By JAMES MELVILLE
Well, we’ve been back for, like, two weeks now, so we can probably get through this column without talking about how our breaks went. I’d prefer to discuss something a little more interesting, like the weather. Hey, speaking of all that snow we had earlier…
The Thing (1982):
Yeah, I went there.
The plot: In Antarctica, an American research team—including an aggressively bearded Kurt Russell and the guy who voiced Goliath in the 90s cartoon series Gargoyles (Keith David)—encounters an alien. An alien…that can shape-shift…into the thing it has just killed! Cue ominous 80’s synths. As the humans try to figure out who is really a monster and who is just going crazy from paranoia and sleep deprivation, the creature looks to find a way to kill everyone without being seen. Needless to say, this doesn’t work out well for most parties involved.
John Carpenter’s horror/sci-fi classic seemed like an obvious choice for the first Rooster Illusion of the semester. Why? Because Kurt Russell’s birthday is in March, and I just couldn’t wait to celebrate. Also, I thought you guys might sympathize with the Thing’s plight. Like you, all it wants is a warm place to hide. Sure, you’d probably just stay in bed instead of killing and then disguising yourself as a balding ginger scientist, but hey. To-may-toe, to-mah-toe. Or something.
There’s a reason why The Thing is a classic. Though it’s pretty easy to figure out where the plot is going, it’s very well done. The actors all give convincing performances, which is key in a film like this. Bad acting has ruined many a horror movie. Actually, bad acting has pretty much come to define the genre, putting it on the same level as soap operas and pornography. That’s a sad place to be, so it’s always nice to see a film that gets things right.
Kurt Russell’s character, Mac, is the team’s resident badass. His interests include: Flying the helicopter, maintaining his manly beard, drinking heavily, and playing with dynamite. He’s unflappable in most situations, which is kind of vital when you’re being hunted by an alien. He’s also that special kind of adorable that comes from being an 80’s action icon. Speaking of which, I miss Patrick Swayze.
The supporting characters are recognizably human, reacting to the disturbing goings on with varying degrees of panic. Tempers are lost as temperatures plummet, and the cast does an excellent job of making these mood swings believable. It helps that the script doesn’t treat these characters like idiots. They’re surprisingly smart about this whole thing. Stupid mistakes are explained by the fact that they’re tired, cold, and afraid. These guys might split up a little more often than makes sense, but when you’re not sure if everyone else is a terrifying space monster or not, sometimes you don’t mind being on your own for a little while.
Though the acting is solid, don’t go in expecting some kind of intensely psychological character study. I’m not sure why you would, but if you do, then don’t come whining to me. The Thing is a very good 80’s horror movie, but it’s still, ya know, an 80’s horror movie. You can go in expecting a lot of gruesome violence and gratuitous flamethrowers. No horny teenagers, though, which is a plus.
Joking aside, The Thing is pretty gory. I’d heard a fair amount about the film before I watched it for the first time—this Tuesday, at around midnight, if you were curious—and you can tell when something scary’s going to happen, but holy crap, what the hell is that and where is all this blood coming from? You—SPOILER, I guess—only ever see the creature mid-transformation, which generally involves a lot of blood and organs and, for some reason, tentacles. As one of the characters so eloquently puts it: “I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.” Ha. Sounds like my ex-wife.
For most of the film, the toothy mass of flesh and nightmares is disguised as at least one of the characters. Once everyone has figured out how the creature works, the paranoia starts to sink in. Even before the Thing appears, the audience is already feeling uneasy. John Carpenter makes sure to emphasize the vastness of the frozen wasteland surrounding the camp. Couple that pervasive sense of isolation with some crazy Norwegians and a mysterious dog, and you’ve got yourself one creepy movie. Should you see The Thing? It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s a genuinely good horror movie. I enjoyed it. Actually, I enjoyed it so much that I would see it twice.
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