15 Days of Horror – The Thing

I know I said I didn’t want to do another daily list meme back when I did the 30 Days of TV thing, but this is only 15. Which was about the time it took for me to crap out on the 30 Days of TV thing.

Last year, I saw several people do a meme where they listed the first 15 horror movies that came to their heads. I quickly scribbled down a list, but didn’t get around to posting it. (Being busy, and having shitty internet connection, will do that to you.) Instead, it mutated, and it ended up being a polished list of the movies I thought best encapsulated horror films. (Or something.) The point being, it was a bit more contrived, and thankfully that list was lost. (Actually, just misplaced, but whatever.)

So I made another list, of the first 15 horror films that actually did pop into my head. Theoretically they’re the movies that scare me the most, and are enjoyable ones at that. So, starting things off right:

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

Perhaps the only horror movie that truly scared the ever-loving shit out of me. I first saw it on one of those Sci-Fi Channel holiday marathons (I think it was the 4th of July). I cut out in the middle because it creeped me out so much, and did the sensible thing: I went back and watched it again, in full, after dark.

A bunch of American scientists at an Antarctic research station have some crazed Norwegiens run into their camp, shooting at a stray dog. The Norwegians end up dying, leaving the Americans scratching their heads; they set out and find the Norwegian base in ruins, along with evidence they found… something under the ice. It turns out to be the dog: a chameleon-style creature, hell-bent on survival, which is slowly infecting/replacing the entire base camp. The only person who can stop it is Kurt Russell.

The movie didn’t do so well, at the box office and with the critics, because of its gore-tastic special effects. They’re horrifying, and gross, and some of the most realistic latex and plastic you’ll ever see on the silver screen… compared to today’s buckets-of-fake-CGI-blood, this is the real deal. Luckily, the movie’s coming into its own as an underrated classic, and is getting the reputation it deserves on internet best-of lists.

And for good reason. It’s John Carpenter’s best film by far: he has the budget to pull some amazing stuff, nails the pacing and atmosphere dead-on, has Kurt Russell in one of his best adult roles, and is probably the most accurate representation of John W. Campbell’s original story, “Who Goes There?”

What sells me on the film are the little details; two examples. At one point, the characters get into an argument because a thing somehow got into a locked door to screw up their proposed thing-detector; as they pass the blame back and forth, trying to prove their humanity (and utility), one guy bolts down the hallway for a shotgun. See, he had the keys last, a fact which nobody else remembers–and if you were paying attention, you heard him drop said keys when he ran into his friend earlier, half assimilated by a thing. Even better are the final lines, which can be read one of three ways, with three meanings. Both characters are human, which showcases their paranoia; one is human, and one is a thing… but which one?; or both are things, which makes the conversation take a much darker tone.

There’s supposed to be a prequel coming out, but I don’t understand—the film’s more or less a sequel to the original 1951 Thing From Another World. Whatever. The prequel deals with some American kid at the Norwegian research institute. I’m not sure how it’ll pan out: I have the feeling it’ll go the standard Hollywood direction, and have the protagonist snowmobile off into the sunset. That, or we know how it’ll turn out: he’ll either die in a gruesome fashion, like most everyone else at the Norwegian camp, or becomes the dog-thing in the opening to Carpenter’s version. This, of course, is reliant on the prequel being filmed in the first place.

Why is it scary?

The Thing uses three of the most important techniques in horror to its best advantage:

  • Isolation: Not much help around when you’re snowed into an Antarctic research base, is there? They’re surrounded by ice, have nowhere to run, and can’t exactly hide anywhere in the base. I wouldn’t want to be these guys.
  • Trust: While the characters have some guns and flamethrowers, and the monsters are killable, what keeps them (well, excluding Wilford Brimley) from going mental is the issue of trust. At least some of the other people are actually people, and killing them is just what the things want; there’s a lot of tension based on the fact nobody trusts anybody, and easily come to believe someone is a thing, though most of the characters are apprehensive about taking the final steps and pulling the trigger.
  • Atmosphere: Between the chilling Morricone score and the desolate visuals, this movie generates some fantastic horror from atmosphere alone. Add in the pacing, the monster, the isolation and the trust issue, and you’ve got horror movie gold.

The Morricone score is creepy all on its own, but it makes one of the best horror movies ever an even scarier, better horror movie.

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