The Thing (1981)

It’s been nearly (or just about) a month since my last post, and nearly two months since my last Earning My Stripes post. As it is Halloween weekend, what better way to resume my practice than by exploring one of the horror films on my list?

I’ve now finally explored The Thing (1982), the benchmark horror film for special effects, and John Carpenter’s personal favorite of any of his films. And to be honest, I’m not as blown away as their base camp was … Oops … Spoiler.

What I can definitively say about Carpenter’s The Thing is that the special effects truly are out of this world (hah, pun.) What I find especially surprising and impressive is that Rob Bottin, creator and designer of all special effects found in the film, was just 22 years old when he began work on the project. 22 years old! Not only is it impressive for someone so young to have made such an impression on cinema, but it’s damn well unnerving for someone a year older than he was when he achieved this landmark. Oh well, on with the soul searching.

The special effects are really a treat to behold, and the accompanying sound effects are absolutely stupendous. When the legs crack out of Vance Norris’ skull and the crab-head scuttles across the floor, every understated sound sends chills up the spine. The whirring of the Thing’s tentacles as it ensnares the poor pooches in the pen make the skin crawl. Every facet of Bottin’s design, and the efforts of his assisting team of talented technicians, stand apart as the most impressive aspects of the film, no question.

The score by legendary composer Ennio Morricone (the mastermind behind such scores as The Good, the Bad, and the Uglyand Once Upon a Time in the West) has a distinctly Carpenter-ian air to it. This was the first film of Carpenter’s that he did not score himself, and yet his style was embodied flawlessly.

All in all I found the lulls in between the moments of tension building and release to be rather lackluster and disappointing. There were moments when the perfectly crafted tension simply slid away, and then we’re left with a startling moment to jerk is right back in, which is jarring and at times rather unpleasant.

That being said, whenever tension was created and sustained, it was done masterfully. Playing off of the tensions of the day, the paranoia and suspicion throughout the group reads as both effective horror element as well as socio-political commentary. I plan to explore this more thoroughly at a later, less fatigued date, however for the time being I’ll attempt some level of conciseness.

Look back to 1978’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, if you will, starring Donald Sutherland. In a different manner, though through the same medium, it explores many of the same core issues addressed in The Thing. Simply four years earlier Phillip Kauffman touched on issues relevant to the Western political climate at the time, issues that were still relevant when Carpenter brought this to the foreground. The Cold War was still raging, and those in power were fearful of looming communism (though I’m not certain to what degree), and a sense of fear was spreading throughout the Western world. Perhaps more paranoia than anything, but those accused of being a communist were certainly reprimanded, or branded an outcast in the best case scenario. The climate was hostile, as hostile as the unforgiving arctic wilderness, and the judgement of an elite few in power. I would like to suggest that this political climate was deliberately reflected in The Thing as I know it was in 1978’s Invasion. Again, I’ll explore this more thoroughly and articulately at a time when I’m not quite so mushy brained, shall we say.

In conclusion The Thing hardly terrified me, though it did amaze me. The technical skill involved in creating this special effects masterpiece are awe-inspiring, and deserve recognition. However, if I want to truly scare the pants off myself, I’ll just return to little miss Regan MacNeil and her flexible hauntings.

And now I leave you with some fantastic screen shots of Rob Bottin’s ground-breaking work!

The Pissed-Off Cabbage as dubbed by creator Rob Bottin – comprised of 12 (fake, obvs) dog tongues and canine teeth.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding…”

This post was originally published on my tumblr on October 30, 2011.