Cultwatch! John Carpenter’s The Thing

It looks like Jimmy and Tom are on a bit of John Carpenter streak in Cultwatch!  That’s the only explanation possible for why they chose The Thing for their next discussion of the weird and the wonderful stuff in the world of cinema.

That or they picked up a damn awesome movie and wanted an excuse to post a chat.  Either works.

The Thing

tomk:  Hokey smokes, I’m only around the halfway point and this is one badass movie.

jimmy:  It was good. Disturbing in parts. But good.

tomk:  Disturbing was the intention.

jimmy:  Yeah, for sure. I saw this last like 30+ years ago, and there was lots of it I didn’t remember, but I’ll never forget that first “transformation” with the dog.

Also…30+ years ago? Geez I’m old.

tomk:  Have you ever seen the original movie?

jimmy:  I don’t think I have. You?

tomk:  Yes. The Thing From Another World is a classic of 50s sci-fi.

My mom worked her way through nursing school when I was a kid at an independent video store, and she’d bring the unrented stuff home on weekends after work, so I got to see it a few times. I really dug it. So once she brought home this version and…I turned it off when the dog opened up.

jimmy:  I know you are not big on horror…I wondered how you would make out. That dog scene sticks with you for sure.

tomk:  It did. Knowing it was coming helped this time in a sense. I could see the foreshadowing the dog just…wandering around the camp.

jimmy:  Agreed. The Ms would never watch this anyway, but she wouldn’t have even gotten past the Stormtroopers in the helicopter shooting at the dog, let alone one turning inside out.

tomk:  Lousy Norwegians with bad aim.

I’m told if you speak Norwegian, those guys give the rest of the movie’s plot away.

jimmy:  Oh really? That’s interesting.

tomk:  Yeah, they babble something about how the dog isn’t really a dog or something.

jimmy:  Even when it was the bears, I knew it was the dog.

tomk:  But in all seriousness, and I wasn’t joking about Norwegian sharpshooters before, I knew the dog wasn’t a dog this time, and heck, I’d seen the defibrillator scene a few times in other videos or even the occasional comedy show. There weren’t many shocks for me, but I still found this to be a pretty tense movie.

jimmy:  Same. It never let’s up. There’s not 20 minutes of preamble where the guys are just going about their day before all hell breaks loose.

tomk:  And these are fairly manly men, tough guys who mostly seem to know what they’re doing.

jimmy:  And you also have no idea who is who they say they are. Except for Wilfred Brimley going crazy, everyone is acting “normal”. So when you get the scene where the guys chest turns into a giant mouth and bites off a guys arms…it’s a shock. Another of those scenes that stick with you afterwards.

tomk:  Especially since that guy seemed less likely to be the Thing than some of the others.

jimmy:  Exactly.

So I’m guessing the original didn’t have inside out dogs or chest mouths?

tomk:  The original was a big guy in a suit.

jimmy: 

tomk:  Yeah, it was an actor in a suit. It didn’t steal people’s forms. It was actually a blood-drinking plant.

jimmy: 

So, we’ll call this a…loose…adaptation then.

tomk:

I’d have to check. Carpenter’s might be more faithful to whatever source material there was.

jimmy:  That could be. It sure had nothing to do with John Henry there.

tomk:  The guy in the monster suit is actually the most famous person from the cast. That was actor James Arness who would go on to play the lead role on the TV Western Gunsmoke.

jimmy:  I wouldn’t know him.

tomk:  Have you heard of his brother Peter Graves?

jimmy:  Yes. Yes I have.

tomk:  Have you ever seen a grown man naked?

jimmy:  Unfortunately…

jimmy:  Haha, right.

tomk:  So, I think we’ve played enough Six Degrees Of Kareem Abdul-Jabar.

jimmy:  lol, such a great movie.

tomk:  We’ll cover that when we start the Classicwatch! feature.

jimmy:  So far we’ve neglected to talk about the real star of the movie: Kurt Russell’s beard.

tomk:  It’s good, but it’s attached to a good costar.

jimmy:  Keith David?

tomk:  This isn’t that kind of movie.

jimmy:  At least he survived this alien invasion…maybe…

tomk:  So, do you think Childs is still human or not?

jimmy:  Who can say? I think in standard Hollywood movie terms, he isn’t and Russell is human…but it could go either way. It’s possible both are human, but they’d never trust each other. Reminded me of Homer and Mr. Burns getting trapped in the cabin.

tomk:  Mac has powers…political powers!

Here are the two theories I’ve heard.

Childs isn’t human, and you can tell because unlike Mac, you can’t see his breath.

