October 17, 2011

Review: The Thing

Do you have those movies that you've seen so many times that you've actually forgotten the first time?

I'm like that with "John Carpenter's The Thing". I think it's pretty safe to say that it is, hands down, my favorite horror movie of all time. I practically know it by heart. I re-watch it and study the evolving (or should I say deteriorating) relationships among the group of fairly ordinary men in an Artic research station that is infiltrated by a shape shifting alien that can perfectly imitate any animal it can devour.

I think it's a perfect horror movie. It's tense and scary. It's got great laugh out loud moments. It's pretty original. And it's super bleak.

It's funny to me that Carpenter himself worships the original movie, "The Thing From Another World", where the alien is basically a Frankenstein monster made of vegetables who fertilizes new versions of himself using human blood. It's such a weird, quirky movie with the stereotypical stupid scientist. But it also has some great jump out moments and a great end line:
"Tell the world, tell everyone: Watch the skies everywhere, keep looking, keep watching the skies!"

But, frankly, I don't find "The Thing From Another World" scary at all. For my money, the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" trumps it in every way: scare factor, Cold War paranoia, direction, performance... it even has a better end line: "They're here already! YOU'RE NEXT!!!"

That said, I can appreciate that The Thing From Another World comes from a different era in horror moviemaking, so I can excuse Carpenter's affection.  Especially because I so appreciate what he did with his own take on the film.  By returning to the original source material, John Campbell's novella, "Who Goes There?", Carpenter rediscovered the true paranoia and horror of this unwelcome visitor from another planet.

What's interesting to me in reading the Campbell story is the intelligence that's implied about the monster by the investigating scientists.  While a reviewer of the current prequel to Carpenter's film (which we'll get to in a moment) asks how such a creature could evolve through natural selection, Campbell assumes that the creature has developed the science that allows it to adapt to any environment at a cellular level.  They even assume that they've never seen its natural form, that even its ship was something it had appropriated from another species it had imitated.

Which is what is so great about Carpenter's film - the thing isn't just a monster.  In many ways, it's smarter than the humans and is constantly a few steps ahead of them, deliberately sowing the seeds of mistrust as it swallows them up, one by one.

It's this intelligence, this cunning, that is the single biggest thing I miss the most in the new prequel, "The Thing", with Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  But, don't get me wrong.  I actually love this movie.  It really takes the horror aspects of the franchise to a new level.  For fans of the Carpenter film, the way the two-faced thing is born in this film has to be one of the most horrifying scenes in any movie I've seen in some time.  The effects are crazy and the cast is great.  Mary Elizabeth really reminds me of Naomi Harris in "28 Days Later".  As my better half said, by the end of the film, what she's experienced, you cannot take any chances.  You have to be as hard core as possible.

But her survival hinges on the way the thing chooses to attack her early in the film.  Frankly, it's sloppy and not nearly as clever as it is in the Carpenter movie.

Then again, it is a prequel.  Maybe the Norwegian camp taught the thing a thing or two.

Go see them all.  They're great films.