Fright Fest 2019: They Live (1988)
Starring: Roddy Piper, Meg Foster, Keith David, Peter Jason, and Larry Franco
Written By: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage)
Directed By: John Carpenter
Review by: Joshua Macmillan
Synopsis: Nada, a wanderer without any meaning in his life discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the world the way it truly is. As he walks the streets of LA, he begins to notice that all media and governments are comprised of aliens intending on keeping all of the population subdued so they can dominate the world.
When I sat down to watch They Live for this review, it was the first time I was actually taking the time to see this film. I of course had heard of it, and had been told numerous times that I needed to check it out. I am a huge John Carpenter fan, mostly due to Halloween, The Thing, and Christine. Those were the films from Carpenter that I grew up on. This one has been on my “to be watched” list for quite a long time and thanks to Machine Mean, I finally forced myself to sit down and watch it. Unfortunately, it really did feel like a chore to sit through this film. Continue Reading…if you dare!
Fright Fest 2019: Prince of Darkness (1987)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper (as Street Schizo), et. al.
Released: Oct. 1987
Article: “Pre Biotic Fluid Mutants: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness” by JG Clay.
Its almost that ‘most wonderful time of the year’’, folks. No, no the commercially driven saccharine drenched credit indebted mutant known as Christmas. I am referring to a day which is special to me on one count and also to horror fans on two counts. I’m talking about Halloween of course, the day when 46 years ago, I made my debut appearance in this cosmic play we call ‘life’, a day celebrated by people of a darker nature and, last but by no means least, the night that John Carpenter brought Michael Myers home. Continue Reading
Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Halloween III Season of the Witch (1982)
Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2, Vampires: Los Muertos)
Starring: Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps, The Fog), Stacey Nelkin (Yellowbeard, Get Crazy), and Dan O’Herlihy (The Last Star Fighter, Twin Peaks)
Written: Tommy Lee Wallace (Amityville 2: The Possession, It), John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Fog), Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit, The Abominable Snowman)
Release Year: 1982
Review By: Andy Taylor
Halloween has always been my favorite time of year, and one of my favorite aspects of the holiday are the costumes, specifically the masks. Every year on November 2nd, I go to whatever Halloween superstore is in the area and purchase a discount mask because I am far too cheap to pay full price. This strategy has netted me a great collection of creepy, humorous, or disgusting Halloween masks. I’ve got cinematic favorites, scary monsters, and twisted psychos galore, and yet my creepiest mask by far is a large, rubber judge mask that seems to scare everyone who has seen it, judges being terrifying enough without having warped, elongated faces. One mask I’ve never been able to get, and one I would love to own, is the pumpkin mask they put out as promotion for the release of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. They do have recreations you can get for around a hundred dollars, but if I’m paying that much for a pumpkin mask, it better have a real piece of Stonehenge in it like the ones in the film. My face might get melted off and some nasty creepy-crawlies might come pouring out of my head, but at least I’ll die a horrifyingly memorable death. Though I’m not sure Doctor Challis or the victims of Silver Shamrock would agree with the sentiment. Continue Reading
Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Fog (1980)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Adrenne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Et al.
