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February 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Thing From Another World (1951)

Directed by Howard Hawks, Christian Nyby

Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan and James Arness

Run time- 87 minutes

A distress signal is sent from a scientific outpost near the North Pole to the nearest U.S. Air Force base, a thousand miles away in Alaska. Radar and other instruments have detected a large metallic object entering the atmosphere and crashing into the ice, a short distance from the outpost. Quickly taking action, the Air Force commander dispatches a rescue and recovery team, thinking the object may possibly be a secret Russian aircraft of some type.

Soon after ariving at the outpost, Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey) and his crew, along with a few of the scientists from the outpost, led by Dr. Kerrington (Robert Cornthwaite) take the short plane ride in search of the crash site. With the object causing major magnetic disturbances to their navigation equipment, they are forced to home in on the object with a Geiger counter and eventually find their quarry, a mysterious ship, completely submerged in a layer of solid ice.

A severe miscalculation in their attempt to free the ship causes it to self-destruct though, and at the moment they think the find of the century has been lost they then discover that there is something else trapped in the ice not far away, something that looks eerily like a man.....a very, very, large man.
Using axes they then free the strange looking being, taking care to keep it locked safely in a block of ice and return it to the outpost.

And as usually happens in these types of situations, one of the officers inadvertently thaws out the ice block, which frees The Thing From Another World.....setting him loose, to wreak havok apon the outpost and everyone trapped within.

As most horror fans are well aware by now, The Thing From Another World is the lesser-known forerunner of the John Carpenter 80's horror classic The Thing. And while Carpenters version is best remembered for its gory and unparalleled special effects, created by Rob Bottin (with a nice assist from Sam Winston), Howard Hawks' 1951 version has stood tall on its own creepy horror merits for well over 60 years. In many respects, this film can be considered The Apex cold-war era, paranoia-driven alien invasion flick. What this film lacks in flashy effects it more then made up for with a myriad of other more subtle yet effective film-making techniques.

The amazing musical score, which helped to propel every single significant moment, was the glue that had you stuck to the edge of your seat. And the sense of isolation and ever-impending doom that was so masterfully achieved by directors Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks was another factor in propelling this film into the ranks of "Elite Horror".

This film provided a stellar horror story-line for its time. I mean, come on.....A group of civilians and military personnel, trapped within a small outpost in the middle of a massive snow storm. A thousand miles from help and an angry alien monster lurking about just outside the walls.....sneaking in at will for the sole purpose of harvesting the humans and using their blood to spawn the seeds that would grow into an army of invading aliens. Forcing the scientists and Air Force officers to come up with an ingenious means by which to dispatch of the nearly indestructible monster (played by the man who would later become a TV icon, the late, great James Arness). Which brings us to one of the lesser recognized aspects of this amazing movie. Although for the most part this film was made for the purpose of scaring the crap out of kids and adults alike, it also had a more covert objective, as slickly made anti-Russian Cold-War propaganda. When folks walked out of the theater or left the drive-in back in 1951, every one of them felt a little more secure in the idea that no matter what kind of horrors lurked about during that time, American ingenuity and military might would always be able to defeat the threat.

There are many factors that have led to this film becoming more then just a cult classic in the horror genre.

In my opinion it was one of the first sci-fi/horror films to break the mold of the stereotypical, "Monster on the loose" horror movie. The script is intelligent and witty, and with the constant overlapping dialog it is pure Howard Hawks genius, adding yet another subtle layer of realism to the story, from the opening scene to the final showdown. It was also the first film to employ a "full body burn" where a stuntman was set aflame from head to foot (done with a stuntman and not James Arness). Later, it was to receive an honor which few horror films can lay claim to, In 2001 the United States Library of Congress deemed the film "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Not too shabby if you ask me. As a horror fan I sort of take a little bit of pride in knowing there is an old monster movie out there that has reached that kind of status with the usually stuffy Library of Congress. And being well over 60 years old now, Im sure there are countless horror fans of today's younger generation that have yet to see this film and to them all I can say is, There is a hidden gem of a horror movie out there, a near-perfect incarnation of suspense and terror, waiting..... patiently..... frozen in the ice..... waiting to be discovered and unleashed once again.

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