By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's been 60 years since alien thriller movie "The Thing From Another World" hit theaters at the height of Cold War paranoia and half that long since horror director John Carpenter revisited its themes in "The Thing."
On Friday, a new "The Thing" is back in movie theaters, hungrier than ever, in a version being billed as a prequel to Carpenter's examination of fear that is centered on an alien from another world who is discovered by scientists on Antarctica.
Dutch director Matthijs van Heijningen makes his feature film debut with the new movie that has 27 year-old Mary Elizabeth Winstead ("Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") playing paleontologist Kate Lloyd, who is hired as part of a mysterious scientific expedition and ends up battling the alien.
Australian actor Joel Edgerton ("Animal Kingdom") co-stars as a veteran helicopter pilot who services the remote Antarctica base where a Norwegian team of scientists has stumbled across the alien and its spaceship buried in the ice.
Van Heijningen said he is a fan of both earlier "Thing" films, but he sees his version as "very logically tied-in to the events of...the Carpenter movie." Yet, the new version exhibits a 2011 sensibility with its international cast and female character leading the charge to kill the alien.
"Surrounded by all these older men and isolated on this base, maybe she already feels uncomfortable -- a bit of an outcast. My reference for envisioning her was actually Jane Goodall. For me, she's the ultimate female scientist," van Heijningen said.
Van Heijningen cites the famed British anthropologist as an inspiration, but his character Kate Lloyd seems more akin to the "Alien's" Ripley, the woman portrayed by Sigourney Weaver who battles the otherworldly creature in that 1979 film.
"She's very smart, but she's very young and inexperienced, and she gets invited to join this expedition because they (the male scientists) think they can easily control her. That's how she starts out," Winstead said of her character.
"But when the very bad things start to happen, she's the one who starts kicking butt and really figuring out what they have to do in order to survive. Not the men," she said.
The best horror films are both timeless, yet very much of their time. "The Thing From Another World" (1951) is seen as reflecting America's paranoia about communism, and Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982) has been viewed as a thinly veiled parable about the horrors of AIDS.
This new "Thing" could be viewed as a commentary on the present-day threat from the global war on terror, its makers said, but Van Heijningen was quick to add that he didn't set out to comment on modern times.
"It's first and foremost a horror film about an alien. But you can definitely make the parallel in the sense that we have terrorists among us, pretending to be good neighbors, while they have a very different, hidden agenda."
Winstead agrees there is a timely subtext to "The Thing" dealing with trusting, or not, acquaintances and others But she added that the horror genre allows people to share their fright, perhaps even laugh at it, then shrug it off.
"It's a way of living vicariously through terrifying events, and the audience comes through it unscathed. That's what this film does. You live through all the rising tension and paranoia, and then you get to walk away."
(Editing by Chris Michaud and Bob Tourtellotte)