Saturday, October 28, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Lost Saucer: "Beautiful Downtown Atlantis" (October 4, 1975)

In “Beautiful Downtown Atlantis,” the lost saucer emerges from a time warp in the year 2385 AD, and is sucked into an ocean. It then arrives at the lost city of Atlantis. 

The tyrannical ruler of the city, Nepto, captures Jerry (Jarrod Johnson) and Alice (Alice Playden), and locks them in a dungeon to prevent the strangers from leaving.

The visitors soon learn that air pollution has forced Earthlings in this future world to move underwater, away from the surface.

Worse, Nepto wants to move into the saucer and turn it into his new “tele-beam” studio. Fi (Ruth Buzzi) and Fum (Jim Nabors) will provide the entertainment.

This week, as always, the lost saucer lands in the wrong place, not 1975 Chicago, but some alien “future.” Here, the saucer docks at Atlantis, which worries Fum, since he “is not programmed for swimming.”

The under-sea location of the episode paves the way for a number of silly water-related jokes. “He looks kind of fishy to me,” says Fum, of Nepto.

Fi and Fum also perform a musical number, “Beautiful Downtown Atlantis,” before they escape from Atlantis by reversing the magnetic thrust of the saucer.

The moral of the week concerns pollution, of course. At the end of the episode, the lead characters muse about the topic. “We should warn people about what could happen if we don’t stop polluting the air.”

Pollution, proved a key worry of the dystopian-obsessed first half of the 1970’s, the subject of movies such as Soylent Green (1973), and Silent Running (1972).  On Doctor Who (1963-1989), the John Pertwee era often worried about the topic too, in stories such as “The Green Death,” and at least tangentially, “Inferno.”

This Lost Saucer (1975) episode offers a child-centric approach to the material, warning of what could occur, if humanity doesn’t change its ways.  The idea of humans moving underwater after an apocalypse was also “in the water” of the 1970’s, and a major plot-line in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

As I’ve written before, the social commentary in Lost Saucer is certainly obvious -- often stated flat-out by the android duo of Fi and Fum -- but that because of the juvenile nature of the audience, this isn’t a big problem. 

The Lost Saucer is silly, imaginative, and, rewardingly, about the things that matter (or that did matter, in 1975).

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Bugaloos: "The Good Old Days"

In “The Good Old Days,” Benita Bizarre (Martha Raye) buys Tranquility Forest and evicts the Bugaloos.  She wants to put up a taco stand where they live. 

Unfortunately, the Bugaloos have little alternative but to leave since, according to Benita, everything is “bought and paid for.”

They realize, however, that Joy (Caroline Ellis) can pretend to by a gypsy, and “curse” Benita unless she gives them back their home.  They proceed with this plan, after finding a crystal ball.  “You will be cursed three times,” Joy tells her, warning Benita that for the final curse, her jukebox will explode.

Encountering the carefully-engineered first two curses (an “unexpected trip” and “the shock of your life”), Benita agrees to give the Bugaloos back their land.

“The Good Old Days” is the final episode of the Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning series, The Bugaloos, and it also happens to be a clips show.  The episode flashes back on several occasions to show previous adventures, as the Bugaloos reminisce, upon leaving Tranquility Forest.

Adding insult to injury, the series culminates with a rerun song, instead of a new composition. Once more, “For a Friend” is featured.

I suggest, only half-snarkily perhaps, that a more surprising ending would have seen Benita keeping the forest, and evicting the Bugaloos permanently.  Imagine how that ending would have shocked kids. For fifteen weeks, Benita got defeated. 

Then, in the final episode of the series, she would have won. That would have made the series a legend, no?

In terms of the series overall, The Bugaloos is pretty enjoyable. It doesn’t possess either the extreme highs or extreme lows of Lidsville (1972), for example. It’s more straightforward, and less spiky, but the series is also more coherent than its brethren.

I watched Lidsville and The Bugaloos with my on Joel, and his assertion, at this juncture, is that The Bugaloos is a better series, simply because it wasn’t “completely insane,” (his description of Lidsville).  That might be true.  

However, Lidsville does feature the great CNR. Martha Raye does solid work here as Benita, but Hoo Doo remains a bit more memorable, even if the series featuring him is crazy.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Thing-a-Thon: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Adversary" (June 19, 1995)

Stardate 48959.1

Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), commanding officer of Deep Space Nine in the Bajoran Sector, is promoted to the rank of Captain. His first mission is given him by a visiting Starfleet admiral: Krajensky (Lawrence Pressman).

