Archive for John Carpenter

The Thing, a Retrospective

Posted in Analysis, Feature Films, Reviews with tags , on March 13, 2012 by Gorilla

In 1982, the cinema was invaded by an ugly alien creature from another galaxy: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Moviegoers fell in love with Steven Spielberg’s charming creation, and it quickly became one of the most celebrated family films of all time. However, on the same year, the earth was visited by another, less cuddly alien being, a shape-shifting monster called simply: The Thing. Director John Carpenter had already wowed horror fans with Halloween, The Fog and Escape From New York, but The Thing is something wholly different; it’s an unflinching, remorseless bastard of a film, darkly intense and totally nihilistic. Oddly enough, it did not warm the hearts of moviegoers, but over time it became widely acknowledged as one of the greatest horror films of all time. In my opinion it is the greatest, as it perfectly captures the sense of terror and paranoia, while simultaneously piling on the gore and the goo with such gusto as to portray a deep affection of the genre.

The premise is pleasingly simple; a group of American’s in an Antarctic research station are shocked out of their comfortable boredom when a Norwegian helicopter arrives, manned by two hysterical individuals who appear to be firing upon an Alaskan Malamute. One of the Norwegian’s accidently sets off an explosive charge, killing himself and destroying the helicopter, meanwhile his friend continues to fire upon the dog, unintentionally clipping one of the Americans. Seeing this supposed insanity, the station commander takes matters into his own hands; he shoots the Norwegian, regrettably killing the man.

Attempting to make sense of the chaos, The doctor, Copper, decides to investigate the Norwegian camp, along with the reluctant helicopter pilot- and protagonist of the film- R.J. MacReady . It’s a deliciously down played and dead pan set up, and nothing feels forced or “filmic” at any point. The characters act realistically, and their relationships are believable. These guys have known each other for a long time, there’s a certain amount of playful banter but you get this feeling that they’re all slightly irritable and itching to get home. MacReady, played by Kurt Russell, is perfectly introduced as a sore loser, casually destroying his computer for beating him at chess. This tells you everything you need to know about the man; he’s not a hero, he’s not out to save the world, he’s just a normal guy, cool as ice and incredibly competitive. All throughout the film, MacReady’s will to survive stems from this defiance and arrogance, which comes into play at the resolution of the film, suggesting he’s a changed man, perhaps having learned to lose gracefully (or perhaps just literally changed).

The Thing is a fantastic, self-contained film with no illusions of grandeur but nevertheless capable of a rich mythology. The shape-shifting creature is never seen in its true form, and it’s implied the alien craft it landed on belonged to something else entirely. The Thing transforms into ungodly monsters, which are in fact forms that it had assimilated in the past, therefore implying that the universe is rich with nightmarish beasts. This conclusion is made all the more nihilistic by the comparison with the Thing and the blue-collar workers in the base.

These are humans, flawed, weak, paranoid and aggressive. Unable to cooperate in an intense situation, something that the vastly superior alien takes full advantage of. After all, what good is all our technology, our society and the rules we create to govern ourselves, when confronted with something so utterly different, that doesn’t play by the same rules.

While most horror movies end with a cheap scare, some evidence that the monster survived, or the unexpected killing of the protagonist, The Thing’s conclusion is far more nihilistic, on a far bigger scale. It is not simply saying “the monster survived”, it’s demonstrating our insignificance, the happy fluke of our species survival, and how ultimately, faced with the vast, indifferent, alien universe, we’re fucked.

Thoughts on The Thing, a prequel

Posted in Analysis, News, Trailers with tags , , , on July 21, 2011 by Gorilla

I am a huge fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, it may even by my favourite horror movie, it’s an unflinching, remorseless bastard of a film, darkly intense and totally nihilistic. Carpenter perfectly captures the sense of terror and paranoia, while simultaneously piling on the gore and the goo with such gusto as to portray a deep affection of the genre.

It is probably unsurprising that I was somewhat concerned when news came of a 2011 prequel to The Thing, to be produced by the same people who brought us the reboot of Dawn of the Dead (by no means a bad film, but nothing to shout about). Our return to the world of The Thing focuses on the Norwegian camp, which is gingerly explored by Kurt Russell’s R.J. MacReady in the original film. The Norwegians are the first to discover ‘The Thing’ and so come to a rather gruesome end, while it’s true that we only know for sure that four of them die, I imagine that number will increase dramatically. My concern for a prequel to this classic horror film has been replaced with cautious optimism, the trailer seems to suggest a faithful attempt to capture the fun of the original, with plenty of scares and a healthy dose of gallows humour.

John Carptenter’s The Thing will always be a horror classic, and a fairly faithful adaptation of the book it’s based on, far superior to the 1951 version, The Thing From Another World, which is a rare example of a 50’s horror film that I found to be disappointing, especially as it missed the point of the story entirely. While I’m certainly not a fan of this disgusting trend of remaking classis horror films (and I’d like to just take this moment to say, fuck you Michael Bay, and while I’m at it, fuck you Rob Zombie too) I am interested in the idea of a new The Thing, if only because it seems to be embracing what made 80s horror movies so much fun, rather than attempting to reinvent old classics as desaturated, angsty torture porn (fuck you Michael Bay and Rob Zombie).

There has been a noticeable trend of great directors attempting to craft the perfect b-movie, Frank Darabont made The Mist, Martin Scorsese recently directed Shutter Island, and there’s a good chance Guillermo del Toro will make At the Mountains of Madness, while it’s true Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. is no great director (he hasn’t made any other films) I do believe The Thing prequel wants to be in this category, and I really hope it is.

UPDATE: It was rubbish.


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