The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

The Thing(s) pt. 1

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I don’t often get as excited as I am right now about movies that are about to hit the theatres, though I was all atwitter about True Grit around last Christmas.  Now is another one of those times.  This Friday, there will be a continuation of sorts of The Thing, one of the greatest horror films ever made.  Not to confuse you, but the new film is also titled The Thing.

The premise is standard fare for about 90% of horror films, in that it depends on an isolated setting.  This time, it’s Antarctica.  A group of Norwegian researchers discovers a spaceship buried in the ice.  It appears to have been there for a hundred thousand years.  They recover a “body” near the wreckage and thaw it out only to discover that it is a super-intelligent being capable of consuming and then imitating any form of life.  But it’s “game on” before anybody fully understands what is happening, thus enabling The Thing to get a head-start on essentially wiping out humanity once it reaches civilization.  The Thing escapes the Norwegian camp and makes it to an American camp, and before long the Americans have to break out the Windex and scrub the fan blades.

John Carpenter brought the whole situation to life in his 1982 film The Thing, which opens with the creature-in-disguise entering the American camp as a sled dog.  His interpretation can really only be described as an over-the-top gorefest, which is exactly what he intended.  The film’s signature scene involves Copper, the station doctor, defibrillating researcher Norris after he goes into cardiac arrest following a tense episode in which the team tries to flush out The Thing.  On Copper’s second attempt, Norris’ chest collapses, instantaneously transforming into a set of jaws that bite off Copper’s arms, thus revealing that Norris was infected with The Thing.  When the creature is torched with a flamethrower, Norris’ head pulls itself away and morphs into a creeped-out spider that is killed as it tries to escape the room.  An on-looking character exclaims, “You gotta be fucking kidding me…”  It’s a clever meta-moment in the film as the audience, already shocked by Carpenter’s cringe-fest, thinks about what the hell else can happen to outdo what’s already happened on-screen.  I like to think that the film crew was brainstorming on the set, and any totally outrageous idea that would ratchet up the gutsplat automatically got a green light.  In fact, the idea of a free-for-all reminds me of George Romero’s recollections on the Dawn of the Dead DVD commentary track.  He spoke of special effects crew members coming up with off-the-cuff ways to kill zombies; hence the scene in which a screwdriver is rammed into a zombie’s ear.  The result is definitely cringe-worthy.  I guess there’s a lot to be said for being in the moment when you are creating in your medium.

Despite all the bombast, Carpenter plays The Thing seriously.  It is cold-cold-cold, dark, and nihilistic.  He continues a leitmotif from Assault on Precinct 13, in which he borrowed from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (which hearkens back to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo), and mostly limits the action to the claustrophobic confines of the research station.  Thusly, the emotional pressure on the characters is elevated, causing them to explode—somewhat literally.  Carpenter visual work is bolstered by maestro Ennio Morricone’s film score.  The stripped down, pulsating synths are as creepy and terrifying as the Jaws score.  Plus, the simplicity of some of Morricone’s arrangements alludes to Carpenter’s work scoring his own early films—especially Halloween.


Written by seeker70

October 13, 2011 at 6:14 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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