Baddie – I mean, y’know. Aliens.
Lesson – There’s a reason people don’t live full time in Antarctica. Just saying.
So! Back to Shame September we go, finishing the month off with John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. I chose the 1982 version because of one really important reason – Kurt Russell. I saved this one for last because it has a pretty fanatic fan base. I will preface that you shouldn’t expect any groundbreaking insight during these ‘Shame’ reviews – these are movies that are well-established and what you have here is just a first time viewer’s reactions and a horror fan’s admiration. *Extra special side note, my brother is going to Antarctica in a few weeks because he sciences there*
We begin with symbols of the banality of Antarctica. Beautiful landscapes, marred by bored human men being boring. This is immediately juxtaposed against the surrealism of having two Norwegians fly into your camp trying to shoot a dog and in the process end up dying themselves. No big deal. The Thing already proves itself to be one of those movies with a pleasant exposition, including an excellent cameo of “Superstitious”. Actually, the whole movie is accompanied by a crazy awesome soundtrack. I feel like not a lot of horror these days has that kind of soundtrack, where it also feels like an additional character. Speaking of, this has some of the best dog acting I’ve ever seen.
Nothing to see here, just your standard SAD Norwegians, what with their crazy suicide rituals and uh…ice coffins? The Thing also succeeds at transplanting classic horror elements, like dusty old houses, into a totally new environment. It’s familiar enough to be effective and new enough to be interesting (I strongly feel that Alien does this well also). The Thing does not rely on mystery too heavily, but rather rests quite comfortably in the intrigue portion of horror. Carpenter exposes you to weirdness in small doses at first, letting you see the burnt, mangled corpse of…something. You probably realized, like me, that something isn’t quite up with the dog, but what’s wrong with it is…well it’s disgusting. Props, John Carpenter, props. About a half hour in, you start to put the disgusting, disgusting pieces together. Let it be said that I am hardly a squeamish person, but for some reason the aliens are giving me the willies. There are articles about why humans pick specific types of monsters, but I like that these aliens are just literally everything all at once ever.
My other new favorite thing (pun intended) is that the cast is mostly scientists. So they science their way through this, and it’s great, because science. No blundering teens here! (If you read my column, you know how rare that is). There is, however, pseudo-science, speculation and un-proveable hypothesis.
The Thing also does another thing that I like in my horror movie – it makes you solve a little mystery while you watch. You have to think back, remember what you saw, what you think you saw. It’s a little like a good murder mystery meets the shell game.
It’s hard for me to describe why The Thing creeps me out so much. Personally, I have a tendency to be perturbed by monsters that are just a little too-human looking. For example, one of the things that creeps me out the most is Lupin’s werewolf from Harry Potter. Yeah. I know. Harry Potter. I think this personal fear factors into The Thing, though, because underneath all the grossly delightful effects, it’s deeply creepy – for me.
In case you had any doubts, despite the large fandom, The Thing is, as I’ve mentioned, a structurally solid movie. It combines elements from various horror genres into a neutralizing, but effective, backdrop. There are parts that could have been boring but aren’t. There are jump scares, and quiet horror, and ridiculous campy gross-outs and yet it never feels goofy.
If you are finding yourself in desperate need of a movie that is basically The Thing but an awful movie, and a great representation of how this movie could have gone oh-so-wrong, do yourself a solid and check out the second Starship Troopers movie, because it’s basically that.