Once I compiled my list of blind spot films, the next step I faced was deciding on an entry point. Should I go with the oldest? The most acclaimed? The most gasp-inducing? It reminded me of all those hours I used to spend making mixed tapes and deciding which track should start off which side (ask your parents kids). There’s lots to be said for starting of “Side A” with LA DOLCE VITA…there’s just as much to be said for starting it with LOCK STOCK.
Since I wanted to remind myself that this little project is more about having fun, and less about doing homework, I decided to start out with the title on the list that promised the most fun…gooey, spooky, fun.
Probably the biggest reason for me never having seen THE THING up until now is the widely known fact that I grew up as a pretty big fraidy cat. Not only were horror films too much for me to take growing up, but so was anything that seemed even remotely horror-esque. Of course, in hindsight I probably could have handled this yarn given that it’s not all that scary…but the squishiness of some of the special effects might have had me burying my face in couch cushions. So not only had I never seen THE THING, but prior to last year’s watching of HALLOWEEN, I’d never seen any John Carpenter films. Maybe that’ll be next year’s syllabus.
In case you’ve never seen it, THE THING is about an American research team stationed in the Antarctic. One day life at the camp is disrupted by an inbound helicopter with Norwegian markings trying to shoot a runaway husky on the ground. The hunt is unceremoniously cut short when the chopper manages to blow itself up with a stray charge. As the American team takes custody of the husky and examine the wreckage, they learn that The Norwegian team had happened upon something otherworldly…and that this “thing” can shapeshift to look like any living organism.
Watching this movie now, I’m reminded of some of the 80’s horrors and thrillers I watched back in October. I’m reminded of them because where 80’s horror films are concerned, some of them have held up rather well…others, not so much. I’m happy to report that THE THING has held up beautifully. There’s a little bit of rust on it here and there, but not so much that it causes the engine to stall. Actually, it’s possible that these little smears of “eightiesness” will go from dated to classic in five to ten years.
What’s intriguing is that THE THING manages to avoid seeming dated by staying primarily low-tech. While it’s a sci-fi story, its technology and weaponry are very grounded. Sure, once or twice we get a glimpse of a quaint computer system, but the way the characters dress, the look of their camp, and especially the fact that the weapon of choice is a flamethrower make this movie hold up very well for someone coming to it for the first time in 2012.
Along with the low-tech aesthetic to the film, it’s also well-served in using the classic “Ten Little Indians” approach that many of the best classics use. Except of course, in this film, since you’re never entirely sure which of the ten little indians are in fact still indians, there’s a nagging dread that threads its way into the story. It’s a great trick, especially since we’re never entirely sure if even the characters know whether they’ve been taken over by The Thing or not. In many films like this, I find myself able to determine the pecking order a few moments after meeting the entire crew. In this film I was happily surprised to not know who had been “pecked” as of yet.
In watching stories like this, I’m always intrigued by the group dynamic. While it’s hard for me to envision myself as a part of this sort of fracas, I always wonder where my priority would fall. Would I be like most of the team and champion self-preservation? Would I be like Kurt Russell’s MacReady and value the group over the individual? Or would I see things like Wilford Brimley’s Blair…where the safety of the group is outweighed by the safety of something even greater? Like i say, it’s hard for me to envision. I’d like to think that I could sacrifice for a greater good, but I suppose I’ll never know until the chips are down.
While I’ve steeled myself well enough to handle a film as spooky as THE THING, I must admit that I did cringe once or twice when Carpenter’s creature was let off the leash. It’s a funny thing about aging effects – the shine might be off the apple after 30 years, but that sure doesn’t make it taste any less rotten. That “Thing” is still one freaky lookin’ bugger, and the way he integrates himself into the fabric of a living organism is likewise pretty gross. There’s no way that effects masters can create their creepy crawlies with an eye on how well they’ll age, but if this film is a barometer than the mantra should be “There’s no such thing as too icky”.
There was one last thought that crossed my mind as that Morricone score kicked in and the credits began to roll: I found myself wondering about all the movie geeks I know that continually scream about hating remakes. Do they hate THE THING? I ask because this film is a remake of a 1951 film made by Howard Hawks. It seems as though last year when the new remake/prequel starring Joel Edgerton and Mary Elizabeth Winstead dropped, everyone was crying foul about remaking a 30-year-old film. Yet there was no problem with Carpenter taking his turn at remaking a 30-year-old film. I guess the lesson is that remakes are OK as long as the original property being remade isn’t something you already love.
I intend to post my entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for January…
Dave Voigt watched BELLE DU JOUR
Danielle D’Ornellas watched DIE HARD
Dan Heaton watched a bunch, but I’m highlighting AMERICAN GRAFFITI
Andy Buckle watched AU HASARD BALTHAZAR
Jake Cole watched SHANGHAI EXPRESS
Bob “I Am a Rare an Precious Snowflake” Turnbull watched CITY LIGHTS and SAFETY LAST
Courtney Small watched BLACK NARCISSUS
Max Covill watched ANNIE HALL
James McNally watched PSYCHO
Steve Honeywell watched THE PIANIST
Allison watched BANDE A PART