Film Review: The Thing (1982)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Thing (complete title)
Release Date: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Based on: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joe Polis, Thomas G. Waites, Adrienne Barbeau (voice, uncredited), John Carpenter (cameo, uncredited)

Turman-Foster Company, Universal Pictures, 109 Minutes, 127 Minutes (extended VHS cut)

Review:

“We’re gonna draw a little bit of everybody’s blood… ’cause we’re gonna find out who’s The Thing. Watchin’ Norris in there gave me the idea that… maybe every part of him was a whole, every little piece was an individual animal with a built-in desire to protect its own life. Ya see, when a man bleeds, it’s just tissue, but blood from one of you Things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive… crawl away from a hot needle, say.” – MacReady

Horror has been my thing since I was a young kid. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up in the ’80s, a great decade for horror movies because of the directors, the VHS market and the variance in horror styles from body horror, slashers and the supernatural. But I think, most importantly, credit has to be given to the style of the special effects, which were still practical and real, as CGI hadn’t taken over and turned everything into a digital world that doesn’t allow you to be as immersed in the horror on screen.

That being said, I didn’t actually see The Thing until I was a teenager in the mid-’90s when I worked at a video store. I was a John Carpenter fan but I didn’t know much about this film till later. I was inspired to watch it based off of some photos of the production and its monster in an old issue of Fangoria that I was flipping through. It looked like nothing I had seen before and I had to borrow it from the store and take it home for the night. That night ended up being a week.

What resulted from that was me becoming a die hard fan of this film and frankly, for me, it is the greatest horror movie ever made for several reasons, all of which I’ll get into.

To start, I’ve never been scared of horror. I actually find more terror in things that can harm me in a real world scenario. For instance, the Night Slasher and his cult-like gang from Sylvester Stallone’s Cobra was scarier to me than Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which I see as a masterpiece, never scared me even though it was freaky as hell and fucked up. Well, the naked old lady with rotting skin kind of screwed me up for awhile but that’s also because I was maybe a few years older than Danny in the movie when I first saw it.

Anyway, The Thing terrified me, even as a teen. Sure, it doesn’t feel like something that is realistically plausible but it tapped into something primal, as it is about something you never fully understand that can come at you in incalculable ways without you realizing it until you’re ensnared by it. There is just something absolutely dreadful about that and John Carpenter with great help from the stupendous special effects team and the actors was able to crack through my pretty tough exterior and scare the shit out of me. And as a first time watcher of this film, it caught me by surprise and I immediately fell in love with the picture because it made me feel things that I typically don’t from movies.

This brings me to the special effects themselves, as well as the creature. This monster is one of the best, if not the best, ever created for the screen. The imagination that went into the execution of its various, altering physical forms still blows my mind all these years later. I’ve seen this movie a dozen times over and I’m still left breathless in a lot of the key monster scenes. I have also watched special effects films my entire life, especially those from this era, my favorite for this sort of thing, and I don’t know how some of the shots were achieved.

Adding to the horror of the bizarre creature is the horror of human paranoia. As the movie progresses, every character becomes an island unto themselves unable to trust the other men whom they’ve been holed up with at a science research facility in Antarctica for months. What was once a brotherly bond between these men becomes a fight for individual survival against those you considered your friends and colleagues. This is just as much a psychological horror film as it is a physical one. Maybe even more so.

Also, the setting of the film multiplies the dread, as it feels unfamiliar and isolated, which it is. But it immediately sets up a situation where you know that no one can come to help and for better or worse, these men have to figure out this problem on their own with limited resources, limited knowledge and while constantly having to look over their shoulders because anyone or anything could violently kill them at the drop of a hat.

There are so many layers to the horror in this picture that it feels overwhelming, which makes it damn effective. But it also makes for a film that is incredibly intense, especially in the final act, which starts with an insane attack by the creature and culminates in several men tied to chairs as their blood is tested in an effort to figure out who’s been replaced by this “thing”. And all of that comes to a head in a big showdown but even then, we’re left unsure as to what’s what.

The Thing ends brilliantly, as it doesn’t really give you any answers and the two that survive are left in a situation where one of them could still be the creature but it doesn’t even really matter because their time is limited regardless of what happens next.

It’s a perfect ending to a perfect movie though.

When other people talk about this film, they always go on about the monster and how visually fucked up the movie is. But I don’t think enough credit goes to the cast.

The Thing is stacked with talent from Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and a half dozen other very capable actors. All of the key players have good chemistry and watching their camaraderie dissolve over the course of the movie is troubling and convincing.

