Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Thing versus The Thing

Ah, The Thing… and no, not your grandpa’s Thing from 1951, we’re talking about the good Thing, the John Carpenter Thing. I swear, the 80’s were just prime time for horror classics. They included famous frights like Aliens, Predator, Poltergeist, The Fly, Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, and finally, The Thing. The Thing didn’t perform as well as the other films listed above. Part of this was due to the infinitely overrated E.T. that came out at the same time in 1982. That, and the title of “The Thing” is a bit inherently nebulous. Either way, sales on VHS soon picked up, thus preserving The Thing’s cult legacy.

What makes The Thing so unique is the titular monster itself. It can be any organism, and mimic it perfectly. As Childs, one of the characters said, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?” The Thing takes place at an arctic research station, which just enhances the sense of dread and desolation. Once the alien Thing is unwittingly brought to base, it soon takes on human form, and hides among the men there. No one is as they appear to be.

It’s a wonderfully horrific setup, and something that is quite unlike other conspicuous creatures of the 80’s. What I also love is the special effects. This is pure, unadulterated 80’s stop-motion magic. From the tentacles that burst out of the dog monster, to the two headed mutant that they first encounter, The Thing is just filled with macabre mystery and splendor. My favorite effect had to be when an apparent crew member’s head falls off, and it actually sprouts legs and an eye stalk! I sympathized with the guys onscreen, when one remarked, “You gotta be fucking kidding.”

As hinted above, the film has a slightly humorous tone, as though the characters simply can’t believe that this is happening to them. The lead protagonist, MacReady, even spits out some badass one liners, like when he sarcastically shouts “Yeah, fuck you too” as he throws a live grenade into a roaring Thing’s maw. Also, the end of the film is almost poetic, as Macready and Childs sit suspiciously watching each other as the last two survivors in the glow of burning wreckage.

So, the first Thing is awesome… but wouldn’t ya know it, Hollywood made a prequel. Seriously, does every popular film from the 80’s have to have a reboot? Well, apparently so. Anyway, this Thing was released just three years ago, and told the story of the Norwegian ice base right before the 1982 version.  It’s an intriguing concept, as the original really didn’t delve into HOW the Thing was unearthed.

So, it’s a moderately interesting perspective, but the film stumbles in a number of areas. For one, the special effects are garbage. The Carpenter Thing was replete with amazing models and makeup… not here. Everything onscreen has been typed away on a keyboard. Put simply, it’s pure CGI. Now, I’m not against all CGI, but it just looks unconvincing here. Also, the monster designs themselves are by the numbers and ho-hum. Basically, all the Things have big mouths in this edition… that’s about it.

There was one cool aspect of it, however: the UFO design. For years I had wondered what the interior of the alien craft looked like, and honestly, this film did a pretty great job at filling that gap. I really liked the weird little cube that the Thing was working with… it seemed believably futuristic.

All in all, the original 1982 Thing is a masterpiece of gooey delight… but the prequel is okay, too. Both sell for under ten dollars now, so there’s no excuse to not be scared shitless.

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