Director - John Carpenter
So I had taken out 3 films from the Library and was planning to watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford... because i was impressed by the lengthy title. However it skipped and jumped and leapt like a professional ballet dancer. Only with considerably less grace....
I will try and find a different copy of it somewhere and until then I will move down the pile... to The Thing!
Now you know a film is going to be good with a title like that. Any film where they can't specify what the threat is is bound to be brilliant. Them!, The Stuff - they evoke that marvellous sense of B Movie nonsense. However, this film is very different from the promises made by the ridiculous title and the pulpy sci-fi title sequence where a spaceship crashes to Earth.
After the title sequence, the film focuses less on the Alien. It instead seems to use the appearance of the Alien to explore the paranoia and cabin fever which grips the group within their isolated base. The film is more interested in the character developments and the alien sort of pops up every now and again to kill people in hilarious ways...
Let us discuss the Alien. The Thing, so to speak. Although this is a very dark, very bleak horror film, the sequences with the Alien are comedy gold. This does not include the first Alien appearance where a dog essentially turns itself inside out and sprouts tentacles and faces. I have gotten slightly obsessed in recent weeks with Fallout 3 on the Xbox and seem to be spending long hours wandering through post apocalyptic DC getting all jumpy and shooting big monsters and mutants to death. With lasers. Maybe I had it slightly on the mind, because slimy tentacle inside out dog made me think of The Centaurs, which are weird radioactive monsters which feature in the game. Despite getting used to that kind of monster, the first Alien transformation sequence is pretty horrific, and a very impressive use of 1983's special effects. Especially if we compare them to the shit ones in Big Trouble in Little China... which I have mentioned before in this blog.
Once you have survived the horrific dog mutilation, there is the sublime ridiculousness of the Thing's other appearances, the Thing certainly has a sense of the dramatic. And a rather surreal sense of humour. Let me list my favourites, in some sort of descending order.
- When Windows is revealed to be the Thing, his head opens up in the middle like a Venus Flytrap and bites the head of one of his attackers.
- When doing a Blood test, Kurt Russell's MacReady drops a hot piece of metal into a petri-dish, only for the blood to scream and make a leap for freedom.
- When attempting to defibrillate one of their dead colleagues (who's name I can't remember....), the chest opens up to reveal a mouth full of huge jagged teeth which bite off the doctor's hands.
- And finally.... The best Thing moment (and one of the most famous moments), the head of one of the Alien's victims falls off, grows legs, and scampers of squealing. It is utterly ridiculous and brilliant.
Whilst not being the central theme of the film, the Thing is certainly the star and the most entertaining character in the film. Although a close second is T K Carter's character of Nauls the chef, a jive talking, rollerskating chef who is endearingly and almost rascistly of his time as a stereotypical wise talking black man. But I think that's what makes him such an endearing and hilarious character (and it is sad when he wanders off... and, one would assume, dies).
The other characters to talk about are Wilford Brimley's Dr Blair who realises the devastating damage the Alien could cause and becomes paranoid and essentially insane. He spends the majority of the film in a tool shed where he toys with a noose and attempts to build his own space craft.
And finally... Kurt Russell with his character of MacReady. This is the kind of character that I see Kurt Russell as, the grizzled loner who doesn't give a shit and who doesn't play by the rules. We know about these character traits from the off.. because the first time we see him he is alone in his room (oooh what a loner) who loses a game of chess to his computer and repays it by pouring bourbon into it (oooh what a rebel). Even his character is not the obvious hero though, this is not your standard horror film, and the characters are far, far more flawed than the average list of horror victims. After taking control of the group (by force I should add) he becomes more paranoid that the group are trying to kill him, ending up shooting one of the group (a HUMAN I should add) in the head...
By the end when we are unsure who is human and who is Alien, he finally realises the futility of his paranoia and drinks his whiskey, awaiting death from the bitter, bitter cold as the station burns down around him. It is a very very bleak ending as both survivor eyes up the other trying to figure out if they are the Alien. We are never given any answers and the film ends with two people waiting to die so that the Alien virus can't spread....
Burning, is an important theme it seems. It is the answer to everything. "Quick" people say "Burn him. Burn him" - It is like we're hunting witches in medieval England or something. But the best way to kill the Thing is to Burn it up. Burn it right up. I just wanted to say that I found it very strange that whilst Windows was being thoroughly burninated he emitted little sex cries. But they sounded like the sex cries of a lady... I think my mind may have been wandering at this point but it did make me see the Alien in a whole new light.
I am aware that I have spoken a lot about the cast, but that is the important thing about this film. It is a group of people in an isolated community, so the cast at the start of the film are the cast for the entire film. With the exception of a Norwegian guy who gets shot (and that reminds me.... if a Norwegian helicopter flew into your camp trying to shoot a fleeing dog, would you kill the pilot and keep the dog? Seems a bit short sighted to me!) the rest of the cast is solely the 12 members of the research centre... so you are almost forced to relate and form relationships with them, due to the lack of other people to distract you. Then, once you have made your bonds and connections, they gleefully kill them all off.....
The most confusing aspect of the cast was that I spent the whole thing trying to work out where I knew Palmer from. Then IMDB helped me out by telling me he was also in Being There... which was the last film I had seen.
My memory is appalling.