Thursday, June 17, 2010

Vamp or Not? The Thing from another World

Most readers will have seen the John Carpenter film The Thing, from 1982, I am sure. However that film, based on the John W Campbell short story “Who Goes There” was the second filmic version of the tale. Actually, you’ll find that the Carpenter version was much closer to the short story and would never qualify as a ‘Vamp or Not?’

This version dates from 1951 and is a much looser version of the story. It was directed by Christian Nyby – though it is generally believed that producer Howard Hawkes actually did most of the direction.

We begin in Anchorage where reporter Scotty (Douglas Spencer) is snooping around for a story. When a group of airmen, commanded by Captain Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Tobey, The Vampire), are sent on a reconnaissance to the North Pole – as a group of scientists have found a downed aircraft – he hitches along for the ride.

flying to the station
Their journey to the station is made a little more complicated as something is interfering with instruments but, be that as it may, they get there safe and sound. Having briefly spoken to secretary Nikki (Margaret Sheridan), whom Hendry has a history with, the Captain goes to speak to head scientist Dr Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite). An object crashed some 40 miles away, they have calculated it was approximately 20,000 tons of iron and, given it flew upwards at one point, it was no meteor. They fly out.

finding the ship
They find a crash site, the ship is buried in ice (the engines melted it on impact and then it froze over the ship). It is disc shaped and they realise it is a flying saucer. They decide to melt it out with thermite bombs – standard operating for getting to a crash in ice. They set the first off and it causes the ship's engines to explode – obliterating it. Having destroyed the UFO, albeit accidentally, it looks as though the mission is a bust until the Geiger counter picks up a residual trace and they spot an alien (James Arness) buried in the ice.

alien on ice
They haven’t long before a weather front moves in and so they dig up said alien – in a block of ice – and take it back to the station. The scientists want it defrosted but Hendry has different ideas. Until he gets orders otherwise it will remain frozen and he posts a guard. All is well and good, except the view of the creature is freaking his men out and so one guard puts a blanket over the ice, not realising it is electric and plugged in, and in an improbable moment defrosts the creature.

the severed arm
He realises this when it comes for him. He gets a few shots off and runs. The station, en masse, run to the storage room and the creature is gone, the outside door is open. They run to the door and see it fighting with the sledge dogs. When they get there the creature has run again and two of the dogs are dead. Its severed arm is on the floor… at last Carrington has something to investigate.

the thing
The arm reveals that the creature is a plant – vegetation evolved on its planet much like animal life did on ours. Beneath a barbed nail he finds a seed pod, then the arm starts moving and he realises that it has absorbed the blood of the dog and it has reanimated the arm. Carrington suggests that the creature cannot die – not as we understand dying. They search for the creature and Carrington realises that it has been in the hothouse area and stashed a dog that it has drained of blood. He doesn’t tell the military but leaves a few scientists there to try and communicate with it. His plan is revealed when they are attacked. One gets out, badly injured, and Hendry sees that it has strung two from the ceiling and cut their throats. They trap the creature in the hot house and notice it has re-grown its arm.

growing aliens
Carrington is confined to his room and the lab. A mistake as he gets hold of some plasma and starts to cultivate the seed pod, growing more of the plant creature. Hendry gets wind of this and realises that this is exactly what the creature is doing as well – and when it needs more blood it will attempt escape. Hendry gets orders through to keep it alive and deliberately goes against them, Carrington thinks their lives are worth not a jot if they can discover the wisdom the creature has and, as for the creature, it sees the humans as sustenance – much as we would see a field of cabbages.

live current
There isn’t much else we need to tell, in respect of the ‘Vamp or Not?’ except for how to kill the creature. They realise that fire will be the way forward and, at one point, douse it in kerosene and set it alight. It survives that and they realise they need a better fire. They rig up electricity and burn it via a live current.

So, we have a creature that doesn’t die as we know it, needs fire to kill it and drinks/absorbs blood. The blood of living animals is its sustenance and allows regeneration. The blood also allows it to self reproduce (via the seed pods). Okay that is a stretch from the vampire norm model but we are talking a genre adaptation to fit in with a sci-fi premise. This is a great little film and I am going to stick my neck out and declare it as a sci-fi vamp movie. The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

Hello Taliesin!! This is actually one of my mother's favorite films, and she prefers it to the John Carpenter variation. I have to say that I find it a great piece of 1950's -- I don't know what -- but it's got alot of stock characters in it, including the token wise-cracking female. It was on a few months ago and I watched it, and I do remember thinking how there were vampiric elements as The Thing lived on blood. So it's actually not far off, I'd say!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Nicole, glad to hear your thinking is in lines with mine on this cracking film.

You're right about the stock characters including the wise cracking female character but I actually think she went further than that - she seemed to have the upper hand in the relationship all the way through.