lot of the films of the era. They came off like ordinary people, always in a hurry to get their words out. And they seemed like a team (especially the military characters), with some effective, good-natured ‘ribbing’ going back and forth amongst the group. There was a subtle romantic subplot that I initially rolled my peepers at but was quickly disarmed by as a playful and effortless dynamic emerged between the two characters. I didn’t expect it and it worked quite well. As did the admirable amount of location shooting, coupled with some nice (and possibly dangerous) effects using fire and explosives. If you’re a fan of the ’82 version, you owe to yourself to check this out to understand Carpenters inspiration. Or if you just like films of the era. But just remember: “Watch the skies!”…after you watch this classic.
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