John Carpenter's "The Thing"

Shape Shifting and Ass Kicking

By Cody Wayne
July 1, 2002

 


RATING: Five tokes - chronic blunt

They just had a showing of John Carpenter's classic 1982 sci-fi horror film "The Thing" at the Egyptian Theatre here in Hollywood. The Egyptian plays all kindsa shit from back in the day to salute certain directors or actors, and in this case, it was a tribute to John Carpenter, a man truly deserving of all acknowledgment. "The Thing". man, where to begin. It's a movie! It's called "The Thing" fer christ's sake! The Fuckin' Thing! You know you're getting into something gnarly if it's called "The (fuckin') Thing," and lemme tell ya."The Thing" gets fuckin' gnarly, dude. It goes beyond the imagination of what ordinary human minds can conceive in grisly horror and ultra paranoia. It's about people in total isolation fighting for survival against a single harsh alien element. a pretty resonant film theme, but especially in this particular time period.

Aptly named for its unknown visitor, "Alien" had just opened up on audiences three years before to reveal a startling new type of horror and sci-fi hybrid. Not only did the film involve a classic horror scenario, but also an extremely hostile alien life form, one which seemed to have evolved to an almost perfected point of universal survival, constantly freaking the audience out with its versatility and inventive techniques of adaptation, maturation, defense, attack, and stealth. It really was a first of its kind in that respect: horror plus cosmic biology. So perhaps "The Thing" is unoriginal. I'll admit that. In terms of its overall scope, I think it would be safe to say that it follows the "Alien" formula to a T.*

The only difference: "The Thing" will kick your fucking ass.

First of all, this film is downright disgusting, but it remains infinitely interesting and thought provoking throughout. The big difference between "The Thing" and "Alien" is the psychological factor. In "Alien", it's an "Us vs. It" scenario, straight up. But with "The Thing", it's "Us vs. It", but then add the additional psycho-factor of "what is 'us' and what is 'it'?" As the title suggests, they never come up with a one-name characterization. It's always referred to as, "That thing." "If one of those things got a hold of." this, that, or the other thing. It's a completely indefinable fucking THING. It has no definite shape and can be any god damn thing it's come in contact with throughout the universe, including the alien in "Alien", for that matter.

 

The acting is amazing. A young Kurt Russell stars as MacReady, just another ramblin' helicopter pilot ready to booze it up and tangle with whoever (or whatever) gets in his way. Other notables are the black guy from "Men at Work", Willford Brimley, the one reporter guy from "Being There",. and. some other guys from other movies. This is one of those films starring all the recognizable talented 30-50 something guys of the early 80's. The casting was simply superb, even if there weren't any close-ups of bitches in panties, or any chicks of any kind, for that matter. Even the god damn dog is amazing. I've never seen a spookier performance by any canine, probably because it was half dog, half wolf. Regardless, all these guys and dogs did an incredible job acting out the behavior of organisms vying for survival.

There's a third party here who deserves serious props, and that's Rob Bottin, the man in charge of the monster (although Stan Winston stepped in for the dog transformation sequence). This man was "The Thing" through and through, going absolutely ape-shit berserk with the project, artistically freeing himself with a huge budget and a never-ending set of creature mutation ideas. Bottin realized that the alien life form in "The Thing" could be anything at any time, meaning it was time to purge the mind and get buck fuckin' crazy with all the horrible possibilities, and it shows. Oh yeah, baby. it shows.

The music sets the dismal hopeless tone perfectly, giving an apocalyptic sensation as well as the very real sense of their dire situation. Coming to terms with an alien organism who, when threatened, unleashes a flesh-shredding nightmare is a hard reality to deal with and requires the proper musical back-up. And there are very few films out there in film world with a more stirring and unsettling ending than that which oozes to the surface in "The Thing", and the accompanying music puts down the most perfect droney tone you can imagine.

The film's situation invites the viewer to join in and ask, "What would I do in a similar situation?" What makes the story so great is the fact that anything could happen at any time. The creature thing could mutate into any number of infinite transformational permutations according to whatever other beings it came across and absorbed in its journey through space. I mean, that's all you need, right? Jesus.

It looks beautiful, too, with Dean Cundey directing the photography. He'd also worked with Carpenter on his previous films "The Fog", "Halloween", and "Escape From New York." But. goddamnit. Something about the mix of paranoia, fear, and tension in "The Thing" really sets me off. I just can't say enough about its overall scope. It repeatedly destroys my mind every time I see it, and I've seen it at least 40 fucking times. This is a real movie. It's a real setting. It's between real average working class guys who, when they realize that they've got an other-worldly alien on their hands within the confines of a cut-off, harsh environment, just "wanna kick some alien ass," to quote John. They've got no choice but to face their s.n.a.f.u. head on with street smarts and fire. One of the things I love about the whole scenario is that they never even bother asking, "What the hell is that thing?" Who cares what it is or where it came from!? The question is; "How are we gonna kick its ass?" In a post-disco drug funk era, people wanted to work their bodies out to Jane Fonda. Carpenter said, "Fuck that. let's tear bodies apart as aggressively as possible and redefine our carnal flesh-ripping appetites."

I must say. seeing "The Thing" on the big screen on an almost flawless 35 mm print with a sold-out crowd in Hollywood with John Carpenter on hand; it just don't get any better'n that (if I only had a six-pack of beast). This film pretty much bombed when it first came out in '82, but time and fan-dom has sealed it up in the cult-classic category forever, reaching vast audiences through various media channels. The film is just too much to be put in storage. It's fucking insane.

And the DVD is chock fulla bonus stuff, touted by some prestigious DVD coalition as being one of the most interactive DVD's you'll find out there in DVD world.

Do yourself a favor. puff some chronic and watch this film on widescreen. I guarantee it'll fuck your shit up.

 

*. Publisher Wil Forbis notes: If you will allow me to bore you with my mastery of arcane movie trivia, I would like to note that John Carpenter's "The Thing" is a remake of a 1951 film of the same name which was based on the John W. Campbell novel, "Who Goes There." For that matter, "Alien" is pretty derivative of the 1958 sci-fi masterpiece, "It, The Terror From Beyond Space," a film which borrows its theme from Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians." So nothing's really original anymore.

Check out the Cody Wayne blog: Rancor and Disdain!

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