Monday, October 17, 2011

31 Days Of Horror: Day 16: The Thing

It is always interesting to me just how many characters in a horror movie act as though they know they’re in a horror movie. Whether it’s the dopey teens lining up to be next years urban legends, or the scowling scholars looking up various portents everyone seems to more or less know what is coming.

Of course the horror films that tend to really hit hard are the ones that buck this trend. Films like The Strangers, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the original Halloween, films about ordinary folks who too a wrong step and wound up in hell. It’s all about taking away a degree of remove. Think this won’t happen to you? Think again.

Watching the original The Thing for the first time since childhood that’s what really struck me. These people have no idea what’s coming. They are, like all the characters in Howard Hawk’s films professionals. They’re out there to do a job, even the scientist who ends up on the wrong end of The Thing’s wrath is just trying to do his damn  job. When said job goes from “transporting personal” to saving the human race from extinction at the hands of a hostile life form, the boys roll with it with a certain blue collar matter of factness. It’s just another damn thing they’ve got to deal with. The cast of dependable B Movie faces may not have the charisma of the Dean Martins and Cary Grants that Hawks normally dealt with, but they’re cut from the same cloth.

Of course how much of The Thing Hawks actually directed is something we’ll never really know for sure. Though the lowball figures tend to be “some of” while the high end estimate is “most of”.

In either case it bears so many of his fingerprints it’s tough to see how much of a difference it would make. It’s all here the overlapping dialogue, tarted tongued dames (Even in the Artic Circle you can’t escape them in a Hawkes film), aforementioned obsession with competence and professionalism, the sense of male camaraderie, unshowy long medium shots, the bonding over small items like cigarettes. If sheriff John Chance was caught battling aliens its tough to see how the outcome would be much different.

Hawks (or whoever) creates a surprising amount of tension for someone who never tried his hand at the horror genre before or since. Though the artic base is a good deal brighter, efficient, cozier and much more obviously a set than Carpenter’s grimly functional installment, it retains its sense of isolation. The imagery holds up surprisingly well for what is essentially a low rent monster movie from the fifties as well. Though when seen in full the large domed James Arness can’t help but look a little silly, when seen from far off and obscured, as when the men watch him rampage through the dog pen, or in silhoutte as he often appears, or best of all when he’s lit on fire by the soldiers and runs through the pitch black artic night like a living torch he remains suitably creepy.

Yep The Thing sure is a great film. Strange that it inspired just the John Carpenter remake and nothing else.

And. Nothing. Else. 


le0pard13 said...

Ah... one of the great 50s monster films. THE THING (or rightly THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD) does wear its Cold War credentials on its sleeve (and you gotta love those Hawks women!). Fine look at this classic, Bryce. Thanks.

W.B. Kelso said...

When people often ask what my favorite movie of all time is, I always answer "The Thing from Another World." Which is usually followed with Oh, your favorite monster movie. No, I reply, it's my favorite movie, period. Not the greatest movie ever made, no, but it is my favorite.

Through the efforts of some great friends I was given a private screening with family and friends of "The Thing" at a local theater for my 40th birthday last year. And as one who often dips into the hyperbole bucket, having now seen those opening credits burn through the big screen, I can now die a happy man.

Anthony R. said...

I know I SHOULD see this...but every time I start to think about it, whispers appear in my brain reminding me how sweet John Carpenter's The Thing is, and I cave every damn time.

Franco Macabro said...

I recently had a chance to see the new THE THING film, and it wasnt a total dissapointment in my book. It had it's moments. I just typed up an article comparing Carpenter's with the new one, I think you would like it.

As for this film you've just reviewed I have yet to see it, like so many science fiction films from that era. But I will, thanks for the review.

Joe said...

Whenever I shit talk remakes, people seem to mention Carpenter's Thing.

I am then forced to mention that Carpenter wasn't given the task of remaking, say, A Nightmare on Elm Street.