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The Thing. Squee.

What makes The Thing one of the most awesomest movies ever? I will side step the obvious (and correct) answer of "EVERYTHING!"

The setting: Stephen King has made a career of trapping his characters and watching what happens. Whether he traps them in a car with a rabid St. Bernard outside, traps them in a snowed in hotel, or in his most recent, just plan traps them in a glass jar, it's one of the major themes of his career. In Bill Lancaster's screenplay, the cast is trapped in Antarctica. I love snowy horror stories, be they the Arctic, the Antarctic or Colorado (The Terror, 30 Days of Night, Frankenstein) and am deliriously excited about the James Cameron/Guillermo Del Toro movie "At The Mountains of Madness" due out in 2013. But The Thing. The Thing is the best of all of them. The men are trapped for good reasons. There's no facepalms about someone forgetting to fill the car with gas, or not charging their cell batteries. It's winter in Antarctica (As MacReady tells us) and they get snowed in. Then, once infected, the only means of escape are destroyed. Winter by itself is enough to give people seasonal affective disorder, I know I hate long nights and short cold days. Winter with a monster is a killer.

Mood: I read a review of The Thing by Linda Gross. She didn't like it and titled her article The Thing: No Thing to Cheer about. A lot of what she didn't like about the picture was precisely, for me, what made it really resonate. "Instead of providing us with love, wonder and delight, The Thing is bereft, despairing and nihilistic." Yeah! "The most disturbing aspect of The Thing  is its terrible absence of love. The film is so frigid and devoid of feeling that death no longer has any meaning." Woo hoo! Carpenter and Lancaster really strip away everything except these men and this monster. They may have been fond of one another once upon a time, but not when anyone could be carrying death. "The Thing traffics in paranoia. Since you can't always tell the differences between humans and the "thing" in human form, it's open season on murder. It's better to have a dead friend than a live enemy. Hamlet wouldn't have lasted five minutes in this Antarctic realm of paranoia where nobody trusts anybody. In the 1951 version, the movie's paranoia had its roots in McCarthyism. Here, it serves no real purpose except as a kind of nihilistic chic." I think she makes some good points, but would argue that last statement. The AIDS epidemic was just beginning in the 1980's, and I think the all male cast could be a mirror of a disease which, back then, was primarily a men's disease. Kenneth Muir says: "Additionally, it’s difficult not to interpret the “invasion” by the shape-shifting thing as an early harbinger of AIDS, a malady whispered about at the time of the film’s genesis as a “wasting disease” or “The Gay Plague.” In much more general form, the film succeeds in raising hackles over the universal fear of contagion, of disease…of the body subverted, co-opted and deformed by an implacable and invisible intruder." But I digress.

Finally, I will take a moment to gush about the best part of the best movie (no, not Kurt Russell and his hair [not gonna lie--I am in love with 80's era Kurt Russell as Jack Burton/Snake Plisskin/R.J. MacReady]) The Monster: From the moment we first see it as a panicked husky (or malamute--I'm not sure which it is), this isn't your normal monster. For one thing, we (and the fellows in the movie) immediately empathize with the dog, and think the Norwegians are the bad guys. The creature designs of The Thing blow me away. I would take The Thing's 1982 visual effects and make up over glossy, boring CGI any day (which is why I am so timid about next year's Thing prequel). The Thing is a perfect predator (we saw that on the high tech computer projection) too perfect, because it overruns planets in weeks. My discussion grows disjointed with joy, and my lunch break draws to a close. But all that said: The Thing is perfect and I'll pout at anyone who says otherwise.

IF you haven't gotten enough Thinginess, check out this story. It's from Clarkesworld Magazine, The Thing told from the POV of The Thing. Wicked cool. Just like Kurt Russell's hair. Mmm...dreamy.

Seriously. Just look at it.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 26th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC)
Ooops...works cited
John Kenneth Muir's website

The Thing: No Thing to Cheer About. Linda Gross. Los Angeles Times. (June 25, 1982): p15. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 161. Detroit: Gale, 2003. From Literature Resource Center.
Oct. 26th, 2010 05:41 pm (UTC)
Awesome yes, no need to contextualize
You won't slide my The Thing into the academic discussions of AIDS or the Red Scare. For me this is just a perfect horror movie. The fact that you can make bigger society comparisons shows it's timelessness(ness). Here, I'll go quasi-academic about it: John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing pre-dates the current terrorist threat, but the paranoia and fear about a faceless threat that can be embodied in the person next to you resonates in a post 9/11 world.