Specficially, Captain Sisko is to take the U.S.S. Defiant through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, and show the flag of the Federation there since the Tzankethi have recently experienced a coup.

En route to Tzankethi space, however, the Defiant is sabotaged. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) discovers strange tendrils growing through the ship’s systems, sabotaging the vessel. Worse, the tendrils are protected by force fields and can’t be removed.

Soon it becomes apparent that a Changeling is aboard the ship, sabotaging systems and appearing to be one of the crew. 

Dax (Terry Farrell) suggests scanning all those aboard for Tetrion particles, since the Changeling would have been near the warp core of the ship, during some sabotage.

Later, a blood test is instituted to help smoke out the changeling before the Defiant’s presence causes a war in Tzankethi space, and weakens the Federation.  

Odo (Rene Auberjonois), meanwhile, worries that he may have to kill one of his own people.

But no changeling has never murdered another.

How do I know that The Thing (1982) was on the minds of those producing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 – 1999) through the Dominion War arc of the program’s last three season? 

Well, it was during this multi-season story-line that a secret branch of Starfleet called Section 31 was introduced to the franchise.

And “31,” of course, is the number of the Outpost in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). 

The recurrence of that number is no coincidence. Section 31 in Starfleet is brought in as a response to shape-shifting aliens, Changelings, just as Outpost 31 is Earth’s first line of defense in the 1982 horror classic.

“The Adversary,” though clearly a Star Trek story in nature, adopts several key elements from Campbell’s story, and later film adaptations.  

First, we still have an isolated location as the central setting, in this case a small starship in deep space, rather than the Antarctic. 

Secondly, we have the (powerful) element of paranoia.  No one aboard the Defiant can trust anybody else once it is known a Changeling is aboard. For example, O’Brien believes he sees Bashir (Alexander Siddig) at a key control panel in the Jeffries Tubes, but doesn’t want to condemn his friend as a saboteur, or worse, a monster.

Sadly, the identity of the changeling is pretty obvious throughout the story: the episode’s biggest guest-star, and only non-regular character featured so prominently: Pressman’s Admiral Krajensky.

Much more significantly, “The Adversary” proposes a “Thing Detector” that is familiar to all fans of the film: a blood test.  

A Changeling’s blood is not like human blood, and so Bashir can detect the difference between the life-forms by administering one. In a clever twist on this plot element straight from “Who Goes There,” Bashir -- the man doing the testing -- is actually the alien, and manipulating the results.

The "Thing Detector" blood test recurs on Deep Space Nine in later episodes. General Martok demands that Sisko and Kira (Nana Visitor) submit to such a test in “The Way of the Warrior,” and brings a very sharp Klingon knife along as the tool to get it done.

Despite the recurrence of this test, The Changelings, or shape-shifters of Star Trek, are, however, somewhat different from the monster of The Thing. Though they can perfectly duplicate any life-form, the Changelings don’t want to be “solids” if they have a choice. They outright deride solids, actually.  Unlike The Thing, they aren’t content to scurry and hide. They want to rule their Empire, and subjugate solids.

This episode also boasts merit for poor Odo's plot-line. The tortured character understands his duty: to prevent the changeling from starting a war. But to stop one of his own kind means killing him.  That is something Odo does not want to do.

All in all, it is incredible to consider that The Thing (1982) was savaged by critics in the 1980’s, and yet within ten or eleven years of the film's release, two pop-culture power-houses, Star Trek, and The X-Files, were paying homage to the film in a very significant way.

The Thing-a-Thon: The X-Files: "Ice" (1993)

The X-Files episode “Ice,” which first aired on November 5, 1993, is a sterling tribute to one of the science fiction genre’s greatest short stories: Who Goes There? (1938) by John W. Campbell.  

As I wrote about earlier in the week, that novella is set in Antarctica and involves a group of scientists who discover an alien ship and pilot that have been trapped frozen in the ice for twenty million years.  When thawed out, the extra-terrestrial pilot is revealed as a dangerous shape-shifter, one who can “hide” in human and other biological forms. 

In the end, the alien invader is barely stopped (with just a half-hour to spare…) before it can escape isolation and reach (and contaminate...) the rest of Earth’s population.

“Ice,” written by James Wong and Glen Morgan and directed by David Nutter, remains a notable variation on the Campbell theme, one bolstered by some unique, even trademark X-Files twists.  