Release date: 8 February 1980
Review by: Thomas S. Flowers
For me, the intrinsic appeal of ghost stories is the tale. Sitting around a campfire, sharing a ditty about life, death, and the thereafter typically involving some crime, something that went wrong, some singular cataclysmic event in which something horrible happened that over the years formed into the story. Said story exists both to scare (entertain) and to give warning. Beware the house on Redwood Street, inside its dilapidated walls a horror awaits those foolish enough to enter its haunted halls, etc. etc. In the macabre 1980 masterpiece The Fog, John Carpenter does just that. Using a traditional Gothic atmosphere, he creates a tale, campfire and all, warning the younger generation of the sins the past. Greed. Hate. Betrayal. And murder have stained the lineage of the small California coastal town of Antonio Bay. But as the idealistic community prepares to celebrate their centenary strange things begin to occur and a foreboding blue fog spreads toward the shores. Continue Reading
Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)
Directed By: John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York)
Starring: Donald Pleasence (Halloween Franchise, Phenomena), Victor Wong (Tremors, Big Trouble in Little China), Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Emperor), Lisa Blount (Chrystal, An Officer and a Gentleman), and Jameson Parker (The Bell Jar, Jackals)
Written By: John Carpenter (They Live, The Fog)
Release Year: 1987
Review By: Andy Taylor
As the son of a preacher-man, it should surprise no one that I’ve always had a strong interest in religion. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so many others have long fascinated me, ever since I found reading the Bible, the only reading material available during church, to be more interesting than listening to the sermons. I might not prescribe to any particular one, though what my beliefs are remain immaterial to this review, but I’ve read most of the different religion’s main holy books to sate my curiosity, finding each one to be a fascinating look at how early humans tried to explain the world around them. Another big interest of mine is science. I might not understand a lot of it, but I love how science continues to delve the depths of our universe for answers we’ve been asking as a species for thousands of years. In some cases, both science and religion can be blended together, though many times the two are diametrically opposed, and this can make blending them effectively a difficult task. Thankfully, John Carpenter seems to have those same interests, and being the talented writer that he is, did a good job mixing the two into a strange, but fascinating tale, even if it does suffer from a couple of issues. Before we get to that, let’s look at the weird tale of Liquid Satan. Continue Reading
Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Village of the Damned (1995)
Village of the Damned (1995)
A Review by: Feind Gottes
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: David Himmelstein (adapted from the book by John Wyndham and the 1960 screenplay by Sterling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla and Ronald “George Barclay” Kinnoch)
Starring: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré and Mark Hamill
The Gist: All the women in a small town become pregnant at the same time (YIKES!) giving birth to children who turn out to be as weird as the pregnancies themselves.
Feind’s Review (ish): Spoilers Ahead, DUH! This review is going to be difficult to get through without making too many Christopher Reeve jokes but I’ll try to let it stand on its own two feet… shit… so it begins! Thankfully there isn’t a horse riding scene or I’d never be able to get through it! So this review is on the 1995 remake by living legend John Carpenter but I would highly recommend you check out the 1960 original film since, while dated, is an excellent film. I would say check out the book by John Wyndham also but that would be advice to myself since I haven’t read it either. Speaking of ‘50s & ‘60s sci-fi horror I also highly recommend the 1953 film Invaders From Mars (there was a remake in 1986 but I like the original better) which is in a similar vein as Village of the Damned but I suppose I should get on with it. Continue Reading
Fright Fest 2018: John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998)
One thing horror fans love to do is debate which film marked what is historically known as The Decline of John Carpenter. Some believe it began with the final chapter of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy, In the Mouth of Madness. Others waggle disdainful fingers at his comedy misstep, Memoirs of an Invisible Man. There’s never a right answer to speculation such as this, but one thing practically everyone agrees on is that Vampires does not belong in the conversation when discussing John Carpenter’s classics.
To a certain extent, it’s a salient point. Carpenter’s latter-day career has often been considered inferior by hardcore fans of the director, preferring to focus on his output during the 1980s. The 1990s were a time when Carpenter could have used a monster hit. Vampires wasn’t it, only recouping its $20 million production budget by a few hundred thousand dollars. General audiences were less than impressed, giving the film a Cinemascore grade of D+.
There’s a reason for this, but it may not be the one you’re expecting. That’s because Vampires isn’t a horror movie. Continue Reading
Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: HALLOWEEN (2007)
Imitation is often seen as a tribute to an artist; other times it is seen as a mockery and a laughable attempt to establish, oneself, in a world of other artists. A question that should be asked, what separates the good imitations from the worst?
The answer is a little more underlying.
A work of imitation can branch off and become something different, something appreciated by others. The difference is—Appreciation for the original work and artist—nothing more.
In 1978, John Carpenter set out and defined the slasher genre. Many fans were introduced to their first masked serial killers: Michael Myers. The original story was enough to send millions of fans into a terror filled adventure, murder and mayhem a-plenty. Man escapes mental institution after murdering his sister twenty years prior and begins slashing and stabbing his way through Haddonfield, IL. Continue Reading
Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Halloween (1978)
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, and Nancy Loomis. With Nick Castle and Tony Moran portraying Michael Myers.