It's much more fun to just say this movie kicks ass and leave it at that.

Dave J
Oct. 27th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Re: Awesome yes, no need to contextualize
But...being in an academic program studying pop fiction, I think dissecting and contextualizing these stories is the most fun part...
Oct. 26th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure I only saw random snippets of "The Thing" on TV back in the 90's, but that was enough to sell me on it. I should rent it so I can actually watch it from start to finish.
Oct. 27th, 2010 12:44 am (UTC)
When you live with me you won't have to rent it.
Oct. 27th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
random parallell
Last week I was behind a car who had a license plate frame that read: "I'd rather be watching The Thing."
Oct. 27th, 2010 12:42 am (UTC)
Re: random parallell
They are lucky I wasn't in a car behind them. I'd run them off the road, pry the plate frame off their car, and proudly display it on my own.
Oct. 27th, 2010 02:51 am (UTC)
This is likely my favorite horror flick. I love how Carpenter out-Cronenbergs Cronenberg with the film's icky body transformations.

And that hair and beard. MacReady is totally Jesus With Dynamite.
Oct. 29th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
OMG I think I love you.

"And that hair and beard. MacReady is totally Jesus With Dynamite."
Scott A. Johnson
Oct. 27th, 2010 03:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, well...Kurt Russell's hair, it can now be stated, was the inspiration for my own golden tresses. That's right, ladies, be jealous. Ahem...

Good points all. I'd also like to point out that, if the remake has even one digitally-rendered monster and contains no practical creatures, I'm going to take a hostage. The Thing is, bar none, one of the greatest pure horror movies in existence.
Oct. 27th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
I agree with your point about Kurt Russell's hair. Dreamy..... But I could not rationalize the voice of the Liberty diabeetiss man with the face on the screen. Wilford Brimley??

Anyway, I watched/listened to the director's commentary (also with Mr. Russell) and I believe they mentioned that there was originally a woman cast in the movie and she had to back out of filming. I think it's just as well. The movie worked.
Oct. 27th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Women
Sorry, that was Nikki.
Oct. 27th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Women
So Alien was originally written for all men, and the parts of Ripley and Lambert just happened to go to women. I can't wrap my brain around a universe with out Ripley (and, quite frankly, don't want to) so that makes me wonder what a lady would have brought to The Thing. There is a lady in the prequel, I hope they don't muck it up with sexy bits.
Oct. 29th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
Even more cool Thingy-ness
THE THING is such a great movie. Glad you loved it, too. I'm with Dave -- no need to go all lit crit with THE THING -- but I enjoyed your responses to the quotations. Trying to break down the enjoyability of THE THING in terms of cultural context is like trying to explain why I love Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" in terms of Cold War saber-rattling.

I'm excited to learn they're making "At the Mountains of Madness". I hadn't heard. Very cool.

Speaking of very cool, if you still haven't had enough thingy-ness, the source story, "Who Goes There?" by John Campbell, is here: http://www.scaryforkids.com/who-goes-there-by-john-w-campbell/
Oct. 30th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)
Re: Even more cool Thingy-ness
Damn. Failure again. That was me.

John D.
Oct. 29th, 2010 04:27 pm (UTC)
Why would any critic go to a horror movie looking for love, wonder, and delight? Unless you're baked, that is....

Good point about the faceless threat of AIDS. Dave has a great point there, too, that the faceless threat is timeless, which makes this movie timeless.

Seventies and Eighties Hair? Not timeless. Not timeless at all. I live tweeted my viewing of this movie, and I think my first tweet was "OMG feathered hair WTF" or some such. But now, thanks to yoicksandaway, I'm singing "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" in my head.
Oct. 30th, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)
Perhaps I'm in the minority on this one, but for me the monster just didn't work. Yes, it had shock value vis-a-vie the special effects, which were great. But beyond that well... I just didn't get a good feel for it.

Nov. 9th, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
Thing Rules!
This is such a great movie, and it can be analyzed in many different ways, though you don't have to think much about it to enjoy it at all. While Kurt Russell is indeed cool, Keith David went on to star in They Live (also by Carpenter and with Roddy Piper) and also voiced Goliath on the Gargoyles cartoon.
Prince of Darkness, another Carpenter film, Is one you should check out if you haven't already seen it.

( 18 comments — Leave a comment )