I thought I was hearing things.
I was in a Park Slope bar on a recent Saturday night speaking with a young woman about science fiction movies.
We covered some of the modern flicks, like The Hunger Games, and then I brought up my favorite sci-fi epic of all time.
“Have you ever seen The Thing?” I asked, referring to the 1951 masterpiece The Thing From Another World that has been scaring the screaming beejesus out of me since LBJ was in the White House.
My new friend rolled her eyes.
“Only about 20,000 times,” she said with mild exasperation.
I was overjoyed. I was starting to think that I was the only one who still enjoys this spooky tale of a murderous alien plant creature who goes on a bloodcurdling tear at an Artic outpost while a hardy handful of US Airmen try to torch his tuchas.
Everybody’s into the teeny-bopper vampire flicks and other such CGI chazerai, I constantly grumble. No one cares about the classics. But now here was a kindred spirit. Or so I thought.
My friend said her dad was a huge fan of the movie and would actually show it to any of the guys that she brought home.
“Wow,” I declared, “your dad sounds like my kind of guy!”
I was especially surprised because my father hated science fiction and horror flicks that way Count Dracula hated garlic and crucifixes.
“What are you watching?” he’d sneer if he saw us all—Mom included—gathered around the old Motorola. “The Creeping Snot from Planet X?”
Yes, Pop could sure turn a phrase, and no, there is no such movie by that name—though I’m thinking of writing one in my father’s honor.
Now this woman’s dad sounded mega-cool, but I slowly realized that she was fed up with that movie and really wanted to talk about something else. So I put a clamp on my inner film nerd and did something that heretofore I would have thought impossible.
I stopped talking about The Thing.
It’s still hard to believe that I actually heeded the maturity alert that was sounding in my brain and respected someone else’s feelings. But, brother, it sure wasn’t easy.
Eat Your Greens…Before They Eat You
James Arness, who would go on to play Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke for many a season, plays the eponymous creature, described by Scotty—a luckless reporter, not the engineer from Star Trek—as “an intellectual carrot.”
“The mind boggles,” the ink-stained wretch cannily observes.
What the man said. The mind boggles, the nerves tremble, and the whole body quivers as this vicious veggie takes on humanity in a battle for earth’s future.
Based on the short story “Who goes there” by John W. Campbell Jr., The Thing was officially directed by Christian Nyby, though some say producer Howard Hawks really helmed the picture, which features the same rapid-fire overlapping dialog that marked His Girl Friday and other Hawks films.
The special effects are primitive by today’s standards, of course, but the filmmaking is top notch and computer-free. And there’s actual suspense, as opposed to the gory dismemberment that you find in far too many modern horror films.
The movie has this claustrophobic feel to it as the heroes realize that they are trapped at the top of the world with a monster that is resistant to conventional weaponry.
Complicating matters even further is Dr. Carrington, the genius who wants to “learn” from the homicidal invader, while the good old American Joes just want to destroy the big bastard and his Satanic seedlings.
As a kid I always found this character to be so annoying and dense to the point of being unrealistic.
However, upon my last viewing, I’ve come to see Carrington as a kind of monster himself as he admiringly notes that the creature’s “development was not handicapped by emotional or sexual factors.”
“What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?” Scotty asks.
My favorite scene has to be the head-to-toe hotfoot that the soldiers give the monster in an attempt to punch his alien ticket.
His presence sets off the Geiger counter and the tension is incredible as an airman reads off the increasing numbers until the door to a darkened room flies open and we see the creature in silhouette.
What follows has been described as the first full-body burn in film history and it is a four-alarm thrill ride. According to IMDB.com, stunt man Tom Steele had a supply of 100% oxygen and only luck prevented his lungs from burning.
There have been two remakes of this incredible film, but to be honest, I have about as much interest in seeing them as my father had in seeing The Creeping Snot from Planet X.
An arc of electricity saves humanity as Scotty tells the world, but in true Fifties paranoia, we know that this is only the beginning of the war for our planet’s safety, and that the price of interstellar freedom is eternal vigilance. The aliens, just like the Commies, will keep on coming.
“Watch the skies,” Scotty tells a waiting world, “everyone keep watching the skies.”
And I’ll keep watching this movie—every time it comes on TV.