Written By: Debra Hill and John Carpenter
Directed By: John Carpenter
Synopsis: On Halloween night of 1963, six year old Michael Myers brutally murders his seventeen year old sister, Judith. He was sentenced to a mental hospital but on October 30, 1978 he escapes and a string of murders begin in his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois.
“Halloween isn’t just a good story; it’s a film that demonstrates an unprecedented understanding of it’s very media. It’s a story that could only be told cinematically, a true folktale for the 20th century and beyond. Light, shadow, silence and good sound form into an experience both tangible and transcendent. It’s a wholly immersive work of art, a rare instance of pure cinema. Like it’s antagonist, it will never die.” -Stef Hutchinson, taken from the 35th anniversary Blu-Ray. Continue Reading
John Carpenter Lives
Among the horror community, there are certain names that can go unnoticed. New directors and cult indies that simply do not get enough limelight. And there are others in which one ought to know regularly. If there was a quiz, you should know the names of Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Tobe Hooper as the most easily recognizable of horror directors. Wes Craven gave us (among so much more) Freddy Krueger. Cronenberg gave us Videodrome (among his other visceral work). Romero created an entirely new monster subgenre, zombies. Hitchcock paved the way for most of everyone on this list, starting, I think, with Shadow of a Doubt (1943), but most people probably know him best for Psycho. James Whale, another original pavemaker, gave us Frankenstein. del Toro brought horror into the depths of imagination. Sam Raimi locked us away in the cabin in The Evil Dead. And Tobe Hooper chased us into the sunset with a chainsaw. All these names of known for certain achievements. And in all transparency, even while you’re reading this article, there are probably differing movies you remember or associate with each director best. One director, obviously unnamed in my little list here, if we dug deeper in the cesspool of horror fandom, we’d probably wallow in some pretty nasty disagreement on which of his movies he is best known for. Personally, as a fan of his work, our still yet unnamed director (can you guess?), I’d be amiss not to do a “favorites list” on this the day of his birth. To keep things not too lengthy, this will be limited to my top five favorites (which will NOT be easy) ending on THE movie I think he is best known by. So, hold on to your butts, from least to best, the following are my five favorite movies by none other than John Carpenter.
5. The Fog (1980)
If we’re talking personal favorites, The Fog would certainly go to the top of the pile. But if we’re talking which of Carpenter’s movies he is best known for, well…I have my doubts, even within the horror community, of those who associate Carpenter with The Fog. For starters, The Fog isn’t as over-the-top as some of his later projects. It is simple. Banal. And contained. Yet, in that simplicity, there is a wonderfully fantastic film built on classic gothic themes. A weather-beaten old fisherman tells an ancient tale of betrayal and death to fascinated children as they huddle together by their campfire. An eerie fog envelops Antonio Bay, and from the mist emerge dripping demonic phantoms of a century old shipwreck…seeking revenge.
4. Escape From New York (1981)
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. However, much like The Fog, I’m unconvinced how well known Escape from New York is a John Carpenter flick. I think most would be able to tell you Kurt Russell is in it, but other than that…? Regardless, Escape From New York is definitely on my top five list for Carpenter pictures. Here, Carpenter introduces us to some rather complex characters without having to spend too much time on them. Instead, Carpenter focuses on the action as he bravely takes us into the future, a not so far fetched future where crime is out of control and New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. When the President’s plane crashes in old Gotham, the powers that be recruit tough as nails Snake Plissken, a one-eyed former war hero now turned outlaw, into bringing the President, and his cargo (nuke codes), out of this land of confusion.
3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Without a doubt, not only do moviegoers in the horror community know and can easily associate Big Trouble in Little China with John Carpenter, but so can those who do not frequent horror movies, and that’s mostly because Big Trouble in Little China is not technically a horror movie. I think it could be labeled mostly as sci-fi fantasy and comedy action. And as ole Jack Burton says, this flick is one of the most quotable of all of Carpenter’s work. The film is an unexpected classic following a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver named Jack Burton whose life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his friend’s fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.
