Movies With T.O.I.L. (the one I love)
John Carpenter's The Thing
By John Hamann
November 4, 2004

Our luggage is in there somewhere....

Welcome to my new column at Box Office Prophets, Movies With TOIL (the one I love), where I review a movie the two of us have watched together. TOIL and I have just been married, so we’re newlyweds who can still agree on a movie.

This week we purchased a few DVDs, including the Collector’s Edition of John Carpenter’s The Thing. TOIL loves horror movies, while I’m more of a sci-fi guy, so this one works great for both of us. The Collector’s Edition features commentary by Carpenter and Kurt Russell, a beautiful 5.1 Soundtrack, and a crisp, digitally re-mastered picture. The last time I saw The Thing was about a year ago; TOIL hadn’t seen it for about ten years, so she was quite excited to have a repeat viewing. Leftover Halloween candy in hand, we flicked on the Surround Sound and let it happen.

For those who don’t know (shame on you), The Thing is John Carpenter’s classic horror tale about an Antarctic science camp that’s invaded by outsiders. The outsiders in this case are not from our planet, and as our cast of heroes finds out, are extremely troublesome as they can switch hosts easily. The ensemble cast is excellent and includes Kurt Russell, a creepy Wilford Brimley, and the always fun Keith David (Pitch Black, Requiem For a Dream). The real stars, though, are not on the screen, they are behind the camera. Names like Stan Winston and Rob Bottin pop up, both known for effects and makeup on such films as Fight Club, Return of the Jedi, Edward Scissorhands, and Aliens. Directed with reckless abandon by John Carpenter, reviews when the film came out were mostly negative. In 1982, this was a different type of movie – the monsters were on display, not hidden in the dark. Critics also didn’t like the lack of character development, and an ending that left a few questions remaining. However this is a film that has a ton of scares, isn’t a ‘check your brain at the door’ type of movie, and is a great vehicle for Kurt Russell. After the film was released, a cult following erupted, and The Thing came in at number 16 on BOP’s fantastic Top 50 Horror Movies Ever Made list.

As for the new DVD, when the movie started, both TOIL and I were very pleased with the beautiful widescreen picture and surround sound (TOIL loves the surround sound and subwoofer, and we like our movies loud). The Thing has no preamble. It has little character development. The movie starts as oddly as it sounds: Norwegians are chasing a dog in a helicopter, shooting at it and dropping grenades. The chase leads to the American science camp, where the Norwegians perish but the dog survives – let me tell you that hilarity does not ensue. Carpenter only gives us small slices of the camp life before the terror begins. TOIL and I had both seen this movie a number of times between us, but the scares are still there, jolting both of us numerous times. Scenes like the dog changing, checking the blood, Wilford Brimley going nuts – all still brought new thrills. I jumped many times, TOIL isn’t nearly as jumpy as I am. Rob Bottin’s creatures were just as sick and twisted as I remember them; ugly as sin and completely out of this world. Carpenter induces a great a paranoia in his characters through the 'who’s the alien' scenario, which only illicits more scares and jumps from the viewer. The final 15 minutes of the film are really a lot of fun. Too many horror movies these days lose it in the last 15 minutes, as if the writer has run out of ideas as just chooses to put the pen down (I’m looking at you, 28 Days Later). The Thing is just the opposite. Most of the remaining characters are quickly bumped off; however the Wilford Brimley nightmare is just beginning. Rob Bottin’s monster that spawns from Brimley’s Dr. Blair character is truly horrific. The end is great because it doesn’t conclude roundly or happily, much like many other John Carpenter movies (Escape from LA). Kurt Russell and Keith David are left to freeze, with the viewer wondering if the The Thing is really dead, or just re-freezing, resting up to take on the rescue party. Kurt Russell is perfect as the hero in this movie. The Thing is Russell’s third film after breaking off from his child-star image, following Used Cars and Escape From New York.

The DVD is only one disc, but the features are still fantastic. There is a long documentary called John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, with all the important pieces of the film represented – the director, the effects team, and the stars. It covers the launch of the film (Carpenter’s Escape from New York hadn’t been released yet) and finding locations, the shoot, premiere and critical reaction. The disc also contains a couple of extended scenes, although a new happier ending is not included (although it is referred to in the documentary). The disc has a fantastic frame-by-frame on the end-scene monster and the spaceship, and has all the usual production notes, trailer etc. The best part of the disc is the film itself, with the 2:35:1 new transfer and the Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound.

TOIL and I love this movie and the new DVD. It has great scares, a fun story, and great performances. We highly recommend the purchase of the DVD for your collection.