Monday, December 22, 2008

Movie Review - The Thing (1982)

I had planned to watch and review a Christmas movie here tonight. I had a few hours of downtime that I was going to use to dig through some old magazines in the hopes of condensing some boxes, and watch a good old fashioned holiday film... Apparently, I'm still in Scrooge mode, 'cause John Carpenter's The Thing grabbed at me from the shelf with a long, flailing, tentacle and wouldn't let go. Maybe it's the foot of snow that we've received in the last 24 hours, or something, but I suddenly found myself in the mood for a good old fashioned claustrophobic horror film instead!

The Thing is possibly one of the best horror flicks ever made. It stars a bearded Kurt Russel in angry bearded man mode, as part of a crew of researchers in a remote antarctic base. They've been there for a while, and it seems like they've all fallen into a comfortable, if slightly burnt out and annoyed groove. Then out of the stormy sky, a helicopter appears, chasing and shooting at a dog. Flying in close and fast, the bird touches down, a masked and desperate man shooting at the dog as the inhabitants of the base come out to watch. Even as one man fumbles a grenade and blows the chopper, the other starts shooting and chasing the dog, desperate to kill it, and speaking a foreign language. After winging one of the men in the base, the foreigner is shot and killed. Then things get creepy.

The crew discover that the helicopter and men belong to a base of Norwegians, based a distance away, and they go to investigate the base. MacReady (Russel) and the doctor find the base in ruins, the entire crew dead, and a mass of charred multi-limbed flesh in a pile. They quickly gather up some of the papers and videos, along with the remains, and hightail it back to their base. Soon enough, the men discover that the Norweigans had found and exhumed an alien space ship, buried for thousands of years, and that with it, they'd unleashed an alien. A horrible, shape shifting monster that can take the form of any creature, man or beast.

In any other movie, this would spell a certain sequence of events; Men get taken over, lots of shooting, one of 'em gets deformed and evil and starts killing everyone, a girl takes her shirt off for no reason, explosions increase at the same speed as ludicrous plot development until finally the marines arrive with a hero that saves everyone.

Instead, in this movie, it gets tighter and claustrophobic. None of the crew know who is and who isn't infected, they don't know who to trust. Stranded in a huge storm in freezing temperatures with no radio contact and no escape, the men of the base begin to break down, distrust runs rampant, and slowly, the creature begins to take their places.

Filmed before digital effects, the creature in The Thing is both amazing and disgusting, an animatronic configuration of limbs, slime, insect parts, bones, teeth, tentacles and whatever form the creature took over. It's amazing, quite frankly, and something that, if done today, would be shoddily animated and lose a lot of the horror you feel as it moves on the screen. Yet somehow, as effective and disgusting as the creature is, the real horror in the movie comes from the humans themselves as they break down under the pressure, distrusting and fighting each other, surrounded by miles of sub-zero temperatures, with no escape in sight.

The Thing is an amazing film, and I dare anyone to watch it at night with the lights off, the snow piling up outside, and not get a bit creeped out. Or a lot. Especially if you have pets that like to jump on you without warning for no reason.... Highly recommended.


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