In fact, this episode might be Exhibit A in terms of my theory about the Chris Carter series as a whole; that it deliberately re-purposes commonly told tales in the genre and then imbues them with new meaning and relevance for the 1990's.

From Campbell’s source material to "Ice" we see a similar location (an ice-bound installation), a similar threat (an alien life-form) and even the presence of a dog as an infection vector.  

But “Ice,” uniquely, develops in an original fashion because in The Thing, for example, there aren't many close relationships or friendships on the line.

Instead, the story has been interpreted frequently as a comment on man’s alienation from his fellow man.   

Nobody trusted anybody in John Carpenter's The Thing because nobody really liked or even knew anybody else. Hidden inside a man's skin, the Thing was indistinguishable from man.  

What does that say about man?

It's alive!
The X-Files deliberately explodes that artistic conceit by landing two sets of dedicated partners or allies into the paranoia blender and then diagramming the manner in which close-relationships contend with the possibility of individual infection. The responses to this challenge are either burgeoning independence (Scully) or total abandonment of personal will in favor of the stronger personality’s will and desire (Da Silva). 

In a way, then, The X-Files amplifies the horror of The Thing.  It’s one thing to face a shape-shifter in a battle to the death when there is no one you really care for to worry about on the battlefield.  But in “Ice,” Mulder and Scully have one another to fight for, and must face the very real possibility that one of them could die or be permanently infected.  They are more "connected" individuals than many we meet in various versions of the Campbell story.

Are you who you are?

I am who I am.

In “Ice,” Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) join a team of scientists including Dr. Hodge (Xander Berkeley), Dr. Da Silva (Felicity Huffman), and Dr. Murphy (Steve Hytner) to investigate the deaths of a government research team at a base in Alaska.  

The team had been digging deep down into an icy shelf believed to be a prehistoric meteor impact.  Without warning, however, the members of the expedition began murdering one another, reciting the mantra “we are not who we are.”

This phrase relates to the shape-shifting ability of the Thing, in a way. People are not who they appear to be.

After a helicopter pilot named Bear (Jeff Kober) flies the team to Alaska, Mulder and Scully discover that the previous team had found core samples containing strange alien worms frozen in the ice…from 250,000 years earlier. 

At least some of these worms have thawed out in the base, and discovered that human beings make for perfect hosts. 

While living on the excretions of the hypothalamus, these parasites also cause extreme paranoia and aggression in their prey….

Who do you trust?

An almost unbearably claustrophobic and tense hour, “Ice” is a deliberate nod to Who Goes There? and The Thing, but also a tale, ultimately, about territoriality. 

The episode’s climax reveals that two worms cannot exist in the same host…or they will kill each other.  

Similarly, the episode-long tension between Mulder and Hodge -- each looking to assert leadership -- nearly imperils everyone.   Both men believe they are right in their belief-system and engage in a kind of paranoid “pissing” contest, trying to swing the allegiances of the other team-members to their viewpoint. 

There’s even an amusing scene here where the men must strip down naked to check each other for signs of parasitic infection.  Mulder jokingly reminds everyone that they are in the Arctic, a not so-subtle joke about penis size.

But joke or no joke, the matter of which man possesses the “biggest dick” -- to state it inelegantly -- is  a sub-text in this particular tale.  Once you make the thematic connection, it’s intriguing to see how the “territoriality” theme mirrors the infection theme.  A terrified Bear asserts control of the situation early on, since he is the only person capable of flying the plane, and he stakes out a command position early.  Simultaneously, he is the first infected by the alien organism.   Power and infection are definitively linked.

Then, after Bear dies, the battle of wills moves over to Hodge and Mulder.  Soon, nobody is certain which of them, if either, is infected. In the end, we learn that neither man was infected, only that each was driven (by adrenaline? by testosterone? by ego? by all three?) to attempt to take charge of the situation. 

Why were they so aggressive, if neither was actually infected?  Is it simply the human condition?

Why can't these two get along?

Why can't Mulder and Hodge?

Just remember, we're in the Arctic...
The underlying social commentary, then, seems to concern man's capacity for self-destruction, particularly if he doesn't get his way. This quality impacts even the usually sensible (and sensitive) Mulder. What complicates this issue of territoriality, and what is explored rather fully in “Ice” is the notion of allies, friends and subordinates in such a dynamic.