2. Halloween (1978)
His one movie that sparked a franchise, I’d be really shocked to discover anyone who didn’t know this flick was one of John Carpenter’s. And I swear to all that is holy, if I ever asked someone, “Hey, have you seen Halloween?” And they told me, “Oh, you mean that Rob Zombie movie?” I’d slap them silly. Halloween is a classic to be sure. The score alone is probably more recognizable than the directorial name. And a movie that typically makes it onto everyone’s Halloween holiday movie lineups, a movie that started on a cold Halloween night in 1963 when six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, during the night before being transferred for a court hearing, a now 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns home to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he searches for his sister.
1. The Thing (1982)
Was there really any surprise The Thing is my number one pick here? Yes, there could be some debate on whether The Thing is an easily associated film of Carpenter’s. And there are two sides to this coin. While I do admit, I have some serious doubts people outside of horror fandom would even recognize the movie title let alone the director, but within the horror fandom world, The Thing has become an inescapable cult classic of behemoth proportions. I do not think I’ve seen another movie that has gardened such a fanbase as The Thing. And for good reason, too. The Thing, besides The Fog, has one of the most simple sets imaginable, the kicker really being how isolated the characters are and how audiences can feel that itch of madness, being cooped up too long, stir crazy, etc. etc. The paranoia drips from the screen. And much like Escape from New York, we’re given rich complex characters without the need of some unnecessary backstory for any of them, even Kurt Russel’s characters MacReady is really only known by his actions. Nearly 35 years later, the practical effects in this movie are still considered high quality. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will. The story is grounded and easy to follow. After the destruction of a Norwegian chopper that buzzes their base, the members of the US team fly to the Norwegian base hoping to find survivors, only to discover them all dead or missing. What they do find among the carnage are the remains of a strange creature burned and haphazardly buried in the ice. The Americans take their find back to their base and deduce that it is not human, not entirely, but an alien life form. Soon, it becomes apparent that the alien lifeform is not dead, and to make matters worse, it can take over and assimilate other life forms, including humans, spreading much like a virus does. Anyone at the base could be inhabited by the Thing, tensions soon escalate.
0. They Live (1988)
I’d be amiss not to include at least one honorable mention. Originally, I really wanted to include Carpenter’s They Live, starring late great Roddy Piper, on this list of top films. Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to spend all morning writing about which of Carpenter’s movies are the best or most recognizable as being his, I’d be here all day if I did that. I gave myself a five movie limit and stuck with it. That said, I think They Live, at least within the horror community, is a really recognizable Carpenter flick, and probably one of his most (sadly) relevant films to date. The action is def. cheesy, and the concept is bizarre, but the message is a real punch to the gut, one that I’m sure many a film student as spent dissecting and discussing.
Did you like what you read here? Consider joining our mailing list and stay up to date on new releases, hot deals, and new articles here on the blog. The above list are my picks for Carpenter flicks, but I want to know what are some of yours? Comment below with your number one or give pick of John Carpenter’s most recognizable movie. Thanks for reading, and as always, do not forget to live, laugh, and scream!