And there may have been an alternate ending showing a dog running away from the burning base.

jimmy:  Any of those things are plausible. And why Watson will HATE The Thing 2: Thinger.

tomk:  Dark Horse Comics did a couple sequels in comic book form that had Mac survive repeated run-ins. Childs was still human…at first.

jimmy:  Interesting. I don’t remember seeing those books.

tomk:  I only found the plots online. They may not have been very good.

jimmy:  I don’t think it’s a deep well.

tomk:  But this movie had us dealing with an alien that didn’t really have a physical form of its own. It just borrowed other people’s flesh and used it like silly putty.

jimmy:  Yeah, some of those configurations it ended up in were pretty disturbing. And the effects held up for being almost 40 years old. Probably because they were all practical and not dated CGI.

tomk:  Yeah, it’s amazing how good some of these 80s movies are at special effects.

jimmy:  CGI can do some amazing things, and things that you’d never be able to afford to do otherwise, but even the best of them eventually look dated as technology improves and we see better and better effects on screen. But a well sculpted body of an alien catching on fire is a well sculpted body of an alien catching on fire. In 1982 or 2019.

tomk:  And some of those old prosthetic make-up guys like Rick Baker and Tom Savini gained some fan followings of their own. I can’t really name a CGI guy.

jimmy:  Have you ever watched the credits of a CGI laden movie? There are hundreds of people credited with effects. There’s no Stan Winston of CGI.

tomk:  More or less my point.

We may know a company, and even then it’s most likely Pixar, but not a person.

jimmy:  So this is back to back John Carpenter flicks we’ve watched. Do you think he has any kind of distinctive style…besides his music?

tomk:  There’s a pulpy feel to his work. He seems interested in tough guys, but in a parody sort of way.

Like, don’t take these macho guys very seriously.

jimmy:  I can see that.

tomk:  What about you?

jimmy:  Nothing really jumps out at me outside of the music. You can always tell a Carpenter score.

tomk:  Not many directors also score their own work.

jimmy:  True. Very rare.

tomk:  Well, you know me. I do that weekly “YouTube Selection” feature for quick stuff, and so I did find something on horror from Wisecrack that manages to mention both Thing movies at least a little bit…

…and it never occurred to me the Thing may be an analogy for AIDS.

And I like to tell my students horror movies reflect the fears of a given culture.

jimmy:  I get the parallels with the blood test, but do you really think Carpenter had AIDS on his mind while making The Thing in 1981?

tomk:  Carpenter is a pretty politically minded filmmaker with a well-established liberal leaning.

jimmy:  Perhaps. It just seems too early. I would definitely buy it with the also mentioned Prince Of Darkness.

tomk:  I’ve heard Halloween interpretations about how Michael Myers represents fear of strangers moving to the suburbs as felt by white residents.

And even if you don’t want to buy an AIDS interpretation, there’s still the idea that fluids mixing changes a person. That could be sexual.

jimmy:  Let’s not bring Watson into this.

While I’ll admit there does seem to be too much correlation between horror and real world climate to likely be coincidence, watching that video I still felt like “you could pick any set of films from any era and seem to prove your point while ignoring others”.

tomk:  That may very well be true.

It could also be that any AIDS fear was more subconscious than anything Carpenter or his cast and crew were thinking about while filming in British Columbia.

jimmy:  Which, before you ask, is closer to Austin than I am. 🙂

tomk:  I thought you would have just popped out a Canadian flag emoji and beamed with national pride.

jimmy:  Oh. Right.

Go

!!!

tomk:  Canadian patriotism is always so polite.

So, Jimmy, have you ever seen the prequel?

jimmy:  Prequel?

tomk:  Came out a couple years ago. Set at the Norwegian camp. I found another YouTube video last night that said it was all about The Thing but it was mostly about the prequel and how hard the filmmakers tried to make a homage to the original, even hiring Norwegian actors and using really top notch prosthetics. Then the studio insisted they replace it all with bad CGI and chopped a half hour off the running time.

jimmy:  Stupid studios. I knew there was a recent movie, but I had assumed it was a remake.

