On the twenty-eighth day of Halloween, the 80s gave to me: The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)
In retrospect,there should have been a lot more 80s horror on this list. So many classic works in both sci-fi and horror came out of fashion’s worst era, and yet this is the first one I’m mentioning. Luckily, the cool thing about holidays is that they come once a year, so I’ll have a lot to dig into next go round.
At any rate, I’ll probably end up doing a series later in the year centered around John Carpenter, because so many of his films ended up being formative for me as a kid. In fact, The Thing was originally on my list in my first series of reviews, which focused on my earliest horror movies. I ended up saving it for later, because The Thing is a heavy hitter and deserved a better spot on the list.
And so here it is, as a part of my list of G.O.A.Ts. This movie is simultaneously my wildest dream and my worst nightmare. On the one hand, it’s an incredibly tense, stomach churning gore-fest. On the other hand, it makes me think about whether or not I’d kill a dog to save myself. And it’s a really cute dog.
A remote American scientific outpost in Antarctica is suddenly attacked by a Norwegian scientist, who appears to be trying to kill a dog. The Americans kill the Norwegian out of self-defense, but realize that something might be wrong at the Norwegian base. Intending to offer aid, Doc (Richard Dysart) and MacReady (Kurt Russell) fly to the base, where they discover a scene of absolute carnage : the base is destroyed, and every team member is dead. Retrieving a mangled, irregular looking body from the wreckage, they bring it back to their base for examination, unsure of what to do. Placing the dog the Norwegian was apparently pursuing with the rest of the base’s dogs, things quickly go to hell. The “dog” sprouts tentacles and sheds it skin, and that’s not a breed characteristic I’ve ever heard of. The crew quickly realizes that it’s what’s in the dog that is the danger, and that they might not be able to stop it.
I’M CALLING SHENANIGANS
What’s causing this nonsense?
Seriously. This is a brilliant alien film, one that has a blood-borne, shape-shifting organism at its heart. Not only is this creature grody, it’s wicked fucking smart. It’s a horrifying concept, full stop.
Also, let’s think about the physical location of the action: you are unconditionally and irrevocably fucked in the arctic. There is nowhere to go and no one coming to save you. The only way to keep yourself safe from this creature is to isolate yourself, and yet the only way to survive in the arctic is to band together. Yikes.
Carpenter builds up tension in The Thing with brilliant foreshadowing, from MacReady dramatically losing to the chess machine in a “checkmate,” to Nauls (T.K. Carter) loudly listening to “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder. The contrast between the deep blue of the cold and the bright red of the fire is beautiful, but coded for capital-D Danger.
While I’ll give The Thing’s gore its own subsection, one of the things I love about this movie is that it doesn’t necessarily rely on the gore. The Thing is primarily a tale about human drama: once the crew realizes how the organism travels, all bets are off as suspicion mounts and accusations fly. Trust is in short supply in The Thing, and it leads to a total social breakdown that has everyone looking over their backs. That’s what makes this movie a nail-biter; the gore is just the cherry on top.
This organism is either gonna be forever, or it’s gonna go down in flames. There is no way out of The Thing, and it makes for one hell of a ride.
Let’s talk about gore ba-by / Let’s talk about thisdude’schest cavi-ty
I swear to god nothing turns my stomach more than the unrealistic, hyper-gory body horror of the 80s. I don’t know why, but for some reason this specific subset of special effects makes me want to actually vomit more than any other. Rob Bottin’s shit is next-level fucked up : those who’ve seen The Thing know exactly what I’m talking about. Dismembered heads sprout legs. Teeth are just everywhere. Tentacles for days. Spider legs on things that aren’t spiders. The cherry-red blood and shiny viscera.
There’s nothing like it in the world.
Warnings: nasty-ass body horror gore. Also violence against dogs. Laugh all you want at that warning, but tears well up in my eyes anytime I see a dog being hurt. Even if they are evil.
Kurt Russell’s ridiculous flying hat: a love story
This move is the perfect blend of FUBAR’d gore and genuine tension, which is a rare achievement. I can’t vouch for the 1951 original or the 2011 “prequel”, but the 80s did good by this version. This movie is creepy and awful in the most wonderful of ways. Carpenter is the man, and The Thing is one of his greatest films.
Don’t watch this movie if you’ve got a weak stomach or are not fan of shall we say, creative gore. But if you’ve got a night to kill and want to feel claustrophobic and never want to be near another human again see a kick-ass film, get your hands on a copy of The Thing.
Just have a lighter on you.
Featured image source: http://tthk-18.tumblr.com/post/129351627158/film-posters-of-the-thing-directed-by-john
“Aliens” source : http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35mlvr