Written by author, Sonia Marcon
A fan of horror/action films cannot be a true fan if they aren’t accustomed to John Carpenter. This is the man who brought to life such films as Halloween (who doesn’t know the fearsome Michael Myers?), Escape from New York and Christine and his remake of The Thing From Outer Space (popularly known as The Thing) doesn’t disappoint. Carpenter has a talent for creating horrific characters of such originality that if you paused the film, in order to see the monster in detail, you’d either never sleep again or you’d go insane. That, to me, is an epic feat when deciding how your creatures will look in order to cause the most distress. Being scary is one thing. Causing discomfort, confusion and uncertainty by visual means alone is a whole other talent.
There is something I find quite special about a film that directly aims itself at a collection of viewers by what is shown in the opening scene, even when the rest of the film could be looked at and taken in a completely different light. An example of this can be found in the film Predator. The first shot is of a small space vessel plummeting to Earth, which is then followed by the cast of characters heading into a war zone on a diplomatic mission of sorts. It has nothing to do with creatures from space so, as a viewer; you are not expected to be really interested as to why a group of marines is heading into South America on a reconnaissance mission, because you know from the opening shot that the premise of the film revolves around an alien. The first shot of the film is there to make you look forward to the alien. It’s just a shame when the rest of the film, which has nothing to do with the alien, is much more interesting. This is not the case with Predator but it is the case, in my opinion, with The Thing.
The first scene of The Thing, after the opening shot of a space vessel plummeting to Earth, involves a dog being pursued and shot at by men in a helicopter. If the audience was not assuming that everything in this film is directly linked or is a lead up to an alien then a dog being chased by a helicopter is utterly creepy. It still is a wonderfully creepy scene but if the viewer had no idea that aliens were involved then the scene would be creepy as well as pleasantly confusing. With the opening shot of a space vessel, the viewer is just waiting for the alien to turn up instead of being interested in the characters and what is going on. That said, the scene still holds much merit and seeing that it is Monster Awareness Month then I don’t feel I should rag on this film for not being something that I want it to be but rather enjoy the film for what it is. The Thing is ultimately a horror flick so I will do my best to regard it as such.
A mistake in the first scene that, I think, The Thing makes is the assumption that everyone likes dogs. The viewer is truly meant to feel sorry for the dog and believe that the arrival of the dog to the band of scientists in the snow is a nice thing, mostly because dogs are thought of as good, loyal companions. Therefore, it would come as quite a shock when this is not the case. Or it would if you did not have an indescribable fear of dogs and so feel no compassion for the creatures. This isn’t the case with me but being in contact with someone who really cannot feel any kind of empathy for the dog being chased by a helicopter in the film makes me realise that if you did not care for the dog then the whole point of the films beginning would be moot. This leads onto a point that I think works very much in the film’s favour, which is its sense of realism. The characters in The Thing are very believable for the situation they are in. Even though it is a film about a shape shifting alien, the behaviour of the characters makes the viewer feel very involved. This is helped by the fact that the alien creature does not rely on computer graphics in the same way as monsters in recent films do.
Another thing that helps this sense of realism is that the film feels like it moves in real time. As the characters discover new things, so does the viewer. This makes the viewer feel, I think, more involved, especially seeing that there is little to no CG used. The gore and horror of The Thing seems very tactile because the actors are actually handling the monster, as seen when a spawn of the alien is autopsied. The characters’ behaviour is also very realistic by the way they question what is happening in a disbelieving manner, much like a real person would if they were there. This is evident in the scene where all the characters are getting tested to see who’s been taken over by the alien monster and who’s not. I think it’s very believable to disbelieve every piece of evidence put before you, when the situation you are in is unbelievable. Make sense? Good.
The Thing works well as a horror/monster film because it uses the most appropriate “scary character” possible, which is an extra-terrestrial. People, in general, are frightened by the unknown, and when it’s an unknown creature that lives by “taking over” other (Earthly) living things, then that is a recipe for a successful monster flick. This film really does do it alright, from the setting to the actors to the situations. The pace of the film does not leave the viewer feeling unattended but rather included in the characters’ struggles. For me, this film is more interesting than scary, and that suits me just fine.