Sunday, February 19, 2012

"I just cannot believe... any of this voodoo bullshit." 
(The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter/Screenplay by Bill Lancaster)

It was 1982 when this film first came out. The same year as when I first joined the military. I hadn't seen many films that truly scared me. This was one of the few.

I watched this film with my kids, not long ago, before we went to see the new film (which I thought was a remake, because the title is the same). Imagine my pleasure when I found out the new movie wasn't a remake, but instead...part of the sequel...even better, "The beginning."  

But although this blog review isn't intended to talk about the new movie, and is specifically designed to discuss the older version, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the much older 1951 film, "The Thing From Another World." All of the movies are based on a short story written by John W. Campbell (Don A. Stuart) in 1938 (titled: "Who Goes There?). If I can get my hands on the tale, it will be my next read.

The John Carpenter 1982 film, The Thing, was (at the time) one of the most fantastic movies I'd ever seen. Watching it years later, the special effects I'd oo'd and ah'd at with the initial view, seemed a bit hokey (I guess I'm spoiled with the modern CGI point of view). Still there were things that remained suspenseful and horrific in the film. I'd never seen the VERY beginning before, with the ship coming from outer space, but I loved when the helicopter comes into view over the barren icy tundra and the husky-dog races over the snow (A discerning eye can now tell there were TONS of footprints and other traffic that traveled over the set before filming). And I adored watching Kurt Russell sitting at "Chess Wizard" at the American outpost, "chilling out" as it were. Back then I thought it was amazing to play chess against a computer. I guess I still do.

The setting for this story was perfect. What could be more bone chilling than to be stuck in a freezing environment with a monster that wants to take over your, and everyone else's, warm blooded body? And there were the scene enhancers, such as the sound of the arctic winds constantly blowing and the music which played like a deadly heartbeat, mechanical but rhythmic, slow but ominous. I think the combination of the wind sounds and the music made a huge contribution toward developing tension in this piece. 

I really liked the part where Kurt Russell's character (MacReady) flies to the Norwegian outpost to investigate why one of their members went on his bizarre rampage. As a viewer, I was able to 'investigate' through the character's eyes. I was part of the confusion, wondering what had happened, just as much in the dark as the people in front of me. It was a little different from books or movies where the reader or viewer knows something the characters don't. Instead of 'being in the know' I was surprised as the clues unfolded before me, and then I had to put the pieces together. I found I kind of liked that secretive approach. It added to the suspense because I knew just as much (if not less) than the main characters did.
It's hard for me to believe it was 30 years since the release of this film. It seems like just yesterday in many ways.  From the steaming corpse MacReady brings back to their unit, to the pack of dogs becoming infected and breaking out into whipping tendrils of "wild things" lashing out in the darkness, I was just as transfixed with what was happening 'modern day' as I'd been the first time I saw it.

The desperation of knowing you've got a monster who imitates human form, that there's not anything you can do about it AND that you're trapped in a place far from civilization, makes for a compelling tale. It takes on most of our fears of not being able to call for help, of being stranded with few options and of our bodies being invaded. Thirty years later, even without foo-foo technology, I saw 'The Thing' still rocks. From creepy autopsies by "Blair", Wilford Brimley (who kept reminding me of round boxs of Quaker Oats), to the tortuous incineration of misshapen aliens, I gotta say I loved almost every minute of it. Sure, there were inconsistencies (the foot-printed snow), but the story was excellent and I can't think of many ways it could have been done better.

Will there be a Thing Three? One never knows. But if it comes to the theater I'll definitely be there. I'll sit in my seat and hug my blanket of popcorn and wait to be scared to the depths of my core. When it comes to 'The Thing," I just can't help it. And who said letting it take over was even the worst? Assimilation can't be as bad as feeling the fear of it. 
~Give me a bottle of J&B and some forty below weather, and if I'm left in the dark listening to an alien roar I might fight to the end, but in the true end, Death will still scoop me up and carry me through its icy black door.~

Sweet 'thingy' dreams,


  1. Nice post Cin. Ain't it crazy how time flies? I did like the visit to the Norwegian base, too. Good way to fill people in and still be creepy.

  2. I'm not one for the gross-out, myself, so I felt like the movie lost a lot in those special effects. Granted, for the time, they were great, but they really killed the suspenseful atmosphere, for me. I'd rather be on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what is revealed next than curled up in a ball, or worse, wishing for something to throw up in. (It wasn't that bad, but neither was I really looking at the screen much when the monster showed itself. Heh.)

    I do agree that they did an excellent job revealing information piece by piece over the course of the film, keeping the viewer at least as in the dark as the characters. That was very well done, and is something I'm going to keep in mind for the future. If not, perhaps, in context of this movie...

  3. You noticed the footprints, but I was paying more attention to the dog. The dogs they used looked like Siberian Huskies, which kind of seemed off to me. Although I don't think it's completely impossible, I think Alaskan Huskies would be used. Siberian Huskies are bred not just for running but also their gentle dispositions and looks; Alaskan Huskies are just bred for pulling sleds. Since looks don't matter for Alaskan Huskies, they look like mutts and are not very pretty at all. They tend to be ultra lean, too--I mean, they look like they've got worms they're so thin. Again, it's not impossible for a Siberian Husky to be used or for some of the genes to sneak their ways into a lineage, but that dog looked too beautiful. I love Siberian Huskies and plan to get one when I move out of Texas for cooler weather, so I was in awe of the dog instead of paying attention to the footprints.

    As for the effects, I they were a bit cheesy at times, but I love effects like these. I'd take them over CGI any day. Even the cheesiest seem more authentic and make me giggle with delight when I see them. Some weren't really that bad though. I thought some of the images in the kennel were pretty descent. But, maybe I just wanted to like them because they were real.

  4. If you want to read "Who Goes There?", it's online here:

    I agree about the setting adding a great deal to the movie. Antarctica is probably the most otherworldly part of our planet.

    It is awesome that you were able to see it when it first came out. I wasn't able to watch such movies in 1982, so I didn't see it until the late 90's. I didn't feel like it was dated at all (except for the chess computer). The camera work is still very striking. I also felt like I was put in the action, as if I was experiencing it with the characters. I liked finding out the information as the characters did. That's why I like their discovery of the Norwegian camp better than the original movie that had the Americans discovering it, with verbose scientists who were prone to overly explanatory one minute and secretive the next.

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed "The Thing" thirty years ago and again today. So did I. I haven't seen the new installment yet, but I should have by next week from Netflix and plan to watch it the same day it arrives.

    The trip to the Norwegian camp reminded me a little of the trip to alien space ship in "Alien"--an encounter with an unknown race and unknown technology. The ice block scene was very cool--no pun intended. No need for exposition. You knew the alien was frozen and thawed. Great visual to move the story forward and work your imagination.