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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THE HATEFUL EIGHT: movie in review
Lets take a ride on the wagon wheel to Minnie’s Haberdashery. And before we pick up any strangers along the way, let me forewarn you, though I plan on keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, don’t get mad if I let a few things slip from here to there. Okay? Okay. You’ve been warned. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is as you may have guessed, if you’re a fan of this particular type of movie, and this type being very much a Quentin Tarantino movie, is his eighth film, with Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds before that. With this new adventure behind the pen of Mr. Tarantino, we’re brought into the western/frontier world of a very recent post-Civil War America. After watching his last film, Django, I suspected Mr. Tarantino would be making a return to frontier/western film-esk America. If you’ve seen that film, then you may agree, with the story and the characters, he seemed to have a lot of fun with his screenplay and directorial duties. This new film runs nearly 3 hours, and the pace is one of the more interesting or “telling” aspects, pointing to an otherworldly reference, mentioned in other reviews by more talented reviewers than myself. Our eyes first witness a white landscape with a very large snow capped mountain. From there, we then get to spend, about an hour or so, inside the wagon with one John Ruth (Kurt Russel), Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), Sheriff Chris Mannix (with a running jag how no one believes he’s really the sheriff of this town everyone’s trying to get to), and imprisoned outlaw, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) before finally arriving at the Haberdashery. The conversations are what you may have come to expect from a Tarantino film, filled with plenty of adult language, the use of the N-word, and exposition. If you can stomach all this, well…as the saying goes, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
But don’t come expecting high octane action. You’re not going to get that. Instead, you’ll get a colorful mix of exposition told without the need of repetitive flashbacks. In a somewhat risky move, especially with today’s attention-deficit-disorder generation, Mr. Tarantino allows the characters to interact as naturally as conversation. Conversation, imagine that! And while some of the interaction seemed awkward and forced, we have to be somewhat honest here, isn’t most conversation forced and awkward? Or am I such a recluse that natural conversation seems wholly unnatural? Hmm… MOVING ON! After spending a lengthy, what I found to be quite comfortable, amount of time in the wagon, shooting the breeze and sharing stories of past bounties, nicknames, Lincoln letters, and Civil War exploits, we finally arrive at the crux and final stage of our play…oops, I mean movie. That’s right. We get the wagon. And we get the Haberdashery. No exotic local, no trip around the world, not even a walk downtown. Nope. And why? Django at least trotted across the rural south. And Basterds carved swastikas throughout Germany and France. Well, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is not a wide-birth story, its a story about suspension as well as vengeance. Its a classic “who-done-it” with the added benefit of being a western paranoia story. And one of the best ways to invoke the dread of paranoia is to isolate the cast…and the audience. And there’s another reason too…
My “otherworldly” reference before was a nod at what a few other reviewers have claimed regarding this eighth film by Mr. Quentin Tarantino. And I’ll flat out say it here, people are claiming that THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a homage to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, THE THING. When I heard this floating around the web, it pretty much sealed the deal. I was going to watch this movie. And I’m so glad I did because they were absolutely right. Besides the obvious markers, the opening sequence with the white landscape and snow capped mountain, isolated “cabin” with a male dominate cast, the only woman technically being Daisy Domergue, and I’m not sure if she is really counts as a lady, there are other THE THING identifiers. The biggest and best is the musical score. As advertised in certain cycles, Ennio Morricone gave his all in the fantastic musical score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT, even including unused music from, you may have guessed, THE THING. And its very very noticeable and awesomely chilling, invoking the very essence of paranoia, and filling the audience with the same dread and distrust the characters are struggling with.
Here is a mere sample of the overture:
From here, there’s not much I can reveal without giving away too much. There is a certain level of dark humor to the movie. I found myself laughing several times…though admittedly, looking around in the movie theater, I was the only one. And there was some gore, which I thought played wonderfully with the whole THE THING nod. All the characters were fantastic, all but for one…and he wasn’t entirely terrible either, just didn’t really need to be in there. Michael Madsen makes an appearance through the second half of the movie. He plays the role of John Gage, a rough but silent “cowboy” archetype. And yes, much like in all the roles Madsen plays in Tarantino pictures, he’s a man of few words. And perhaps that’s fitting for a “western” type movie, but I just didn’t see that great of a performance from him…its hard to describe without ruining it. He acts as he always does, its not bad or all that great, I guess…maybe he wasn’t really used as much as he could have been. He seemed pretty much in the background for most of the movie while all the others were for the most part front in center. I had the vibe Madsen was just there because he’s buds with the director…and its sad, because as we know from previous Tarantino films (Reservoir Dogs), he can play a really sinister “man of few words” guy.
Well…in summary, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a fantastic show, well worth the price of admission. For fans of THE THING, this movie needs to be on your “must watch” list. The musical score alone with make you giddy. And if that don’t, then a certain scene involving Kurt Russel, when he says, “One of them fellas is not what he says he is…,” will.
