I would vouchsafe to say that aliens have, on the whole, delivered one of the strongest fields of good spooky horror movies, moreso than just about any other type of celluloid fiend (as well as no shortage of crap, but that’s another-never-mind). One can easily find a dozen or more films that meet or exceed the Halloween criteria – Alien, The Blob, Fire in the Sky, Communion, I Married a Monster From Outer Space, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (50’s AND 70s versions), Planet of the Vampires, Day of the Triffids, Village of the Damned, on up to recent chillers like Attack the Block and the underseen Alien Raiders. Is that a dozen? Throw in Forbidden Planet to make 13 and you have a nice all day marathon of near-perfect Halloween alien movies without even touching the film I’m picking as the ultimate Halloween alien-horror film…
The Thing from Another World (1951) is a terrific Halloween watch, so much so that it’s actually being watched by the characters in the movie Halloween (1978) during Michael Myers’ rampage. It features a series of tense set pieces, an isolated and eerie setting (a wind-whipped arctic outpost during a blizzard), several good jump-scares (including one all-time classic), and just a sense of overall spookiness (the saucer in the ice! those blood-drinking plants in the science lab! the mewing sounds the monster makes out in the windy darkness!). Moreover it features a crew of well-defined characters and crackling, well-written dialogue… and as a bonus, because it’s a Howard Hawks production, the women characters are smart and brave, give quips as good as the men and (this is still a problem in movies now let alone in the 50s) they have good ideas and opinions that the male characters ask for and actually listen to… I know! Mind-blowing stuff!
Okay, the monster is just James Arness (later a TV superstar in the long-running Gunsmoke series) in a Frankenstein costume. Fortunately we don’t see him much, usually just enough that his size and bearing make him quite frightening, even at the end when he steps out of the shadows for the finale. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, read what I said in Day 2’s post!
Now of course the 800-pound-gorilla-that-grows-two-heads-and-tentacles-because-it’s-actually-a-shape-shifting-alien in the room is John Carpenter’s 1982 remake, which is a masterpiece in its own right, an absolute must-see for any horror fan and a terrific Halloween watch to boot. But I give the 50’s version the edge for one reason: it’s more fun. Carpenter’s human characters are surly, suspicious, isolated and cynical (justly- it fits the theme of his film). The 50s film, on the other hand, is filled with likable, witty, and personable heroes who band together to defeat an alien threat and even stick up for the Misguided Scientist Who Nearly Doomed Them All in the film’s conclusion. I’m not picking one approach over the other, both films are terrific. But fun is a huge part of the Halloween experience and The Thing from Another World is just plain More Fun.