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Black October 10: John Carpenter’s The Thing

October 10, 2009

I meant to watch this again earlier this year when the mighty Horror Etc. podcast ran its multi-episode John Carpenter retrospective, followed up by a full-on commentary on the movie.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a fast and nasty film about a U.S. scientific research team in Antarctica, a group of tough, cold men stationed at the bottom of the planet. The movie, a remake of a 50s classic, opens with a flying saucer shot, so there are no bones about this being science fiction horror. It’s the nature of the horror that sets The Thing apart. Something invades the research base, a bizarre creature that seeks out human hosts then becomes a duplicate of its victim. Who can be trusted? Who is still human? It’s up to Kurt Russell, playing an early take on Snake Plissken, to take charge and combat the alien invader.

I meant to watch it again. But I didn’t. It took me a few months to find a copy, which I did a few weeks ago, and then it was a while longer before I could sit down and watch it, because I’ve been watching The Wire, finally, and that kind of sucks you in.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (I always read that title as a full sentence, man) had a lot of buzz when it hit, which was in my early teens. I was right into science fiction and horror, so this film should have been right up my alley. However, just like my current situation, I wasn’t able to see it for quite some time, and when I did, it was on Beta on a little TV, and I think a lot of its impact was lost on me.

I saw it again in the mid-80s in VHS, a pan-and-scan cut that lost a lot of the colour in a dark, muddy transfer. Again, the impact was lost. So I was expecting to finally enjoy this film on DVD, to see this movie that so many people rave about, or rank high on lists of all-time classic horror films.

It didn’t turn my crank.

I liked it. I like all John Carpenter. I even like Ghosts of Mars, but not very much. The Thing is an enjoyable thriller with excellent effects, solid scares and a nice use of traditional whodunnit structure in a different kind of horror setting. It works. But I think my earlier viewings gave me the story and the big reveals without the impact of the filmmaking, so when I finally got to see it the way it should be seen, the story’s surprises were lost on me. It became a pedestrian monster-around-the-corner movie, and that’s a shame. It isn’t the movie’s fault. It’s mine, I guess. Or that old Betamax machine.

I wish I’d never seen it until now. I suspect I would have enjoyed it far more.

  • In case you’re just tuning in, I’m going through my horror DVDs, one a day, throughout October. You can read about other films by clicking Black October under Hot Topics up there to your right.
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