Dr. Da Silva is Hodge’s ally, but treated like a subordinate, and Scully is Mulder’s ally and equal.  Neither woman is truly impartial or on the side-lines,  but Hodge bullies Da Silva to see things his way, and acts in a borderline abusive fashion in his treatment of her; thus keeping her in line.

Scully -- recognizing the weight of evidence against Mulder at one point -- backs Hodge over her partner.  She never gives up on Mulder, and finds way to protect him, but she is able to weigh the facts…and the facts seem to go against Mulder's perspective.

Unlike Da Silva, however, Scully is not cowed into making a decision by either Mulder or Hodge.  Instead, she studies the available facts and makes a logical decision, to Mulder’s dismay, since her choice doesn’t favor him in the short term.  Scully thus becomes the de facto leader because she is able to bridge the gap between parties.

Scully also must face the difficult possibility that Mulder, because of infection, has become a murderer and a psychopath.  One thing I love about The X-Files is that this possibility doesn’t impact Scully’s affection, feelings, or loyalty for Mulder.  She wants to protect him and wants to heal him, but to do that, she must first make certain he doesn't represent a danger to everyone. She uses science and wisdom to do so, again showcasing her finest human qualities.

Given all this dramatic material, it’s probably fair to state that what “Ice” truly involves is relationship dynamics in a difficult situation, where no clear chain of command can be respected or even determined.  

Going further, "Ice" involves the way that men sometimes behave in a crisis. Who do you choose to follow?  Why does someone, like Mulder, choose to lead?  

The elegant quality of this thematic dynamic is, as noted above, that it mirrors so beautifully the nature of the aliens  in he episode.  There can’t be two big worms (another phallic symbol…) vying for the same “command” post, or else hostility, anger, and violence will result.

Location plays a crucial role in “Ice’s” success as drama and as horror.  The episode feels like a pressure-cooker because after the first act, it never leaves the claustrophobic outpost interiors.  All versions of “Who Goes There?” are set in icy environments, and that sets up an imposing, endless sense of isolation.  Not only is there terror inside the various “Thing” outposts, but terror outside as well.  

The frozen environment will kill you too, just not as quickly as an alien invader.  

In other words, a person can’t just run outside and catch a bus to escape. The Arctic or Antarctic installation in all these production is thus a trap within a trap. Escape is simply not possible. The "monster" must be reckoned with, no delay, no negotiating.

As a title (and phsyical substance...) “Ice” is also a contrast or counter-point to the hot, passionate, aggressive behavior we witness among the dramatis personae here.  It may be well below zero outside the outpost, but inside temperatures and tempers continue to rise.

In the final analysis, "Ice" succeeds because it develops the relationship between Mulder and Scully in a clever way, by landing them in, essentially, The Thing's story. The episode intelligently re-configures this beloved horror standard, and even offers a healthy dose of social critique.  For the seventh episode of a series' first season, such depth is simply astounding.

The Thing-a-Thon: Doctor Who: "The Seeds of Doom" (1976)

In Antarctica Camp 3, several scientists -- Moberly (Michael McStay), Winlett (John Gleeson), and Stevenson (Hubert Rees) -- excavate from the ice a mysterious vegetable pod.

Found at a layer that indicates it is more than 20,000 years old, this vegetable pod becomes of interest to the World Ecology Bureau in London. 

The Bureau contacts UNIT, and sends the Doctor (Tom Baker), and Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) to Antarctica to investigate it.

The Doctor determines the pod originated not on Earth, but a distant planet, and orders the scientists to keep it well-guarded until his arrival. His orders are disobeyed, however, and one of the scientists is attacked by the pod and assimilated it by it. The pod is actually a malevolent alien life-form called a Krynoid.

A “galactic weed,” the Krynoid travels the universe dispersing seeds to habitable planets, and then destroying all animal life there. Now it is a race against time: can the Doctor stop the Krynoid from spreading before it takes over all plant life on Earth?

A millionaire and plant-lover named Harrison Chase (Tony Beckley), is secretly working against the Time Lord to help an adult Krynoid germinate and rule our world.

The thirteenth season of classic Doctor Who (1963-1989) culminated with “The Seeds of Doom,” a serial from Robert Banks Stewart that is clearly inspired both by John Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” and the 1951 film, The Thing.  The (excellent) narrative re-purposes settings and characters from the history of The Thing productions and literary works.

