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Chilly Sci-Fi Horror – THE THING

THE THING is a fantastic remake fueled by Rob Bottin’s “Practical” Magic.

For those keeping score, John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) has two so-called “strikes” against it: it’s a remake, of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s The Thing from Another World (1951), and it’s so Lovecraftian it hurts. And although it owes its life to good ol’ H.P.’s At The Mountains Of Madness, it’s a striking film that possesses a visual language all its own. With FX wizard Rob Bottin on creature design and Carpenter’s stellar direction and cast, it still manages gets under your skin and keep you on edge until the knockout finale, even today. Consider the plight of the creature at the film’s icy core – flying around the cosmos must be tough. Crash landing on Earth in the harsh Arctic tundra and being forced into hibernation in order to survive must be even tougher. This is the fate that befalls our alien/creature in the film’s opening. 100,000 years later it awakens and goes into full survival mode. With the ability to absorb and mimic other life forms, our titular Thing can take the form of anything – even a beautiful Siberian Husky. Under this guise the Thing infiltrates the base camp of a 12 man research team, in a memorable opening filled with Norwegian cursing and a Sarah Palin-like helicopter hunting party. As expected, all Hell breaks loose when the kind Americans take pity on the poor dog who runs into their midst. And quicker than you can say “Wilford Brimley” the Thing is doppleganger-ing itself into members of the team, messing with minds and bodies and eradicating the unit’s morale and trust. There’s nowhere to run, you’ve been up for days, and Hell itself walks among you. As a wise man once said, “this is a 360 degree son of a bitch” – bad on all sides. But I would argue that within this ultimate bleak there is beauty. Rob Bottin’s work is still hailed as legendary, filled with hand-crafted horror including a walking head, a teeth gnashing torso, and whip-sharp spaghetti-innards that’ll make you stare at your dog funny. And Carpenter deserves praise as well, for juggling 12 actors and getting us to care about each character. While Kurt Russell has the lion’s share of the scenes as moody reluctant hero R.J. MacReady, he has a wonderful safety net in his fellow cast members, including Brimley, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, and Keith David, with whom he shares the magnificently ambiguous ending. Though it’s essential viewing, I’d mainly recommend this film to any horror/thriller fans wanting to learn a thing or two about tone – as well as how to rip a human to shreds effectively without looking like a Saw or Hostel clone. And though there’s been talk of a remake/sequel/prequel/destructive re-imagining, this film should exist on its own, forever preserved in cold storage for those moments when the imitators leave you wanting more.

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March 3, 2011   2 Comments

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