My Review: 5/5
The Thing (1982): 32 year review
When asked what my favorite scary movie is, the geek in me knows there are just too many gory and spooky films to choose from. There are bunches and bunches of awesome horror out there, but,for better or worse, John Carpenters The Thing is one of my all time favorite horror movies. There are few horror movies that I can watch over and over without ever getting bored. Some horror movies are seasonal, such as: Friday the 13th is typically reserved for Friday the 13th’s or anytime during the summer, Halloween is reserved for Halloween, Gremlins is during Christmas, and so on. There is something about The Thing that keeps me coming back. From the opening scene with the space craft crashing into the earths atmosphere, to the seemingly innocent snow dog running from a deranged Norge gunman, and the discovery of the still smoldering Norwegian base camp, the setup reels you in and doesn’t let go. As we watch these scenes progress, we’re given little nibbles of foreshadowing (death, isolation, and an otherworldly discovery in the Arctic tundra) and the ever present somber tone, beautifully captured in the movies main musical score (some of Carpenters best musical scores), all this sets the pace and mood till the final conclusion.
Released during the summer of 1982, Carpenters take on John W Campbell’s novella, “Who goes there?” faced steep competition from other sci-fi releases, including: E.T. and Blade Runner. The Thing held the #8 spot during the summer blockbuster season and garnered some rather harsh criticism for being overtly graphic and agonizingly slow. The Thing presented a message that just was publicly receptive at the time. As George Romero has commented on the film, it was an era when we had little trust for those around us and ourselves; however, The Thing has since grown in popularity (mostly with horror geeks) and through the decades has established an impressive cult following. What Carpenter once called his “biggest regret” has now been named amongest the best in science fiction and one of the scariest movies in horror. This proves again how inconsequential box office rating are compared to how good a horror movie really is. In my eyes, The Thing could have eaten that nerd E.T. and assimilated Rick Deckard; however, apparently The Thing was a creature before its time.
Instead of going through the movie, giving away key plot develops that you could be discovering for yourself, i’ll go through the parts of the movie that impressed me the most. The Thing, as I see it, is one of the best science fiction horror films ever to grace cinema. The only other contender is Dead Space, a game which is fundamentally similar to The Thing, but hasn’t yet been made into a live action movie…not yet at least…and since we’re on the subject, who could pull off a Dead Space film other than John the master of horror Carpenter? (I know its just an internet rumor, but wouldn’t it be amazing for him to direct Dead Space?) Anyhow, this is all beside the point. Lets get back to the subject at hand. As we discussed in the opening of this review, The Thing comes at us with the perfect setup, the small little bits of information, drawing you in, forcing you to beg the question: What the heck is going on here?!? The best part is how isolated the characters are in the story are. Nothing tops old man winter to make one feel all alone!
And isolation is a classic backdrop for any horror story. Separate you’re characters from the world and odd choices will ensue when conflict rises. The Arctic adds the feeling of vulnerability; in contrast, a swampy humid location would typically coop stories about madness. However, The Thing isn’t so much a story about madness; its more about paranoia. Cut off from outside help characters become forced to take matters in their own hands, making isolation (or closed environments) the best way to heighten the feel of terror.
As far as characters go, John Carpenter could not have picked a better actor to play anti-hero MacReady than Kurt Russel. Other than Escape from New York, Big Trouble in little China, and Star Gate, The Thing is one of my favorite movies with Kurt Russel at the helm. His portrayal as the ruffy, drunk camp pilot, with a keen leadership ability during a crises, was spot on and completely believable. The same could be said regarding the rest of the actors, including both Wilford Brimley and Keith David. Each and every character was perfectly portrayed without the cheesy need of explaining who does what. Unfortunately, many horror movies fail with simplicity. You do not need to explain every single detail; let the story explain who the characters are through their actions. Just a little something to consider whenever you write your next screenplay: less is more.