As is the case in both “Who Goes There” and The Thing, an alien life-form that is buried in the ice (whether at Antarctica, or the North Pole, like the Hawks/Nyby film), is unearthed here, revealing an alien menace. 

Similarly, the Krynoid is plant or vegetable-based life in “The Seeds of Doom,” and as you may recall, the Thing (James Arness) in the fifties film is characterized as an “intellectual carrot” made of vegetable matter.

Mind boggling…

It’s intriguing how “The Seeds of Doom” adopts different aspects of The Thing’s narrative across the decades. From the novella, we get here the idea of an evil contaminating our life form and altering the shape of a human being, which is then able to infect others similarly.  And, the larger threat is of a new and inimical life-form taking over the Earth, eliminating the human race in the process.  In the case of this Doctor Who tale, the Krynoid escapes Antarctica, and gets to Great Britain, where things get out of hand quickly.

From the 1950's film, primarily, “The Seeds of Doom” takes the aforementioned nature of the monster (vegetable rather than animal), and the idea of a possibly-mad ally helping it along.  In the movie, Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornthwaite) -- whether from lack of sleep, bad judgement, or poor character -- attempts to propagate a “Thing” garden at the base, and preserve the “wise” being (despite its readily obvious violent qualities). Here, Harrison Chase, an eccentric millionaire, chooses intelligent plant life over his own species, and plays, essentially, the same role in the drama. He is the turncoat to his own species, deluded about what role he would play in the “New Order.”

“The Seeds of Doom” has always been one of my favorite Doctor Who serials of the Tom Baker era. The first sections, set in Antarctica are claustrophobic and terrifying, and the nature of the Krynoid threat is well-established.  For a low-budget show, some of the effects still manage to be creepy and disgusting.

Meanwhile, the last chapters of the serial -- with an adult Krynoid towering over Chase’s mansion, and harnessing the power the Earth’s vegetation -- plays like some gonzo (and thoroughly enjoyable) kaiju movie.

One other element worthy of discussion here involves the presence of the Doctor, the protagonist. In other versions of The Thing, characters such as McReady/MacReady, Kate Lloyd, or Pat Hendry have to play “catch-up” to understand the situation and the nature of the threat the Earth faces.

In “The Seeds of Doom,” the Doctor -- with all of his knowledge of time, space, and alien life-forms -- has an advantage they didn’t. He knows all about the nemesis he must contend with, and is ready for battle, almost from the beginning.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Thing-a-Thon: "The Things" (2011)

“The Things” is a short story (and Hugo Award Nominee) from author Peter Watts. The Shirley Jackson Award-winning story is a brilliant, unconventional “re-imagining” of the specific events of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982); one told from the perspective of The Thing itself.

The appeal of this approach is obvious. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), for all its brilliance, never delved into the reasons or motives behind the Thing’s presence on Earth, or its seemingly malevolent behavior towards humans.

Watts’ story suggests that the Thing is not a monster, nor malevolent at all…just a form of life quite different from humanity.

And it is highly intelligent.  Even…sensitive.

The story’s stunning (and controversial) last line finds the emotionally-damaged Thing recommitting itself to the assimilation of Earth. The last line is violent in concept, but also suggestive of the fact that the alien simply doesn’t understand our form of life any better than we understand its form of life. The chasm between species is too great to successfully navigate.

“The Things” tells the story of the The Thing all over again, giving us a blow-by-blow of each human (Norris, Palmer, Childs, etc.) assimilated by the Thing, and even gives us a new twist on the 1982 film’s ambiguous ending. Here, we see that Childs is actually a Thing, and has been for some time. For years, audiences have wondered if MacReady was a Thing, if Childs was a thing, or they were both human.

Now we have an answer.

But overall, the story carries remarkable value for its “alien” (but not “evil”) perspective, thereby fostering an understanding that those two words are quite different. The Thing, we learn, considers assimilation “communion,” a word suggesting union and synthesis, not destruction, and it even refers to itself as “an explorer, an ambassador, a missionary” who “spread across the universe” and has encountered “countless” worlds, offering each communion.

Given its high-minded understanding of itself and its role, it is not a surprise that the Thing is emotionally hurt -- and feels attacked -- by human behaviors.  The humans keep trying to burn it, to murder it. On this world, the Thing comes to understand “adaptation is provocation; adaptation is incitement to violence.”  Even as it reckons with this idea, the Thing notes that it feels it is an “obscenity” for life-forms to remain in one form for long.

