The Thing is probably the most generically named creature in all of fiction. What makes this worse is that you have to specify that you’re talking about The Thing From Another World, just due to how many different characters are called “The Thing”. You can imagine my disappointment when I first found out that the Thing movies had nothing to do with a disembodied hand, or a man being turned into a monster made of orange rock.
The Thing From Another World (which, as far as I know, has no other canonical name) is a creature that can take the form of anyone it comes across. The creature has an aversion to fire, so the only way to tell if someone if really a human or the creature is by taking blood samples and exposing the samples to flame. There are some adaptations that imply that even the creature (or creatures as the case may be) may be unaware that they are not the person that they claim to be.
While the fact that the monster comes from outer space adds a modern spin to this creature, there are actually older stories that feature monsters that have similar abilities as The Thing. Legends from the Middle Ages tell of fairies stealing human children and replacing them with creatures called changelings, with some stories even having the changeling child never learning that he or she is not human. Irish folklore tells of a type of spirit or apparition called a Fetch that resembles a living person exactly, which is usually a sign of impending death. There are tons of stories in fantasy fiction that tell of shapeshifters that kill or kidnap someone so that they can take that person’s form.
The original story featuring The Thing was a novella written by John W. Campbell Jr in 1938 called Who Goes There?. It tells the story of a group of scientists that discover a spaceship buried in the Antarctic ice. Their attempt to free the ship from the ice ends up destroying the ship, but frees the creature. The rest of the novella is a suspenseful tale of horror, as the characters and the reader are never sure who is truly human or who is the creature.
This book was popular enough that it has had multiple film adaptations. The first was 1951’s The Thing From Another World released by RKO Pictures. This film was a pretty large departure from the original story. The creature in this film is a walking plant creature, like DC’s Swamp Thing or Marvel’s Man Thing. There also seems to be a vampiric element to this version of the creature as well, as it seems to drain the blood from two of its victims. The creature is eventually defeated when the scientists set an electrical trap for the creature that reduces it to ashes.
The next film based on this story was 1982’s The Thing released by Universal Studios, which is a much closer adaptation of the original story. Being a horror film from the 1980’s, this film had a lot more gore than the earlier film, but it is generally considered to be the better film. The opening of the film is a bit different from the original story; instead of excavating the creature from the ice, the scientists find the remains of a camp that had previously done so, and a dog that turns out to be the creature. This film also has a darker ending, with the two survivors of the expedition staying in the Antarctic where they will most likely freeze to death, and the audience never learning what happened to the creature.
A prequel to this film was released in 2011 as The Thing. Yes, it is confusing to have a prequel with the same name as the earlier film. This film tells the story of the team that had excavated the creature from the ice. Of course, it is odd to have a film that tells that tale when we already know what happened to them. This film ends with the two survivors chasing after the dog from the previous film. Since we never see those survivors in the 1982 film, we can only assume that they died in their attempt to hunt down the creature.
Although there were no other film adaptations, there have been video games and comic books based on the 1982 film, and there are multiple films that may have been inspired by the original tale such as 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 1979’s Alien.
That’s about it for The Thing From Another World. Tomorrow we will begin a discussion of some of the more modern monsters of horror fiction, which I think that the people of my generation will be more familiar with in general. We will begin with the “monster” that (sort of) started the modern horror trend, Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.