To conclude my descent into the horror genre I bring you a monster movie. Remember last week when I said something about monster movies being one of the cheesiest forms of cheap horror entertainment? Well John Carpenter’s The Thing is the proverbial exception that proves the rule. In a loose, rhetorical sense anyhow. This 1982 classic is, like all Thing movies, focused on an isolated group of scientists who are forced to confront a strange alien life form seemingly bent on subduing the human population. As an aside, can movies two years older than I am be considered classics? I guess so. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to watch this movie since I found a music video set to music by Zombie Zombie made with G.I. Joe’s which is based loosely on John Carpenter‘s interpretation three years ago. The music in the French film was so haunting and the dialogueless plot so intriguing I determined I had to see its inspiration. The remake released this year, which as near as I can tell is actually the third movie based the John Campbell Jr. short story, meant that Netflix felt the need to stream the original and present me with an opportunity.
The Thing just screams 50’s monster movie so I was fully expecting a full dose of MST3k grade cheese, but like Tophat watching something called Gunless, I was pleasantly surprised. This is one of Kurt Russell’s first big movies after spending 20 years on television and feel good Disney movies, and he came out of the box swinging. He plays a helicopter pilot who ferries around the scientists and other personnel at the research station and when things turn ugly he becomes the self-appointed leader of the group. More importantly, Russell’s costar is none other than Wilford Brimley, whom the internet knows as the man who mispronounces diabeetus while encouraging you to test your blood sugar regularly or something. To me he will always be both the friendly spokesman for Quaker Oats and the Postmaster General. While it may very well be his job to by-God get things done, I think his role as a blood testing spokesman stem from a deep-seated paranoia developed during the filming of the Thing. As Hitchcock will tell you, every good suspense film has at least one scene every one remembers alike. In Psycho it’s the shower scene, in The Thing it’s got to be the blood scene.
Brimley sans mustache is almost not Brimley at all, but no matter. His performance is stellar. He leads me where I want to go and keeps me on my toes as the plot line unfolds. But the Quaker man is outshone by Russell. The only memorable character besides Russell and Brimley is a creepy dude in overhauls who apparently likes dogs. Even then, I think the only reason I took note of him is because I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would take a redneck on a dangerous expedition to Antarctica. I mean, I’ve seen sled dog trainers in Alaska. They’ve got more sense and social graces than this guy. So Russell didn’t have much to out shine. He seems to be the man in charge as soon as we meet him even though he’s little more than the stick jockey. It was never made abundantly clear, but I think the real man in charge was an old soldier named Gary. Honestly. Who wants to take orders from a Gary? So Russell is large and in charge and he has some great moments. Like when he bursts through a window and comes out of the snow storm looking like a Yetti.
For those of you familiar with John Carpenter’s work
you’ve already seen this movie you know that there is plenty of violence and gratuitous explosions. But what impressed me was the silicon special effects gore. Gore before CGI was a slippery slope covered with spaghetti entrails and chocolate sauce. It was very tricky to get it just right. Claymation was a big no-no and produced hilariously bad results like Evil Dead. Silicon was a little easier to get right but could also give you that $10 rubber Halloween mask your dad keeps in the closet look. The Thing actually had me admiring the special effects. Like withdrawing myself from the story so I could admire Hal Bigger and company’s handiwork. I don’t do that. Another thing I don’t do is jump when the monster surprises me. The Thing did actually catch me off guard at times. No screaming mind you, but I was surprised and drawn into the movie.
The story is pretty basic. Here comes The Thing. Better kill The Thing. They even refer to it as The Thing. But despite this it is a very entertaining movie and it kept me guessing. Not particularly scary, but suspenseful enough. What makes the movie, like Carnival of Souls, is the music. It provides the foreshadowing, but more importantly it keeps the film moving. And the ending? It’s perfect. Couldn’t ask for better.
I don’t usually go for horror films but I respect quality and there’s a good reason The Thing is a cult classic. I don’t really expect much from the 2011 rendition, but I rarely like a remake. Which is ironic considering this is a remake. Still the 2011 film actually has females in it. John Carpenter’s film is a complete sausage fest. But when the cast is limited to 14 people and two die in the first five minutes you can’t really blame him. It’s a bit of a coincidence that Carpenter directs this fine flick and one of the classic standards of the dreaded slasher genre, Halloween. I’m going to go ahead and say The Thing was a fluke. After all, Carpenter also did Escape from New York and that movie makes the Demolition Man look like Die Hard 3.
So if you’re looking for a horror flick that rises above the slashers and has a distinct lack of zombies you should watch The Thing with the stuff at the place. Or at least watch Zombie Zombie’s music video. It technically takes place after the movie, but there are no real spoilers. Apparently the song is called “driving this road until death.” Silly French.