So while it seeks understanding for its way of life, at the same time it is incapable of understanding our form of life. Intercultural communication is exceedingly difficult.

The gift of Watts’ writing is that his short story makes the horrifying tale of The Thing seem more like a tragedy than a horror movie. Intelligent beings, on each side of the chasm, can’t empathize with one another, or their ways.

Intriguingly, the Thing of the story also comes across as proud of its history, and its identity. It notes that it still possesses “the templates of a thousand worlds,” and that they still “resonate” in its flesh. 

Such thoughts back up its belief that it is an explorer, a pioneer.

The basic idea of this story is the gulf between a human understanding of life, and the alien’s. The Thing sees itself as giving humans a great gift, and is baffled and hurt that the humans don’t feel the same way. “Offered the greater whole, they see loss,” it thinks, baffled. “Offered communion, they see extinction.”

Meanwhile, we look at The Thing, and see a monster, not an ambassador, not an explorer.

We also get an insight into what happens to people assimilated by The Thing. Not all of them even realize they aren’t human anymore. The Thing notes that “the best forgeries are the ones who’ve forgotten they aren’t real.”  This line helps to explore a gap in the movie. Many audiences and fans have wondered if a perfect replica of a human knows that it isn’t human. Apparently, if we take this story’s word for it, some things don’t know the difference between their human selves and their “perfected” version.

The great gift of this particular story is that author Watts had done a tremendous amount of careful, imaginative work to imagine how all the events of The Thing could occur just as we saw them happen in the Carpenter film, but, at the same time, be interpreted in a completely different way. The same tale; new viewpoint.

The story’s ending is admittedly a stumbling point for some readers. The Thing observes that it has offered the “savages” of Earth “salvation,” but they failed to embrace it. In response, the Thing suggests it will just have to “rape” them into seeing the true way.

In this way, the Thing seems like a religious zealot, or crusader, enforcing its viewpoint through (knowing) violence.

And certainly, earlier points in the story -- concerning Childs -- set-up the “rape” nomenclature in a way that The Thing might understand it. 

But the whole story “humanizes” the Thing, revealing it to be a being of deep emotions and intelligence, until the denouement, which suggests it is doubling down on violence and warfare against the humans, when those things were never its goals.

For some, this is an unsatisfying conclusion. How would a creature that speaks in words of “salvation” and “communion,” even conceive of rape?

The answer arises in what the Thing does. It assimilates humans, their memories, and their ideas. I would suggest that the last line in “The Things” demonstrates the being’s true resilience, it’s total assimilation of human concepts, even as it re-doubles its efforts to share itself with others.  It is starting to think human concepts, in human terms.

I love stories that ask me to challenge my beliefs, or ask me to see beloved characters in a new or different light. “The Things” accomplishes this task with great aplomb, and casts a whole new light one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s an incredible and highly believable twist on a classic tale. It’s a perfect book-end to Carpenter’s film and indeed, to Campbell’s original novella, “Who Goes There?”

The Thing-a-Thon: The Thing from Another World (Dark Horse Comics; 1992)

In 1992, Dark Horse Comics continued the story of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) in several comic-book installments.  This retrospective post gazes at the first two issues of that revival, titled The Thing from Another World (#1 and #2).  The story was penned by Chuck Pfarrer, and the stunning art is by John Higgins.

The first two-part story was followed up, in short order, by a three-part series, Climate of Fear (also published in 1992).

The first two comics, however, commence a story that begins a mere 24 hours after the film’s end. The first frames of the comic reveal vistas of brutal Antarctica, and the writing establishes that “People will tell you the wind here will make you insane. That it will strip from you the things which make you human. Hope. Reason. And compassion.”

Following this interlude, MacReady -- suffering from frost-bite -- is taken to the Misaki Maru, a whaling vessel out of Okuska, by an apparently-human Childs. Childs leaves him there to receive medical attention, while he returns to Outpost 31 to seek out other survivors.

MacReady is delirious when he first awakes aboard ship, and gives himself a blood-test to prove to himself that he is not a Thing. Then he steals a helicopter from the ship’s deck and goes in search of Childs.

Instead, at the camp, he finds the corpse of Nauls (whose fate was not actually determined in the film…), and a still-living thing-creature. After he destroys it, MacReady is captured by a Navy Seal team under the command of Lt. Commander Les Erskine, who suspects he killed his camp-mates.

