Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (9/11)

The Thing from Another World (1951)
Although this movie was re-made in 1982 by John Carpenter, that film is not really a re-make as it simply goes back to the source material and follows the 1938 John W. Campbell, Jr. short story much closer than the 1951 version. Now that I have seen both films I prefer Carpenter's vision, but did enjoy both. The two films start from a similar premise but go in different directions. The 1951 movie puts more of an emphasis on a monster stalking the crew, while the 1982 version is about the replication of those at the station. Both movies have a claustrophobic feel plenty of paranoia. The main title screen of this movie was later re-used in Carpenter's version.
You can read the original short story here
Here is a good comparison of Campbell's novella, this movie, and the 1982 version: The Thing
Now that I am done comparing the Thing films, let's get to my thoughts on The Thing from Another World. The movies starts without any opening actor credits which is unusual for a film from this time period. The pacing is slow at first as it takes awhile for the military crew and scientists to find the spaceship trapped inside the ice. However after the creature entombed in ice is taken back to the station the pace picks up considerably and doesn't let up until the end. Although the love story was not necessary, it gave us some funny situations and the couple did have chemistry. Viewers never get a good look at the alien, and don't see the monster at all for most of the film, which is always a good idea. The concept of the alien being a sentient creature with a different biological make-up (plant based life form) was interesting. It was kinda silly when the crew referred to it as a carrot or vegetable, but the point is that this is a totally different type of life.
The scientist who want to keep the alien alive in order to study it, even if the alien kills people, reminds me of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from Alien and Aliens. I am sure both Ridley Scott and James Cameron saw this film, as well as other 50s science fiction/monster movies. The journalist, Scott, was good comic relief but also put in a different type of character from the military and scientists. This kept things fresh as his concerns, other than surviving, were different than the other characters he was surrounded by. The scene with the monster on fire was fantastic and is thought to be the first "full body burn accomplished by a stunt man." The music was good and helped sell the atmosphere. The movie was made during the Red Scare and the film incorporates a similar sense of paranoia with the scientists and military having different objectives. The use of the Geiger counter as a sensor to detect the creature was suspenseful and added the paranoia. There is a director controversy surrounding this film. Christian Nyby was credited as the director, but producer Howard Hawks is generally considered to have done extensive directing and writing for the film.
The Thing from Another World is one of the better 50s Sci-Fi/monster movies, but there are some much better ones (Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc.) The film still holds up pretty well today, especially considering how many bad monster movies there were from this era.

Them! (1954)
This movie starts out with a bang as we have a nice fast-paced opening chase scene. At first the story begins as a crime/mystery tale before delving into science-fiction and horror. Them! was a big influence on James Cameron's Aliens. The similarities include a young girl survivor similar to Newt, a strong female character who knows more about the monsters than the military men, Queen monsters, saving children from a monster nest near the end, and flamethrowers destroying big eggs. Cameron's take on the Xenomorphs posits them as more insect like than Ridley Scott envisioned in Alien and he clearly borrowed some ideas from this film.
Like any good monster movie, we don't see the giant ants at first, only the havoc they have caused. Them! is the first big bug movie. While this was a trend that mostly stayed in the 1950s, we have seen a few in recent years such as Tremors (1990), Arachnophobia (1990), Mimic (1997) Starship Troopers (1997) and Eight Legged Freaks (2002). I am also guessing there are some crappy Sci-Fi Channel original movies hailing from this sub-genre!
Them! was nominated for an Oscar for best special effects. The ants might seem a little hokey to modern audiences but still hold up better than a lot of 50s monsters. The movie was both a critical and commercial success as it was Warner Bros. top grossing film of 1954. The acting is solid, not by not only the leads, but even minor characters such as the girl who survived the ants. However, the story runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through and like The Thing from Another World has some pacing issues.
The opening title is in color with B/W background. While this adds to the great beginning of the film, it was a hold over from when the movie was originally supposed to be made in color and 3-D but scrapped at the last minute.
The movie has several uses of the Wilhelm Scream. The famous sound effect was first used in a 1951 film so this is one of the earlier examples of the Wilhelm Scream before it became a fun cliche.
Leonard Nimoy has an uncredited one line cameo as an Air Force Sergeant in one of his earliest roles, but blink and you'll miss it.
deals with the nuclear fears of the time as that is how the ants grow to such an enormous size. This movie even came out same year as first Godzilla film which deals with a similar subject matter. The great final lines and closing shot hammer home this theme.
Them! is one of the better science fiction/monster movies from the 1950s and probably the best of the big bug sub-genre.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?
This movie was one of those really boring bad movies. The MST3K riffs were good, but the movie itself was god awful. This MST3K episode is from the 8th season, the first season on the Sci-Fi channel. I'm not even sure what this movie was about. There was a fortune teller, an amusement park, strippers, and a Torgo wanna-be named Ortega.
The more I think about this movie the more it hurts so I'll just jump to one of my favorite riffs: (as Jerry, Harold and Angie have fun) "Outtakes from the Manson family Christmas!" - Crow T. Robot

Weird Science
Weird Science doesn't have much of a plot. Two sex-starved teenage nerds somehow use a computer to create a woman who turns out to have magic powers and wants to help the boys lead normal lives. However, this doesn't really matter as it is essentially a version of Mary Poppins for 16 yr old boys. There is even a direct reference to Mary Poppins at the end when the house goes back to normal. The age gap between the boys and Lisa might bother some viewers, but since I saw it as Mary Poppins type thing with as she was trying to help them straighten out there lives it didn't really bother me. The title "Weird Science" comes from the name of the EC Comics Science Fiction comic and the movie is apparently loosely based on a story from those comics.
Weird Science is zany, wacky, over the top fun. It never takes itself too seriously (after a joke one of the main characters looks directly into the camera like Ferris Bueller). However, it doesn't become so silly that we don't care about the characters or don't wonder if Lisa will be successful in her mission to help the boys improve themselves.
I guess because of the use of the computer (and the references to Frankenstein) this movie has been labeled a sci-fi/comedy. However, fantasy/comedy would be more appropriate as Lisa is just as magical, if not more so, than Mary Poppins. This is a departure for John Hughes as the movies he directed (and wrote) were usually grounded in the real world such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Uncle Buck and others. I must admit that this was better made (directing, camera work, special effects) than I would have expected, probably because John Hughes was at the helm. Kelly LeBrock was great as Lisa. Even though she probably got the role mostly for her body, she brings a confidence to the character that along with her powers and looks makes her quite memorable
Anthony Michael Hall had a ton of roles as nerds in the 80s. He eventually broke this typecasting in recent years (The Dead Zone TV show) but was still a precursor of sorts to current actors such as Michael Cera, Jesse Eisenberg, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse who are the movie teenage nerds of today.
Vernon Wells has a cameo where he plays "Lord General" who is basically his character from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr. have supporting roles and its fun to see them here after watching their other work. We even have a quick clip featuring Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth! As fans of these actors it made this movie even more enjoyable to me. I also loved the eclectic 80s music (Oingo Boingo who performed the title track, Ratt, Killing Joke, etc.)


  1. 8/10 for "Them!"? I was a fun film...but it REALLY dragged, man!

  2. Yeah that may be a little high but I thought The Thing from Another World has more significant pacing issues. My ratings for both of them were also more relative to 50s monster movies than movies in general so I guess my "real" ratings would be 6 for Thing from Another World and 7 for Them.