This week begins Classic Horror Movie Week, where every day I write about a classic “horror” movie, leading up to Halloween on Friday. Um, that’s Halloween the holiday, not Halloween the movie. Anyvay. I watched all these movies for the first time this week, so you’re getting a fresh perspective.
I’m starting with Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World, often called just The Thing. The basic plot involves a group of military and scientists at an arctic research station, who discover a crashed UFO, and recover a body. It thaws and comes back to life, and attacks them. Cue frenzied gunshots and general mayhem.
What’s remarkable about this film is how taut it is. It’s populated with half a dozen standout characters, each with distinctive personalities and viewpoints. One driven scientist insists that the creature is too important of a scientific discovery to kill, even if it’s attacking them. One soldier is just plain freaked out by the thing. A reporter is always asking for information or complaining about the news blackout. The hero keeps a level head, of course, though he has his unsteady moments.
And they all interact. Some of the characters become antagonists, but never villains. They just all have different motivations.
Take that scientist. He becomes a real blockade to the hero, but his opinions make complete sense. He’s not crazy; he just believes that the scientific discoveries possible from researching this alien are more important than their lives. Understandable.
Apparently, the creature never looked scary enough for Hawks, so he did the next best thing: it appears briefly, and then usually from a distance. It’s effective, really, turning the movie into more of a noir piece. You fear the bad guy (whether the mob boss or the murderous alien) because the movie builds up to him.
Overall, I was impressed. It’s a solid little film, full of fun, interesting characters and a taut, fast-paced plot. Like the best of the noir films, if nothing else it’s an exhilarating ride.