Nikki, Captain Hendry, and The Thing From Another World!
This is it- this is my favorite movie. Ever.
I know, it's hardly the first movie you'd think of when it comes to me and movies. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, those are the movies that leap to mind. And don't get me wrong, they're great movies, and I consider them some of my favorites...
But they're not The Thing From Another World. I discovered this gem back in grade school. Our school library used to have a pretty impressive selection of books about movies, especially classic sci-fi and horror (I'm guessing, since this was the early 80's, they figured the classic monsters were a safe alternative from the likes of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees... if only they knew!). There were a series of books I really loved, about all the classic monsters, written by a man named Ian Thorne (yes, I remember that, 27 years later). They would tell the story of the main movie, then go on to describe other movies with similar themes. Books like this are the direct reason why I love the Universal Monsters. And, naturally, The Thing From Another World.
There was just something about the description that hooked me: a group of scientists and soldiers, trapped at the top of the world, must fight to survive against an alien terror. How cool is that? The photos I saw looked great, as well: fire, axes, electricity, all were used against The Thing. The Thing itself looked like another classic Universal Monster (even though it was released by RKO Pictures): nasty-looking, with wicked clawed hands and that super-developed brain, he looked like he could outthink you as well as tear you apart. It just SOUNDED awesome.
Sadly, I had to wait another 5 years before I'd ever see The Thing in motion. By that time, we had cable, and TBS was showing all kinds of movies. Most of their programming consisted of classic movies, black and white features you nowadays only catch on AMC or Turner Classic. But, lo and behold, what should I come across one Sunday, but The Thing From Another World. What would it be like? Would it be as great as I imagined? Would it look silly, these moving pictures showing how poor special effects were back then, the dialogue show how painfully poorly scripted most horror movies were back then? What if it sucked?
It most definitely did NOT suck. I was amazed, from the start. The dialogue was rapid-fire, actors speaking over each other, dishing out lines like they were old friends, the jokes were fast and funny, delivered like they were in an Oscar-worthy movie, not a 'B' movie. The story itself was just as I'd imagined- filled with tension, wit, and decent scares for the day. The actors were fantastic- they looked like they were having a great time with the filming, and that shone through in the performances. The Thing itself was great- like the best monsters, he shows up without warning, strikes fast, and leaves them scared for their lives. Even the music was freaky- in a good way. I also learned that Thermite is the cause, and solution, of all men's problems. By God, this was a good movie.
Thankfully, TBS played their movies more than once a day, so for the next showing, I had the VCR ready to go. And oh yes, it was taped. Over the following years, I would put the tape in, and let it play. When it finished, I rewound it, and played it again. And again. And again. I'd fall asleep to it, and wake up to it. Those were good times.
As the years passed, I would go on to learn more about the movie, and the people behind it. I learned that it was based on a short story, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, and immediately tracked it down (reprinted in a great paperback, Between Time and Terror, a wonderful compilation of sci-fi stories with a distinct horror aspect to them; one of the best anthologies I've read). It was like night and day, the differences between the two stories, but I didn't care; I ended up loving both. I learned that John Carpenter's 1982 movie was a remake, and fell in love with that one, as well- though it was nothing like the original. But I loved them both, as well. As my understanding and appreciation of film grew, I learned why it was so good- the man behind it, Howard Hawks, was one of the great filmmakers of his day, responsible for some of the best movies of the 30's through the 60's. I began to also appreciate the story itself- like all good sci-fi, it was a reflection of its time, filtered through a glass darkly. A great allegory for the Cold War, there's still insight to be gained from the movie. And the dialogue- oh, the dialogue is still a joy to hear. I still pick up new things, after all this time. Not to mention, as I got older, I could better appreciate the dynamic of the relationship between Nikki and Captain Hendry. She was definitely NOT a stereotypical damsel in distress. The stunts were just crazy, I could see- they set a stuntman on fire, in a closed room, with the actors present- then thrown on Kerosene! Now THAT'S bad-ass! So much goodness. About 5 years ago, when the movie finally came out on DVD, I figured that was it; it didn't get any better than that.
I was wrong.
Frederick County, Maryland, has a nice little theater- year 'round, they have musical programs, dance troupes, plays, and movies pass through. Every Fall, they show some classic horror movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, all have played there. Well, about 3 years ago, when I was living there-
You know where this is going, right?
-they were showing The Thing From Another World.
So, I sent out an email to all my friends (more like a flyer- I take this thing seriously), letting them know of this momentous occasion. Two of them rose to the challenge: Dave and Thad. I reserved my tickets, and eagerly awaited the day. I would finally see it as it was meant to be seen: ON THE BIG SCREEN.
At last, the day was upon me. Dave and Thad showed up at my apartment, and we made our way to downtown Frederick. I picked up our tickets-holy crap! It says The Thing on the tickets!!!- we picked up some popcorn, and went in to the auditorium. The lights went down, I got goosebumps (seriously, I did) and I spent the next 87 minutes on the edge of my seat. We all went out after for some mediocre food and good beer, talked about the movie (the guys pointed out, when the military barricaded a door, The Thing outsmarted them- because the door pulled open. All these years, and I never noticed.), talked about life in general, and we all left the restaurant, and that's how one of the happiest days of my life went. All because of a 1950's sci-fi movie.
So there you go, the story of my favorite movie of all time. Others will come along, better movies, smarter movies, funnier movies... but The Thing From Another World will always be my favorite.
-oh, one last thing. earlier this year, when I was up visiting with my folks, Dad and I were sitting around talking about old movies we liked. It was late, I think I'd just gotten in from Maryland, and he had on TCM- I'm pretty sure it was Creature From the Black Lagoon, but I could be wrong. Anyway, we were talking classics, and I mentioned The Thing, and told him how it was my favorite movie ever.
"Did you know, I saw that in Korea?" he said. "That was a great movie."
25 years after I first discovered what would become my favorite movie, I learn my Dad loved it too. That pleased me immensely then, and it makes me even happier now.
Thanks for reading. And Happy Halloween!
Okay, one last thing- this makes my 150th official blog post! I honestly can't believe I made it this long. Thank you to everyone who's been stopping by to visit and read, and extra thanks to those of you who leave comments or email me with your thoughts- getting that feedback really makes my day, and I appreciate it all. Fingers crossed, next stop, 200!
Music: "The Thing From Another World- Main Title" - Dimitri Tiomkin