Reading through some of the old reviews, the one thing that had turned most critics off in the 80’s was the very thing that made this movie a legend, the use of traditional special effects. Oh, and don’t worry, i’m not going to go on a rant here regarding CGI and traditional, but let me just say, comparing the original 1982 with the recent prequel, Carpenter’s will always be better because of his employment of hand crafted monsters, instead of computer simulations. For me, traditional effects are able to gross me out more than CGI; and its all because of the real factor, knowing somewhere out there in some back lot studio garage, these painstakingly crafted Things are still there, waiting to be rediscovered and sold in some Hollywood auction. Call me a horror snob all you want, but can you honestly disagree that when the Norris-Thing’s head started spouting spider legs, the sound and image didn’t make you cringe? This memorable scene was an unforgettable moment in horror. Norris has a heart attack, or seems to, and poor doc Copper steps in to save his life, only to lose his…and his arms! The Norris-Thing’s transformation was the second best monster moment in the movie, topped only by the Blair-Thing at the end of the movie.
Despite what others critics have said, the effects do not overpower the story, nor are they over done. The story, etched in paranoia, is still very potent. Well into the second day, folks at the United States National Science Institute Station 4 rapidly become suspicious of each other. The Thing, as they discover, can assimilate any biological life it comes into contact with… “It could be anyone of us…” is a phrase said once or twice around camp. Eyes dart between old friends and anyone acting or doing anything out of the ordinary is called into question. Who is friend and who is foe? Who can I trust? As MacReady told Blair, “Trust is a hard thing to come by these days.”
Not knowing who can be trusted magnificently adds to the feeling of isolation. Who’s got your back if the only person you can trust is yourself? In this respect, Carpenter brought out a lot from Campbell’s original novella, “Who Goes There?” Beside the Norris and Blair-Thing’s, the Bennings-Thing, with its thunderous scream, echoing out into the winter storm, was one of the creepiest moments in The Thing, and an excellent moment of paranoia. The effects were minimal here, there wasn’t much of the monster to see. The scary part was that Bennings was the first –known– member of station 4 to become absorbed by the alien. And as Garry so eloquently pointed out, “Bennings was my friend….I’ve known him for ten years.”
Though this review is without a doubt positive, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie isn’t without its imperfections. There were a few bumps in the story that threw me off. The biggest one was when MacReady and company discover, or assume, the Things plan to go back into hibernation as it waits for the spring rescue crew to arrive. To this, MacReady plans to “heat things up around here,” which I wasn’t sure if he meant to burn the Thing or to heat up the camp so that it couldn’t go into hibernation…see where i’m going? Their in the antarctic, the fire will eventually extinguish and the Thing will still be able to hibernate. However, if you’ve been following our heroes development through the movie, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that MacReady isn’t really thinking straight, he’s sleep deprived and extremely paranoid. Endings can be the hardest part in a story to pull off without upsetting the audience. Everyone has an opinion. And though MacReady’s plan didn’t quite make sense to me, it was still an excellent and believable ending. They know their going to die, they just want to ensure the Thing dies with them.
The bottom line: The Thing is obviously a favorite. My review is glowing. The Thing is a favorite not only because of my love for the 1980’s or John Carpenter flicks, but because of its sheer intensity as a horror movie in general. Every aspect of this movie screams horror: a movie thriving on classic macabre motifs (isolation and paranoia) to deliver something uniquely chilling, which is: Who can we trust? If you are a true horror fan, of any caliber, you really need to watch this movie. Some folks may argue and say Halloween or Prince of Darkness was Carpenter’s best work; however, it is my humble opinion that The Thing was Carpenter’s best. The only hiccup in the story, for me at least — other folks may spend countless hours trying figure out and make sense of every single thing said, which is pointless — was MacReady’s plan at the end of the movie. However, sometimes these imperfections can actually make the story more believable and besides, isn’t the point of horror for its characters to make dumb decisions that do not always work out in the end and they have to do something different to save the day or fail doing so because of said dumb decision? Sure, The Thing wasn’t a box office success, but who cares? Since the 80’s, The Thing has become enshrined as one of the most important horror-sci-fi films with one of the longest lasting shelf life any film can hope to accomplish, which is to say, timeless. And regardless of what some critics are saying, The Thing was not a remake of the 1951 classic film The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s take was actually more true to the original novella that spawned both movies. However, Carpenter being the classy guy that he is, payed tribute to Christian Nyby’s film with a few added easter eggs.
So, however you can, either buying it, renting it, borrowing it, or streaming it, watch this movie! You will NOT be disappointed.