Thursday, October 7, 2010

31 Days Of Horror: Day 7: The Thing

(This is of course part of Radiator Heaven's Excellent John Carpenter Blogothon).

The Thing is one of those movies that’s so well made that its difficult to know just where to begin. Does one start by praising its expert command of tone and tension? The casual brilliance of its screenplay a master class in plot and character, aided by the likes of James Cromwell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley (insert Diabetes joke here) and of Course Kurt Russell, one of the best casts Carpenter has ever had to play with? The sheer brilliance of its mise en scene? The mind blowing designs courtesy of Rob Bottin? The palatableness of it’s dread before the monster reveals itself? The sheer relentlessness of the film afterwards?

Is it expectable to just write, “Everything about this movie is amazing.” And then just move on.

No. But it is mighty tempting.

Considering the film is beating every other Carpenter film at the poll right now two to one, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks this way. But just what is it about the film that gives it such an edge? I mean aside from all that stuff I just mentioned.

Personally, I admire it just for its economy. The script by Bill Lancaster (Of this and The Bad News Bears and that’s about it. Also Burt Lanchester's son. Kind of an achievement in and of itself) is a thing of beauty. Take the first scene we get with MacReady, drinking alone in his shed, playing chess against his computer badly, and in a fantastically daft moment of pique ends up dumping his whiskey bottle into the motherboard. Thus depriving himself of both his only sources of entertainment. Not only does this tell us everything we need to know about the character, while breaking out of the stereotypical “quite cool loner box” it both foreshadows and acts as a microcosm of the climax of the film. Not bad for what’s basically a throwaway gag.

But give Carpenter the credit for knowing how to mine that for all it’s worth. Take the opening scene, of the “dog” running from the Norwegian helicopter. Shot with such a desperation, such a complete sense of… well underdogness that I’ll bet money that no matter how many times you’ve seen this damn movie. No matter how completely you know what you know, you STILL end up rooting for that dog to get away. You just can’t help it.

No matter how justifiably praised Rob Bottin’s designs on the creature are I still don’t think you can quite over estimated just how unique they are. Probably the only creature design in the last thirty years not completely beholden to HR Giger’s work in Alien. There is such a malevolent logic to Bottin’s work, and such a life to its practical side, that when I say I consider it the apex of practical effects, I’m not exaggerating.

If I have one complaint about The Thing (and I suppose I must before I simply start hemorrhaging compliments) it’s that since watching it on the big screen it has never worked quite the same way on the small. Viewed on the proper screen with the proper audience the temperature in the theater just drops.

Still that’s hardly the film’s fault. I consider The Thing to be one of the best monster movies ever made. And I still think that underrates it.


quizshowbob said...

I recently read a poll that ranked John Carpenter's "The Thing" as the scariest movie of all time. I like it, but I don't think that it should get the top spot.

Paul said...

For some reason I was thinking of The Thing the other day and had the song "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder in my head all day.

I love the way Carpenter uses that song in the movie. Absolutely pitch-perfect.

le0pard13 said...

A splendid post on an absolutely stunning film by Carpenter, Bryce. I agree with everything you've covered. I did, in fact, see this film right before its initial run at a preview showing. It's so ingrained into my head: mid-June 1982, on a Saturday night at a theatre that no longer exists (Century City Cinemas). For days afterward, I thought about this film. I watch it at least one a year (alternating with its equally superior commentary track w/ Carpenter and Kurt Russell). Thanks very much for this.

Anonymous said...

Agreed on the practical effects comment. We haven't seen anything quite like it since. Truly amazing stuff.

J.D. said...

Yeah, good point on Bottin's ground-breaking make-up effects. Sad to think that nowadays, they'd just CGI most, if not all of it. But his effects add to the "realness" and also the horror of what this alien is doing to these guys.

I think that one of the things I like most about this film is the slow burn of the pacing and how the paranoia and distrust gradually creeps into the group and start affecting every body, even MacReady who is going on little to no sleep. I always found the scene where he shoots Clark (the dog guy) for trying creep up on him and you find out that he wasn't an alien. It gives MacReady a bit of darker edge as you realize just what he's capable of and what the paranoid vibe has done to him.

Neil Fulwood said...

"Is it expectable to just write, “Everything about this movie is amazing.” And then just move on.

No. But it is mighty tempting."

Amen, brother!

'The Thing' is still my number one favourite horror movie. Everything about it is spot on bloody perfect. Kudos for singling out MacCready's bad-tempered sabotage of the computer he's lost at chess against; for me, that's one of the best character introductions in cinema. You know exactly who MacCready is in that one beautiful moment.

I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen last year. Full house, rapt and appreciative audience, the whole glorious thing looking better - at nearly thirty years old - than most contemporary uber-budgeted CGI extravaganzas.

Fucking great film. Ditto your review.

Tobey said...

My friend and I just watched this the other day (he'd never seen it, and loved it). We were marvelling at how well-done the effects are. I miss that kind of stuff--too much CGI these days (says the crotchety old lady).

And I love Richard Masur and TK Carter.

Rob said...

Great review of one of the greatest scary movies of all time. I can't really articulate why I love it so much, but I do fell like the characters aren't horror stereotypes, they feel real to me. I have the collectors edition and I need to set apart some quality time and just get into it all over again.
Damn, can't wait!

Bryce Wilson said...

@ quizshowbob: I agree, scariest this movie is not. Scariest Monster Movie maybe.

@ Paul: I love it. That's another benefit of seeing it on the big screen

@ le0pard: and as always thank you for your gracious comment.

@ PoT: There's just something genuinely fucked up about it. I mean the chest alone...

@ JD: I know. I can't think of a movie that potrays claustrophobia better. No matter where they go they JUST CAN'T GET AWAY.

@ Neil: Many thanks man.

@ Tobey: It really does. I was reading somewhere the other day about how audiences are starting to see Practical FX as more "real" these days since they just don't know how it's done. While CGI, no matter how good it looks always carries with it the knowledge of how its done.

We can go be crotchety old ladies together.

@ Rob: Exactly! Nobody ever seems to do something just because. You can always follow their logic.


Chris Regan said...

Love this film too - agree that it's a fantastic script and the characters are really set up well. And the effects are still awesome.

Bryce Wilson said...

Carpenter really was the master of establishing his characters as people with perfect efficiency.

Marcus said...

A great sci-fi movie. I'm so glad I finally got to see it last night

Bryce Wilson said...

So am I Marcus! Did you catch it at home, or were you lucky enough to find a screening?

Marcus said...