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Somebody in this camp ain't what he appears to be

By Bert Ehrmann

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michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-10-06


I've been a big fan of the two sci-fi/horror films, The Thing From Another World (1951) and its remake The Thing (1982) for many years now. Though both movies deal with the same subject matter — an alien invasion fought by the small crew of a far off base — each approaches the material very differently.

In The Thing From Another World, a group of scientists working at the North Pole record an object from space crashing into the ice. They request help from a nearby Air Force base and at the crash site find a downed UFO encased in the ice. Their discovery of the century is short lived, though, when an explosion designed to free the craft instead destroys it. Fortunately for them, they manage to find the UFO pilot's remains some distance from the crash-site. Back at the science station, this frozen "Thing" is accidentally freed and goes on the rampage, literally out for blood in order to grow a crop of new baby "Things" to take over the world.

The Thing From Another World is an incredibly well-made, if not arguably the best, 1950s “monster movie.” Undoubtedly The Thing From Another World would go on to influence a host of other films like Them! (1954), Alien (1979) and ultimately a The Thing From Another World remake simply titled The Thing in 1982.

In 1982 director John Carpenter was in the middle of an impressively creative period of films that included gems like Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Halloween (1978) and Escape from New York (1981) which he would follow with The Thing. This time, Kurt Russell would star as R.J. MacReady, a world-weary helicopter pilot stationed in Antarctica at “National Science Institute Station 4” along with a group of other workers and researchers.

One day a helicopter from another base chases a dog into the camp of the station, and when the men of the helicopter try to kill the dog they are themselves killed by their own ineptitude and the men of the Station 4 who think these other men are out to hurt them. MacReady and another flies to this distant base and finds it in ruins, blown apart and burned down. There, MacReady finds the remains of a weird “Thing,” part man and monster all mixed together.

Back at Station 4 the dog reveals itself to be another alien shape shifting “Thing,” able to mimic anything living it comes into contact with including people. And while the men of the station deal with the dog-”Thing” quickly enough, they soon lose control of matters when it's revealed that several members of the station's crew have almost certainly been replaced by this creature.

Without knowing whom to trust the men break down and turn on one and other, not sure who are perfect “Thing” duplicates and who are real.

More a film about paranoia than a monster movie, The Thing was a miss at the box office, earning back just $20 million of its $15 million budget the summer E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial would earn over $300 million in theaters.

But that's not where the story of The Thing ended. Somehow, over almost 30 years of showings on TV, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray and now digital download The Thing has become a cult-classic with sci-fi and horror aficionados who appreciate it as one of the best films of that genre ever produced.

And now a remake of the remake also titled The Thing is due in theaters October 14. Reportedly not as much as a remake as a prequel to the '82 The Thing, this new film focuses on the group of the doomed station discovered by MacReady in the '82 The Thing that had initially uncovered the creature buried in the ice. Lead by student Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), this first group must find a way to destroy the creature before it duplicates them and every other living thing on the planet.

If what the crew of the '82 The Thing finds left of this other station is any indication of how well they did in combating the creature, let's just say they didn't do that well. Visit me online at AlphaEcho.com.

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