There was a freak snowstorm yesterday so I decided to celebrate the moment with a second attempt to watch John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). I fell asleep the first time I tried to watch it. That wasn’t the movie’s fault–I enjoyed it, I’d just had a ten-hour-day at work and I kind of crashed when Dr. Blair went crazy. I woke up when my roommate shouted something about Wilford Brimley and the rest of the movie was kind of a blur. So this was the second attempt to watch it and I really enjoyed it.
At its heart, this movie is about isolation and rugged survival in the great outdoors. It’s also about what people do when a violently replicating alien life form starts to impersonate their friends. The answer is; go mental.
The movie is set in Outpost 31 where an American research team is hunkering down for the winter and follows resident badass R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) as he tries to deal with the invading life form attacking the team.
You know, I read an article in the, now defunct, science magazine Seed about research and life at the Amundson-Scott South Pole Station. They don’t just need scientists there, there’s also a need for support staff. Sometimes, I daydream about leaving everything behind and just going there where, I imagine, very few people would bother me…
Anyway, back to the movie.
For me, movies like Alien and The Thing, while overtly science-fiction, also contain elements of the haunted house movies. You’re in a confined space, for some reason you can’t leave, and you’re being attacked by a hostile force that you really can’t explain. So, how long does it take before paranoia enters the picture and the humans become just as dangerous as whatever alien or ghost that’s attacking them?
If you haven’t seen the movie, here’s the deal with the aliens. Another scientific team discovered a parasitic alien life form frozen in the Antarctic ice. But it wasn’t dead. This life form can perfectly replicate the life that’s around it so, you’re best friend on the team may no longer be your best friend. Instead, it’s a gross, tentacled alien that will explode out of your head and turn your face into an onion blossom. How do you figure out who’s who and how do you stop it?
Writing about this movie is kind of frustrating. I really, really liked it and want whoever’s reading to go see it. You’ll notice that, if I don’t like a movie, I definitely tend to give spoilers away. I was familiar with the plot when I saw this movie, but I wasn’t sure of the details and it was really enjoyable seeing them unfold. Therefore, I’m giving you a bare-bones recap in the hopes that you’ll go see this yourself.
What I can talk about are the amazing visual effects. This movie scared me and the effects are part of the reason. When the creature is changing lifeforms or about to kill something, it has these thin, whiplike tentacles that creep out. They’re like if your arteries were sentient and whipped around really fast and hummed like high-tension wires. They’re so unnatural, unlike anything alive (and I’m pretty familiar with some pretty creepy animals–look up hagfish) that the idea of them coming anywhere near you is enough to scare you. I haven’t had a chance to watch the behind-the-scenes extras on the DVD I got, but I can’t wait to see how the creatures were made. In one scene, it looked like it might have been stop-motion, but it was really good stop-motion. Not crappy stop-motion like the scorpion-man in the hallway from Hellraiser.
What’s also very creepy are the bodies that MacReady and the team keep finding, especially where the other scientific team was camped out. They’re vaguely humanoid, some even have recognizable features, but it’s as if someone put a couple of action figures in the microwave. Everything’s melted together, and charred, and the sound effects make them seem really sticky and gooey.
What helped with the creep factor is the amazing score by Ennio Morricone. If you’re not familiar with the name, then you’ll know his work scoring Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. I’m most familiar with his work on the campy but amazing Danger: Diabolik, which was the last new episode of MST3K. There’s this part in the score where it’s a baseline that sounds like a heartbeat, and it’s getting faster and faster, as if someone’s running or scared. It accentuates the action on-screen really well.
The only thing that made me sad about this movie was the utter lack of women–unless you count Adrienne Barbeau’s cameo as the Chess Wizard voice. The movie’s a product of its time and I think that if it were made today (I’m not counting the prequel) there’d be at least one woman scientist. But sometimes, when you’re a woman and you’re watching a movie like this, it just makes you really sad and wonder, hey, why can’t I kill an alien with a flamethrower? Hell, being chased by a masked goon in your underwear is a step up from total exclusion.
And yet, I still love this movie. Ultimately, it’s a really well-constructed film that was underappreciated in its time. E.T. and Blade Runner were released at the same time as The Thing and I think that they kind of took the focus away from The Thing. I’m just glad it’s a cult classic now. Did you know that the members of the Amundson-Scott South Pole Station’s winter crew watch this movie on a double bill with The Shining after the last flight out leaves the station? Pretty cool, pretty badass, and how can I get a job there?
- Scarina--the authoress and editrix of this site. I like scary movies and have dedicated my free time to cataloging horror--the good, the bad, and the ugly. Sometimes there are books too.
There's film criticism, literary criticism, and humor here. I can be highbrow but there's lots of pop culture too. And feminism.
I fervently love "Twin Peaks" and wish it were a real place so I could move there. I can't list my favorite scary movies because they change depending on my mood, the season, and how much coffee I've had.
I'm an artist looking for ways to blend creepy with cute. I try to channel my childhood nightmares, my love of horror, and my experiences with sleepy paralysis.
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