Believe it or not, The Thing just turned 70-years-old. Not that The Thing, but the original The Thing From Another World. There’s no argument that cinema and horror have progressed dramatically over the decades. It’s hard not to talk about progress, but at the same time, there are techniques employed by co-directors Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks that may inspire emerging indie genre filmmakers with a budget of zero to tell their tale.
Set in 1951, The Thing From Another World is the story of an arctic Air Force installation and its crew. A journalist, Ned Scott (Douglas Spencer), desperately in need of a story, joins the Air Force officers, known as the Polar Expedition Six. They check in on a reported crash site at the North Pole at the behest of scientist Dr. Arthur Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite).
“…this THING picks our heroic crew off one by one…”
Upon their arrival, they discover an enormous saucer-shaped vehicle frozen under the ice. The crew’s attempt to extract the object leads to a massive explosion. The only THING they recover is a humanoid alien body. Throwing caution to the wind, the officers take the body back to the base, where, as you’d imagine, it comes back to life. Now, this THING picks our heroic crew off one by one, with the remaining survivors urgently trying to figure out how to stop the creature.
Like many sci-fi or horror films from the 1950s, the production was limited by its budget and available resources, which is why John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982 was a much more effective thriller because the art of filmmaking had evolved over thirty years. From a production standpoint, most of The Thing From Another World is shot at wide and medium angles and on stationary tripods (standard for the time), where good horror moves in close to get every facial reaction. Plus, the tight, claustrophobic feeling only heightens the danger.
Lastly, the monster is simply a guy (James Arness) in a suit. Nyby and Hawks make every attempt with lighting and camera angles to make the monster feel real, knowing that exposing the man-in-the-suit would be death to the story and additional fodder for MST3K. Despite its low budget, the infamous disembodied animated hand is pretty creepy. Also, the lighting is just not dark enough, and at this time, it was impossible to go pitch black without the film becoming a series of black frames of sound. The need to have an image on the screen sacrifices any genuine attempt at the “horror lurking in the darkness.”
"…I'm wondering just how scared those audiences were?"
I consider The Thing from Another World the best science fiction movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it over 100 times and it never gets old. The best scene is when they try to figure out the size and shape of the object. It gives me chills every time. No other movie comes close.