Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Thing is the greatest movie of all time

Oh The Thing. One of my faves. I've long been sort of obsessed with Antarctica and so want to go there (shout out to the book I'm reading, To the Edges of the Earth: 1909, the Race for the Three Poles, and the Climax of the Age of Exploration by one Edward J. Larson about the first expeditions to the North and South Poles and the top of K2). Though the best thing to come off the continent, in my opinion, is still the 1982 John Carpenter film The Thing which is still just wow. Scared the shit out of me as a child. Scares the shit out of me as an adult. One of Carpenter's best, which says a lot. Ditto on Kurt Russell. Gotta love Keith David and oatmeal/diabetes man Wilford Brimley as well. This shit will scare the shit out of you. Isolation, dudes in crisis, aliens, melting, shape-shifting, body snatching, heads that pop off and grow crab legs, bodies that grow mouths and bite hands off, this movie has it all and is the greatest film of all time.

Want to hear some crazy shit about this movie? Well, it is tradition at the South Pole Telescope for scientists to watch The Thing every February. This is the time of year when the polar winter begins and the sciency folk are cut off from the rest of the world until summer begins in November. I feel this is just asking for trouble and freak outs but these are people with a bunch of PhDs so I'll trust they know what they are doing.

Did someone say crab legs?
Rotten Tomato Consensus: Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects.

Pros: Scury as hell. Great cast (although it is all-male). Special effects (by one Rob Bottin) are fucking sick (literally and figuratively). Extremely cool gore. Super tense. Relentlessly fucked up.

Cons: Pretty much a perfect movie.

Gist: An Antarctic crew of laborers get attacked by a nearby group of Norwegians in a helicopter who are coming after their dog, firing at it from a helicopter. After the Norwegians blow themselves up/are shot in the face, the crew goes to their base camp where the entire crew is dead, killed by some sort of alien that they pulled from a crashed saucer. Soon the men discover that the dog was not what it seemed and is really some sort of parasitic "thing" that assimilates and impersonates other life forms. Wilfred Brimley, a scientist, crunches some numbers on his Atari projects that it is very likely that several of them are infected, oh those 1980s computers on film, and that "IF INTRUDER ORGANISM REACHES CIVILIZED AREAS... ENTIRE WORLD POPULATION INFECTED 27,000 HOURS FROM FIRST CONTACT." Bummer. From there paranoia and infighting take hold as no one trusts that any of the others aren't the Thing.

The movie was based on a 1938 work by one John W. Campbell Jr. called Who Goes There? which was also the basis for the 1951 sci-fi thriller The Thing from Another World which leads people to  mistakenly call this rendition a remake. The film stars Russell as R.J. MacReady the team's helicopter pilot/quasi leader, Wilford Brimley, T. K. Carter, David Clennon from Gone Girl, Keith David from They Live/Future Man/Community, Richard Dysart from LA Law as Dr. Cooper who famously gets his hands bit off in the film, Charles Hallahan who looks old as fuck but is in his 30s here, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur who I mostly think of as the adult Stanley Uris in the 1990 It miniseries, Donald Moffat who played LBJ in The Right Stuff who plays the leader of the expedition, Joel Polis, and Thomas Waites. 

The movie opened to awful reviews and also under-performed at the box office, going head to head with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It came in eighth its opening weekend meaning it was a fucking flop which is a goddamn travesty. Hell of weekend to come out though. Beating it out in ticket sales were E.T., Blade Runner (which is genuinely a top 10 of all time flick), Firefox (whatever the fuck that is), Rocky III (the one with Mr. T), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Annie, and Poltergeist. Shit, that's rough. A lot of early (and later) reviews focused on the erroneous but persistent myth that this was a remake. The two movies used the same source material but went completely different directions. That or critics focused on the grotesqueness or nihilism at the heart of the film. Know nothing Roger Ebert wrote that "Because this material has been done before, and better, especially in the original The Thing and Alien, there's no need to see this version." Um, what? I mean, it's no Valley of the Dolls. Anyone who doesn't think this is a masterpiece needs to rethink their career as this is maybe legitimately the greatest horror movie of all time.

Moving on. There are three scenes that are fucking unbelievable. The first is probably the most memorable from the film and even people that haven't seen the movie have seen or are familiar with this little bit. This is the "chest chomp" scene (see gifs below) where Norris, played by Hallahan who was the old looking dude, has a heart attack and keels over. Dr. Cooper goes to revive him with a defibrillator when Norris's chest-mouth opens up with these gnarly teeth and bites the dude's hands off. Once this happens they torch Norris whose head comes off, grows spider legs, and walks about the room before they find it and torch that too. Fucking nuts.

From there they decide something has to be done and Russell's character, MacReady, comes up with a solid plan that sort of holds up when you think about it. Basically, according to his logic, this based on the creature's head coming off, ever bit of the creature, including its blood, will fight for its own survival. Basically all of the Thing is an individual life form with its own survival instinct. His idea then is to take samples of everyone's blood and stick it with a heated piece of metal. Everyone's blood passes the test until they get to Palmer (played by Clennon) who freaks the fuck out and turns into the monster who kills and starts assimilating Windows (played by Waites). MacReady then torches the pair of them. The thing that is so terrifying and fucked about this is that all except for a couple of them are tied down while they perform the test. Those guys that are tied down are just forced to sit there helplessly as the monster changes and starts killing right before their eyes. The bear scene in Annihilation was very much a nod to this scene and was equally as unsettling.

This sort of ushers in the end of the movie which is super fucking dark even by John Carpenter standards. The remaining survivors go to administer the test to Wilfred Brimley who freaked out earlier and had to be isolated. When they get to his shed, dude is gone and has built himself a little spaceship to fly to the mainland, I guess. He was obviously assimilated by this point (when exactly, again, is hotly debated) and has the idea to kill the power to the facility, freeze itself, and wait out the winter. They all get it on at the end there as they do in these things and two men remain standing, freezing to death in the ice. However, one of them, Childs, Keith David's character, it is hinted may have been assimilated.

Is this a black dude who lives to the end of a horror movie?
The theory goes thus, when Childs finds MacReady at the end, he says that he saw Wilfred Brimley in the snow and got lost chasing him. Stuck outside, sure to die of hypothermia, MacReady tells Childs that distrust at that point is worthless and they have a drink while the cold closes in on them and the camp burns. People point to several pieces of evidence here that suggest Childs was indeed killed and was being imitated by the Thing. First, Childs's coat changes color from navy blue to white. When other characters get got, that person's close would change as he would die horribly and the Thing couldn't walk around covered in blood and all. Second, most significantly, at the end when we see Childs, his breath does not fog up which suggests he doesn't have to and is indeed an alien. This could be some sort of oversight or something, and not to mention that when another character, one Bennings (played by Maloney), gets assimilated, his obvious imitation breaths and has vapor. So who knows but I think going with the vibe of the film, Childs is likely a fucking alien. Pessimistic as fuck.

Something else of note here is that the movie is supposedly part of a trilogy, this being the first in Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy" along with 1987’s Prince of Darkness which was meh and the 1994 film In the Mouth of Madness which also scared the fuck out of me. Might be rewatching those again at some point as I've seen all of those individually and couldn't imagine them in the same universe.


JerkIzAllPro said...

Dude, good stuff. I genuinely enjoy these reviews and the good format with images. Keep up the good work :)

Unknown said...

Awesome review