Ennio Morricone’s score is also prefect here and what’s really strange about it is that it sounds like a Carpenter score, which is fitting. But it also makes me wonder why Carpenter used Morricone when he usually scores his own movies. While I absolutely love the atmospheric sounds of the score, it’s not typical of Morricone’s style and it just makes me wonder if Carpenter just wanted to collaborate with him because he’s a fucking legend.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is, in my opinion, one of the greatest motion pictures ever made. Horror doesn’t get any respect from the weirdos in Hollywood but I’d put this against most Academy Award winning films because the vast majority of them can’t get into your head like The Thing, despite what genre any of them are.

Those weirdos can keep The Shape of Water because I’d watch The Thing a hundred more times before ever going back for seconds on that pro-bestiality fish fuck movie.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of what Carpenter calls his Apocalypse TrilogyPrince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness, as well as other body horror movies of the era like The Fly and David Cronenberg’s early films.

Film Review: The Ewok Film Series (1984-1985)

I really liked the Ewok films when I was a kid. I didn’t even care that there weren’t lightsabers and Star Destroyers.

So how would I feel about it as a 38 year-old adult? And right after watching the six theatrical Star Wars films again? Review on those, coming shortly.

Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984):

Release Date: November 25th, 1984
Directed by: John Korty
Written by: George Lucas, Bob Carrau
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Eric Walker, Warwick Davis, Fionnula Flanagan, Guy Boyd, Aubree Miller, Burl Ives (narrator)

Lucasfilm Ltd., Korty Films, Walt Disney, 97 Minutes

Review:

“A rock? These little bears are nuts!” – Mace

These were television movies and they were unlike all the other Star Wars films before them. These took place entirely on the Forest Moon of Endor and were about the Ewoks who live there. According to various sources, they take place just before the events of Return of the Jedi. Which is strange, considering the Ewoks meet humans and Wicket can speak basic (or English) and then in Return of the Jedi, they try to barbecue humans and then can’t speak a lick of basic. Also, there is no Imperial presence or half-built Death Star in the sky. Let’s ignore those details however.

These movies didn’t hold up in regards to special effects. There is a lot of really outdated stop motion. This is mostly used while the heroes are fighting big creatures but it is a definite step down in quality from the theatrical films. I can’t hold that against these movies though, as they were made for television and had a very limited budget compared to the bigger films before them.

Caravan of Courage is still pretty easy to watch and it is entertaining. It makes the Ewoks more relatable and it delves into their culture more than their limited presence in Return of the Jedi. It also expands everything you think you know about Endor. It is more vast than what you can take away from Return of the Jedi. And these films’ existence, is probably why I don’t dislike the Ewoks in Jedi when so many other fans do. Caravan of Courage succeeded in making the Ewoks more than just space teddy bears.

In this film, the story follows Mace and Cindil, who are shipwrecked on Endor. They meet the Ewoks and enlist their help in trying to track down their missing parents. There are challenges every step of the way. There is also a lot of use of magic, which makes these films feel more like Tolkien than Lucas but in a galaxy with the Force, is it really that implausible? Besides, I don’t think that these are considered canon anymore, after Disney bought the franchise.

Caravan of Courage is a heartwarming movie, it plays pretty quickly at 94 minutes and is full of enough adventure to keep you engaged.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.

Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985):

Release Date: November 24th, 1985
Directed by: Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat
Written by: George Lucas, Jim Wheat, Kim Wheat
Music by: Peter Bernstein
Cast: Wilford Brimley, Warwick Davis, Aubree Miller, Paul Gleason, Carel Struycken, Niki Botelho, Eric Walker, Sian Phillips

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 94 Minutes

Review:

“Star cruiser… crash, crash!” – Wicket

The second movie is the better of the two. It also brings in more characters and is lead by Wilford Brimley, most known for Cocoon, The Thing, Our House and commercials about oatmeal and “DIABEETUS!”

Where the first film relied on narration to talk about the Ewoks, this chapter quickly pulls the other Ewoks out and focuses on Wicket, who can speak basic very well. It makes the interractions between Cindil and Wicket more direct.

In this movie, Cindil’s entire family is killed by barbaric marauders and the Ewoks are captured. Wicket and Cindil escape, meet Teek (a speedy alien) and a grumpy old man named Noa. Together they go on to rescue the Ewoks and save the day, conquering the evil space barbarians and a witch that can turn into a bird.

Okay, the summary sounds ridiculous but it works for the film.

This movie is just better than the first in that it starts off treading some dark territory but evolves into a film about friendship, love and compassion. It brings together strangers and shows just how broad “family” can be.

Also, Wicket isn’t just a child Ewok in this movie, he is actually pretty bad ass.

The direction was good, the acting improved, the sets were better, the world was bigger and the score was really good for not being done by John Williams.

Yes, these films feel dated but who cares? Both are still pretty watchable and one could argue that they are better than the Prequel Trilogy. I’m not the one to argue that, I’m just saying one could.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Ewok movie and the original Star Wars trilogy of films.