Have you seen it?

tomk:  No. And unless I can get an original director’s cut, I don’t think I want to.

jimmy:  That’s probably unlikely.

tomk:  Besides, this movie was too cool to wanna mess with. Even if it was a commercial and critical flop upon release.

jimmy:  True. And it was a prequel so Ryan would hate it. And it expanded on a “perfect” ending so Watson would hate it. And there were no females at all in this, but there were in the prequel so Jenny would…well, I’m not sure on that one.

tomk:  The female in the prequel was the MacReady stand-in.

jimmy:  Who was written to be Ripley from Aliens according to the interwebs.

tomk:  Well, now I want to see Ripley fight the Thing. Thanks a lot, Jimmy.

jimmy:  Me too!

tomk:  Dark Horse used to publish Thing and Alien comics. For all I know, they did already and even tossed in the Predator and the Terminator.

jimmy:  The Thing doesn’t really have the defining creature that those other series have.

tomk:  True. It doesn’t even have an actual shape. It’s more of a flesh-hopping intelligence than anything else.
Man, would it be surprised if it met a Terminator…

jimmy:  Well, I’m sure this movie influenced many things, but what constantly came to my mind while watching was the X-Files episode “Ice”.

tomk:  Remind me. Why that one?

jimmy:  It’s pretty much an homage to The Thing.

tomk:  Oh yeah, that one. It’s been a while. And only a fool would do a rewatch of The X-Files.

Which means I may have something to do when I finish Doctor Who and, for all I know, Star Trek.

jimmy:  I tried to start an X-Files rewatch with the Ms, but she lost interest at some point during season 1.

tomk:  That may be for the best considering how it ended…more than once…

jimmy:  I haven’t watched the last season yet…

tomk:  If it is the last season…

Dum dum DUM!

jimmy:  They’ll be back in 2029.

tomk:  I would not be completely surprised.

So, about The Thing

That sure was a tense, suspenseful movie. I’m surprised it got mostly bad reviews when it came out.

jimmy:  Did it? I can see it doing better now where horror seems to be more…acceptable. I doubt many movie reviewers in 1982 were down with Carpenter and Russell.

tomk:  It was apparently a box office bomb that ran up against E.T.

And lots of critics hated it.

jimmy:  E.T. is a little more kid friendly.

tomk:  Just a little. Who doesn’t love a good dog movie?

jimmy:  Dogs are idiots! Think about it, Tom. If I came into your house and started sniffing at your crotch and slobbering all over your face, what would you say?

tomk:  “Don’t assimilate me!”?

jimmy:  Save it for the Star Trek: TNG rewatch.

tomk:  Another rewatch? Man, being the only content providers to a website sure is a lot sitting around and staring at screens.

jimmy:  Well, someone has to do it.

And it seems like we’re getting a bit silly. You have anything else to add for this one? I suppose we should do grades too.

tomk:  I loved it for all we barely talked about it.

Good practical effects, tight direction, fine performances. Sure, it may be closer to the Invasion of the Body-Snatchers than the original Thing movie, but this was a worthy remake.

jimmy:  Well, I don’t think it spurns a lot of discussion. It knows what it has to do and does it. There’s not much meandering of plots or characters.

tomk:  True. I can only name two characters off the top of my head.

Mac and, uh, Joe-Bob.

jimmy:  Better than me.

tomk:  Had you seen this one before?

jimmy:  I mentioned that above:

I saw this last like 30+ years ago, and there was lots of it I didn’t remember, but I’ll never forget that first “transformation” with the dog.

Also…30+ years ago? Geez I’m old.

tomk:  So am I. I’m senile and forget past conversations.

So, had you seen this one before?

jimmy:  Why no. You?

tomk:  I saw the original a few times.

jimmy:  So this was your first go round with this one and you loved it?

tomk:  Yes.

jimmy:  I enjoyed it as well. Grade?

tomk:  10 out of 10 flamethrower malfunctions.

I think I get now why Carpenter is so well-respected.

jimmy:  Have you seen the original Halloween?

tomk:  Not yet

jimmy:  Ah. Probably more popular than “cult” status, but Carpenter at his finest.

I’ll go a little lower at 9 inside out dogs out of 10. But it really holds up for being 37 years old and made on a low budget.

tomk:  Kurt Russell makes everything better.

But, this one is pretty distinct from the original. And the original is hardly a cult classic but I suspect the remake has eclipsed it in many ways. Want to check the older one out next?

jimmy:  I’m intrigued for sure.

tomk:  Then let’s go there.

jimmy:  Will there be inside out dogs?

tomk:  Nope.

But there will be an alien that doesn’t like fire.

jimmy:  To pull two jokes together, is it the Hound? 🙂

tomk:  No…but I wish it was right now. And then he could fight Ellen Ripley.

NEXT TIME:  It may not be a cult movie, but Tom and Jimmy will be back soon to see what sort of movie made John Carpenter want to do a remake.  So, they’re going to take a look at 1951’s The Thing From Another World.

tomk74

Defender of the faith, contributing writer, debonair man-about-town.

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