Back in the 1950s, my family would all get together at my Aunt Julie and Uncle Louie’s house and celebrate New Year’s Eve. The adults drank whiskey sours, hi-balls, and screwdrivers, and given it was a special occasion, my young cousins and I were allowed to drink as many bottles of soda as we desired. At midnight, as the illuminated ball descended at Times Square in New York City, we would all watch Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians orchestra bring in the New Year.
But right after all the balloons were popped, the horns were blown, the noise-makers were spun, and everyone—all fifty or sixty uncles, aunts, and cousins—kissed and hugged in celebration, the living room would quickly become darkened and silent. My parents and most of my aunts and uncles would go into the kitchen, where the alcohol and food were located, to smoke cigarettes and cigars and drink toasts and reminisce about bygone years. All the kids and teenagers, though, including myself and my sister, would closely gather around the black and white TV in the living room and become hypnotically drawn into the terror, accompanied with ominous music, that emerged on the screen.
Every New Year’s, soon after midnight, a TV station in Connecticut would broadcast Howard Hawk’s classic science fiction horror movie The Thing from Another World (1951). And every New Year’s, as a special treat, my young cousins, my sister, and I would be allowed to stay up until roughly 1:30 am and watch this ultra-spooky, send-frigid-shivers-through-your-bones tale about a small group of people trapped with a dangerous and powerful alien in a snowstorm-bound scientific outpost near the North Pole.
Although the action in the movie starts off slowly, soon there is mystery, awe, and wonder when a flying saucer, having been tracked on radar as it descended and crashed into the earth, is located just below the polar surface of ice a short plane flight from the outpost. But when a reconnaissance party arrives at the crash site and attempts to melt the surrounding ice with chemical bombs, the saucer is accidentally blown up. From this point forward in the movie the tension and terror quickly build. A short distance away from where the saucer was located, the scientific team observe a dark humanoid shape frozen below the surface of the ice. A hideous looking creature, presumably an occupant of the saucer, is chopped out of the ice, and encased in a block of ice, “the thing” is brought back to the outpost.
The giant humanoid-shaped alien, with its frightening and eerie gaze now revealed through the melting, clearing ice, is accidentally thawed out from the frozen ice block—the person responsible for watching the alien stupidly covers the ice block with an electric blanket—and now able to move about, the alien escapes into the surrounding blizzard night. The alien fights off several Husky dogs, killing a couple of them and draining them of blood, but the dogs bite off one of the alien’s hands. In one of the movie’s eerie scenes, when the hand is recovered by the scientists and given animal blood the detached hand seems to come alive, moving its fingers.
The scientists soon discover that the alien is some kind of super-intelligent plant, with fingernails resembling thorns. Underneath its fingertips the scientists discover spores. They plant the spores in soil, and supplying the spores with blood, small shoots quickly sprout, and as the plants grow, increasingly more pronounced heartbeats are detected within the bulbous pods that emerge on the upper ends of the plants. Yet while the enthralled and rather foolish scientists are studying these creepy growing life-forms, admiring the creatures’ unique biological capacities, the alien is terrorizing the outpost and a number of people, including some of the scientists, are killed before the alien is finally destroyed, being burned to a shriveling cinder by electrocuting it.
As a central point of tension in the movie, right after the frozen alien is first brought into the outpost, a philosophical conflict emerges between the scientists, who in their quest for knowledge want to understand and communicate with the alien, and the rest of the outpost’s occupants, including military men, who are focused on survival and want to destroy the creature before it kills all of them. Although highly advanced, both biologically and technologically, which is the focus of interest of the scientists, the alien is also powerful, ruthless, and indifferent to human life, which is the riveting, life and death concern for the rest of the outpost’s occupants. Although more “evolved” than us, the alien is horrific and deadly. Do we dive into the cosmic transcendent, perhaps annihilating ourselves in the process, or do we fight for our lives, tooth and claw, against the powerful demon who has crash-landed on our primitive world?