40 years later, John Carpenter’s essential horror classic, “The Thing”, is still just as chilling and effective as the day it was released.
|Jamie – US Outpost #31 – Journal entry 1
There are frozen mysteries of all types here in Antarctica. Sometimes, when I layer on my winter woolies and go for walks around the camp, the moisture in my eyes begins to freeze up. But the funny thing is, my surroundings are a howling, isolating blur, no matter how good my vision is. Feeling the winds, with their nitrogen spite and sharp otherworldliness, is a completely different experience than the temperate winds of America. And a lot of other places, as well. The icicles on my beard and eyebrows seem to confirm that.
I enjoy my walks, quietly talking to the drifting, powdery snow. There is no sense of natural life here, yet it feels far from being an endless dead landscape. There has to be life first before the opportunity of death comes a-knocking.
As I stroll further into the forever-bleached winter lands, I imagine being surrounded on all sides by faceless ghosts. They feign being benign, so as not to alarm me. I never thought absolute stillness, above the sky as well as below, would bring on such feelings of claustrophobia. Like Clark, I find a significant amount of peace in spending time with the dogs. I sometimes wonder why animals, dogs especially, are such a joy to be around over people.
To keep the body and mind warm, I prefer laughter to whatever Macready’s J&B Whiskey provides. Palmer has some spectacular weed. The only problem is making sure I don’t burn my brain out the way Palmer has his. His eyes seem to pop with shock. Even his head shape is oddly similar to a Mars Attacks martian. I wonder if that has to do with genetics, or something else?
Being in an Arctic research camp with nothing but male colleagues is oddly comforting. Sure, egos greased with testosterone tend to clash sometimes, but overall it’s a relaxed (though professional) environment. Everybody seems to gravitate towards Macready for leadership, even though Garry is “El Capitán” and the only one with access to keys and a “popgun”.
Today, meteorological winter arrived, and along with it an international incident. Or a freak accident brought on by cabin fever and bad vodka.
A Norwegian helicopter from a camp several miles away entered our perimeter, shooting at a sled dog. The occupants of the helicopter were so blindly determined to kill the dog that they got killed trying.
I took it out with me for my usual stroll into the ivory void, and its behavior was very surprising. It seemed intelligent, controlled, and deliberate. Like it was looking around the camp with a purpose. That purpose must be turning me into an ice cream cone because it won’t stop licking me. I shared my hot tomato soup, which it seemed to enjoy every drop of. But it immediately vomited a strange, clear gelatin substance with no traces of soup inside it.
I’ll clean it up quickly with some paper towels, then go see Palmer for a few blunts. On my way, I plan on checking in on our geologist Norris, who has been complaining of chest pains.
What makes John Carpenter’s The Thing have such propulsive discomfort and infectious tension?
Not one single thing, but countless magical ones.
Screaming throat vomit tentacles. Jagged-toothed stomachs erupting geysers of bile. Globs of half-formed dogs clumped together like chewing gum under a desk. Frozen snakes of blood slithering out of slit wrists. Burning flesh. Melting flesh. Exploding flesh.
The Thing is more than just a monster movie; it’s a monstrous movie. The script is solid and sincere and not once does the human drama get hammy or careen over the edge.
Edge-jumping is what special effects/makeup creator Rob Bottin was there for.
22 years old and fresh off of The Howling, Rob Bottin was given a sky’s-the-limit greenlight from Carpenter to bring to life a creature that has no definitive features and only one purpose: assimilation. As the movie unfolds, we watch it absorb and imitate every sentient being it comes in contact with.
There is a feature-length documentary included on disc 2 of the Scream Factory version entitled Terror Takes Shape. If you’re a fan of the movie, it is essential viewing. The anecdotes are priceless, with two of my favorites being Richard Masur’s experiences with the wolf-dog, and how Bottin and his crew almost blew up the entire set during the Norris transformation scene.
Bottin gives us so many beautiful sights to experience.
Unnatural howls, stretching skin, snapping muscles, ripping tendons, unformed creatures organically bound and twisting, puddles of milky fluids, deformed bodies that grow spazzing tentacles out of sucking chest wounds.
I can go on, but I probably already have your happy gore memory wheels spinning at top speed.
It’s the 40th anniversary of John Carpenter’s original (well, sort of original).
On a poorly-timed release date of June 25th, 1982, this hot mayonnaise-oozing beast took on an unbeatable mountain of summer blockbusters: Rocky III, Tron, Conan the Barbarian, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Fast times at Ridgemont High, and most notoriously, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The heartwarming, bittersweet cuddliness of E.T. is known to have been one of the contributing factors to The Thing’s then-failure.
John Q. Public wanted nice aliens, and nobody gave Johnny Q. nice aliens quite like Steven Spielberg.
It’s wonderful to see how revered the film is now.
If the horror genre had a stone tablet of ten movies, The Thing would be one of them.
I think that’s why Carpenter is forgiven for his occasional missteps.
Back in the 70s and 80s, he cranked out some of the most mind-blowing horror films ever. One after the other, never slowing down. And The Thing was happily spinning right in the middle of that tornado of gore and ick.
One of my current healthy addictions is watching reaction videos on YouTube, and every single one of them seems to have done The Thing. Watching the twentysomethings hide their eyes under their pink Hello Kitty hoodies or freak out and take off their cutesy little anime earphones is a sadistic pleasure.
The ingredient that gives The Thing so much punch is the sensation of doom.
You know nobody will make it, and you can feel that thought sink into their minds as the movie progresses. The confrontations get more hostile, the creature grows deadlier by the second, and the characters drop like flies (for some, literally). The Thing is an exceptional experience in both suspense and out-of-control, brutal imagination.
And, just to put my two cents in, I believe Childs was infected, and there are two bits of evidence to support that: no breath condensation, and he wore a different jacket at the end. I find this last bit particularly damning because every other character stuck with clothing continuity, but Childs didn’t.
Remember, now, when The Thing attacks you, it rips through your clothes.