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Projected Fears: The Thing From Another World as Gothic Horror

I am currently reading and enjoying Kendall R. Phillips' book Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture (Praeger, 2005). The book is similar to David Skal's The Monster Show in that it connects horror films to their context in American culture. Phillips' book is a little different in that it selects certain films which the author feels specially represent the time period in which they appeared above all others in horror. One of the films Phillips selects is The Thing From Another World (1951), and in his view this film represents a return to Gothic horror, whereas The Day the Earth Stood Still exemplifies 1950s science fiction.

The Thing has long been one of my favorite 1950s horror/science fiction films, and today I watched it again, only this time with an eye toward consideration of it as incorporating Gothic horror within the science fiction framework. This idea has a lot of merit, and one scene was especially striking in illustrating Phillips' thesis. As the story goes a group of Antarctic scientists and military men bring a block of ice back to their research station which contains the body of an alien that was found near a flying saucer also buried in the arctic wilderness. The decision is made to leave the creature in the ice for possible analysis pending approval by military authorities. The creature inadvertently thaws out and surprises one of the military men selected to keep watch on it.

The setting of the scene, and the reaction of the military man parallels a scene in a classic Gothic horror film The Mummy (1932). In The Mummy an archaeologist is left along in a room with the coffin containing the mummy with his back to the sarcophagus. As he reads a scroll the mummy returns to life, reaches for the scroll on the table (see photo from scene accompanying this post, and comes up behind him causing great fright and hysteria. In The Thing the scene is set up similarly in the way in which the soldier is sitting, and he likewise leaves the room in hysteria after seeing the alien creature, brought back to normalcy only after someone throws a cup of water in his face. Unfortunately, while I was able to find an image from The Mummy from the scene under discussion, no such image was available from the scene in The Thing. Interested readers will need to do some comparative video viewing to test this idea.

This is a minor observation, but one that indicates that Phillips has some worthwhile considerations for those interested in exploring key horror films in more depth in their cultural context.

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