I will be kicking off my brief ode to sci-fi/horror with a look at the Thing, a 1982 film by Jonh Carpenter. According to Cracked.com “Its sole purpose for being made seems to be to melt your face off with excessive amounts of awesomeness.” Can’t say I really disagree with that assessment.
For some reason, it seism to be a lot less well-known than it’s big brother, Alien, despite being, in many ways, the better movie. Sure, Alien has a few nice jump scares and a creepy-looking snarly monster, but the Thing has it beat because its monster looks even creepier, and because its premise is a lot more intriguing and devilishly fun than that of your typical monster slasher flick.
See, the monster in the Thing is the most awesome alien shapeshifter to ever grace the silver screen. Every part of it is alive. If you cut off its head, that head will literally grow spider legs and try to run away. If it manages to get its hands (or tentacles or whatever) on you, not only will it kill you, it will absorb your DNA and make an exact copy of you–albeit a copy that can transform into a slimy alien monster at any time. The Thing’s goal is to try to take over every member of the Antarctic research camp where the movie is set camp so that it can eventually escape Antarctica and infect/consume the entire world.
So what you are left with is a camp full of scientists, led by the well-bearded Kurt Russell, who don’t know which of their friends is a human, and which an alien. If this sounds like the setup for an awesome role-playing game, that’s because it is.
I’m honestly surprised this move didn’t spawn a franchise–with such a great, recyclable premise, it seemed like Hollywood would jump at the chance to keep milking the Thing until they ran out of buckets. They could have had a new one every couple of years. New characters, new setting, same combination of paranoia and creepy looking special effects. I guess it figures that the one horror movie that actually could have used spin-offs/sequels doesn’t get them while instead we’re treated to Saw 6,000. Apparently they’re actually getting around to making a new ‘Thing’ movie 30 years later, but it’s going to be a prequel, which really makes me what to bang my head against the wall because half the fun of the Thing is not knowing how the mystery will end. Guessing who is human and who a monster. Wondering which side will win. Taking bets with your friends about who will live and who will get incinerated (because the only way to kill the Thing for sure is with a flamethrower. Oddly enough, these badass researchers happen to have a big stock of flamethrowers just lying around. Hey, it is cold down there.)
The greatest irony is that the monster (created with a combination of stop-motion, models, and make-up) like at least 100 times better than the CGI beasties of modern horror flicks like I am Legend. The Thing has to be one of the grossest looking monsters ever conceived. Some of the stuff in this movie is so bizarre, so hands-down weird, that it turns your stomach. A creature with a half-formed dog’s head growing out of its neck? A guy with a head that opens like a flower? A severed head pulling itself along the floor by its tongue before sprouting hairy tarantula legs and scuttling off to hide? Who thinks of that stuff?
The Thing’s other strength lies in its characters. They are not the bumbling idiots typical of many slasher films (people who tend to trip and fall a lot whenever something is chasing them). They are scared but determined men who are willing to give up their lives if it means taking the monster down with them. They act like people who are scared, but not like people who are mentally challenged. This makes it easy to root for them to win, as well as gut-wrenching when some of them are horribly killed off.
Honestly, the Thing itself only shows up in a few key scenes. This makes it all the more exciting and memorable when it does appear, in all its slimy glory, and it also means that the movie gets to focus a lot on the tensions between the characters. As suspicion consumes the camp, friend begins to turn on friend, and no one is sure who to trust. At one point, even Kurt Russell is suspected of being the Thing, and the other members of the team try to ice him (quite literally. They leave him outside to freeze to death.) And although our first reaction is ‘come on, not Russell, he’s the main character’, there’s that small voice in the back of our heads that wonders if it could be true. Well, ok, a very small voice.
The climax strays a little too far in the direction of your typical B-grade monster movie. There’s a lot of special effects on display, and somehow it still managed to be less frightening and exciting than a lot of the scenes that went before it. But the film redeems itself by boasting one of the most perfect endings ever. I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that if you watch it with friends, it will leave you with a lot to talk about.