Welcome to Written in BLOOD! This monthly series will take a look at the long-lost novelizations of some of horror’s finest films! Sometimes these novelizations stay very true to the final product, and sometimes they go completely and absolutely bonkers! Either way, we will examine the details and the subplots written in these books that add to the stories we already know and love.
As many of you already know, John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing is a remake of another sci-fi film, The Thing From Another World. What you may not know, however, is that original 1951 classic is based on a work of fiction, itself. In August of 1938, the magazine Astounding Science Fiction published a novella from John W. Campbell titled Who Goes There?. This story, which eventually inspired all three versions of the film, was a shortened version of a manuscript titled Frozen Hell, which never saw full publication (more on this later).
As a companion piece to Carpenter’s 1982 film, sci-fi master Alan Dean Foster wrote a novelization based on the screenplay, which was itself written by Bill Lancaster. This story of Antarctic mayhem took the long journey from the pages of Astounding Science Fiction, to the silver screen in 1951, to a remake screenplay, to a novelization, to another turn at the movie theater. Although this sounds like a long game of telephone, where the story could become jumbled and broken, this is absolutely not the case. While Foster’s novelization does have some minor differences to the film, it remains very true to both the story and the feeling of the finished film. What I would like to look at is one difference between the novelization and the film, a passage and character death that didn’t make it into the final version of the film. It is a haunting sequence of events that, while it would have been difficult to film, gave an interesting insight into the Thing and its motivations.
Just like in the film, the sled dogs are attacked by the thing-in-disguise husky from the Norwegian camp. As the crew attempts to stop the Thing, several of the dogs escape the cage and survive the melee. Although we don’t see what happens to these dogs in the film, the book takes us on a thrilling journey and shows us just how powerful the Thing is.
“..the book takes us on a thrilling journey and shows us just how powerful the Thing is.”
You see, it only takes a small part of the thing to fully transform its host. Fuchs mentions this in the film, when he suggests to MacReady that they should fix their own meals and eat out of cans. What does this mean for the dogs who attacked the Thing in the kennels? In the film, they are attacked by the transforming husky, but in the book, it’s the other sled dogs who attack the creature first. It’s a much more proactive approach than the film dogs. During their attack, several of the animals bite off pieces of the beast, ingesting chunks of infected flesh as they fight.
I know what you’re thinking, “That sounds both disgusting and very dangerous for those poor puppers”. You’re very right. Soon after the fight in the kennels, the remaining three dogs escape into the Antarctic wilderness, running off into the freezing dark-as-night day. MacReady, the ever-handsome and ever-brave, acts right away, outfitting two snowmobiles with advanced engines and more dynamite than is humanly responsible. He takes Childs and Bennings with him to chase after the dogs. He knows, before many of the other crewmembers, that these are no longer precious puppies, but transformed monsters hoping to get to another Outpost where there are unsuspecting scientists who don’t know that they are technically Ancient Aliens.
It takes a full day to see any signs of the dogs, and when they do, it’s only half of one. They stumble across a half-eaten dog in the snow, showing that the Thing brought along its food with it on its journey. Pretty smart, right? It knew that the host it was inhabiting wouldn’t make it to another Outpost without freezing or starving to death in the frozen desert. So, it brought along a friend to munch on, like how I keep dozens of pounds of beef jerky in the glovebox of my car.
As the three men follow the tracks of the dogs, they are taken deep into a canyon. Slick, icy walls rise on either side of them, reaching up into the dark mid-day night sky for dozens of meters. The headlights of their snowmobiles can barely see ten feet in front of them, but they do manage to capture the silhouette of a sled dog. The animal is sitting on its haunches in the middle of the canyon with its back facing the terrified crewmembers. MacReady and Childs get off their snowmobiles and cautiously approach the animal while Bennings stays behind to keep an eye on their path if they need to retreat. As the two brave men get a good look at the dog, they notice that it is chewing on the other half of the dog they found in the snow.
That’s when the trap springs. Bennings feels his world shift and he is dragged beneath the snow and ice. Tentacles and appendages reach into the air and try to grab MacReady and Childs, but they are ready. They light up the dark day with their flamethrowers, killing the bait dog quickly and turning their attention to Bennings. As they run towards their friend, they can see that he is already being consumed by the monstrosity just below the ice. As they unleash fiery hell on the Thing, they realize that they were tricked, and that they are dealing with a very intelligent creature.
As you can tell, this scene would have taken us away from Outpost 31 and would have given us a glimpse of just how intelligent the Thing is. I mean, it did crash-land on a planet thousands of years ago, but we were never really sure of its mental dexterity. It may not have been the creature who piloted the craft. For all we know, it could have been their pet, with no more intellect than a common cat (Some cats are smart. Mine isn’t.). What we see in this deleted scene is a beast who can plan. A beast who can lay a trap. A beast who knows that it has to get out of this snowy hell to infect the rest of the world. The film’s version of Bennings’ death is great. I genuinely love that scene, where we see a mostly-transformed Bennings run out into the snow and shriek at the others as they light it on fire. I just feel like the Thing’s ability to set this trap for those chasing it in the book gave it a sense of intelligence that you don’t see as plainly in the film. The film’s version of the Thing behaves more like an animal, trying to survive any way possible. It doesn’t necessarily show us a creature who plots, which for my money, is a much more frightening antagonist. So, while Bennings’ death in the film is awesome, I think we really missed an amazing opportunity for a gruesome set piece with the removal of this scene from the film.
So, there you have it! If you get the opportunity, I fully recommend that you give this novelization a read. It’s a faithful telling of the story, and with its subtle changes, gives us an insight into the innerworkings of the thing’s mind. As for the full manuscript of Campbell’s Frozen Hell, a Kickstarter campaign raised a ton of money last year for a physical printing of the novel, so we will all be able to read the full original story soon.
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