Every once in a while a remake is actually better than the original film. This is one of those cases. While I will still always like The Thing From Another World, made in 1951 (with Gunsmoke’s James Arness in the title role!), this one is much more faithful to the original story. That was “Who Goes There?”, a novella by John W. Campbell, Jr, writing as Don A. Stuart, in the August 1938 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.
The original was made by some pretty impressive people, not the usual B-movie crowd. Screenplay was by Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht, who for some reason were not credited, and Charles Lederer. The Director was Christian Nyby, music by Dimitri Tiomkin. It is a crackerjack thriller, well thought out, and with much better dialog and acting than was usual in black and white horror films of the day. But it radically changed the story, and removed the most important element, which was the ability of the Thing to morph into any shape it chose, and to imitate any of the people in the Arctic outpost where it all takes place. So there was a huge element of paranoia. Are you a real human, or a double who wants to kill me? Who goes there? You couldn’t trust anyone.
This film uses all that stuff very well. The acting is first-rate, with Kurt Russell as the steely-eyed leader. But this film is known mainly for its brilliant use of practical special effects. Today the hideous transformations we see here would be easily achieved with CGI. This was all real, using gallons of slime-covered latex and stop-motion photography. It was stunning, jaw-dropping. And even though we have seen stuff like this a thousand times now, it still holds up very well.