Erskine’s men fell prey to the Thing, and issue #1 ends with the return of Childs, who leads MacReady and Erskine to the Argetine Camp: Campo Del Sur.

Issue #2 of the series finds Childs and MacReady reunited, and learning that Erskine is a thing too. Worse, he has left the camp for an extraction point by the U.S. Navy, which has sent a submarine to Antarctica.

Childs and MacReady board the submarine, and so does the Thing, and Childs sacrifices himself and the vessel to kill Erskine. 

The series ends on a cliffhanger, as MacReady surfaces, cold and wet, on a chunk of ice, failing to stay conscious.

Die-hard fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing waited a decade for a continuation of the tale of MacReady and Childs, and this Dark Horse Comic follow-upwas welcomed with open arms.

The comic-book medium also promised an opening-up of the storyline, with imagery that a live-action sequel likely would be unable to afford. The comics live up to this promise, with some comic-frames depicting a submarine conning tower breaking through the ice, and others depicting the downing of a helicopter in flight.  The Thing’s forms were also an area of the story where comics permitted bigger and better visuals (with less money).

Pfarrer’s story demonstrates a high-degree of fidelity for the Carpenter film, and answer some intriguing questions. The first question involves Childs, as we see him at the end of the picture.
Is he Man or Thing?

The suspense regarding that particular question stretches out through the first issue of this comic series, and is resolved in the second issue. Pfarrer comes up with an answer opposite from the one imagined by Peter Watts in his award-winning story, “The Things.” In this case, Childs is not a Thing.

The story also clears up Nauls’ disappearance by having MacReady, upon return to the camp, discovering his corpse. Apparently the Thing killed him.

But the most intriguing aspect of the tale comes early, as MacReady gives himself the blood test to determine if he has been “contaminated” by the Thing.  Why would he do this unless MacReady (and the writer) suspect that the forgeries of human individuals believe they are still the original entity, not a Thing?

If this is so, it means that an assimilated organism possesses memory and identity (and soul?) identical to the original.  This has long been one of the primary metaphysical questions of the franchise. If a Thing copies you completely and perfectly, is the copy still you?

Less promising than these scenes are the assimilation scenes in the comics. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to who is “taken” by the Thing, once the Navy Seal team arrives. We know from issue #2 that Erskine and two of his men are “Things,” but the story never makes it clear precisely when the replacement occurs (or how it occurs through gloves, and other impediments).

We saw in John Carpenter’s The Thing that the alien needs a little bit of privacy to undertake the assimilation process. We see a dog-thing seek out Norris, alone in his room (in silhouette), deliberately choosing the human when he was devoid of company. And the Bennings thing is alone during the assimilation process too, until Windows unexpectedly walks in on him.  Based on the comic-book, it doesn’t see that Erskine or his men are ever alone long enough -- or even out of sight of MacReady -- for the violent, clothes-ripping process to occur.

Also, the comic series, as depicted in these two issues, becomes a bit of a mindless run-around, good characterization for ever-changing locales (from boat, to camp, to snow, to Argentine Base, to sub), with MacReady nearby at every outbreak of the monster.  The story-line very soon develops a repetitive, familiar approach to the story. MacReady arrives somewhere new (usually a very colorful or interesting locale), and then the Thing pops up and attacked.  It is burned, and MacReady moves on, to a new location, where the Thing pops up, and is burned.

And on and on.

MacReady’s character comes across off very strongly in the comic, but I’m not certain the story gets the surly Childs right. He is characterized almost entirely of his selflessness in these issues.

First he saves MacReady’s life.

Then he goes back to the camp to see if any of his former comrades are alive.

Then he rescues MacReady and Erskine.

Then he sacrifices his life to take out the Thing, aboard the submerged sub. 

Based on the Childs we met in the Carpenter film, I’m not sure he would undertake so many dangerous, self-less acts, in such short order, or without some considerable grumbling. I suppose that Childs is characterized this way so all his actions are second-guessed, and we are must continue to wonder if he is himself, or the Thing.

The art-work in this revival is powerful, and I especially like the frames of the Thing, a tentacle, quavering entity.  The likeness for Russell is strong, but I would have preferred some more close-ups, to so foster deeper identification with the characters.

In 1992, it was fantastic to get a sequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, but today, perhaps, it’s fair to state I would have rather gotten a film, than this wholly passable (but not inspired) comic-book series.