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From Under A Rock: The Thing

October 7, 2017 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
The Thing
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From Under A Rock: The Thing  


Over the past 5 years or so, I (Michael) have made a concerted effort to watch more horror movies, seeing as the genre had more or less escaped me growing up. I consider my conquest to see all the great classic horror out there a righting of past wrongs, for lack of a better term, and this adventure has given me some of my favorite films. This week’s pick is one of the classic horror films that really resonated with me and stands tall in genre.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron chose The Artist. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock to show him The Thing.

The Thing
Released: June 25th, 1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster (Story by John W. Campbell)
Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady
Keith David as Childs
Wilford Brimley as Dr. Blair

Michael Ornelas: I remember watching this a few years back in October when I was watching 31 horror movies in 31 days. This and Let the Right One In were the two that stuck with me the most from that month, and we’ve already reviewed the latter.

Aaron Hubbard: John Carpenter is certainly an interesting filmmaker. He’s cited the box office failure of this film as a reason he never got out of smaller, B-Movie productions like Big Trouble in Little China or They Live. So I guess in some ways I’m glad it bombed.
Practical Effects Rule Everything Around Me
Michael: I really miss the pre-CGI era, where you had no other choice but to do things practically. This sole reason is why horror’s golden age was before CGI, and why horror films largely sucked from 2000 to now (although there seems to be a little bit of a renaissance with practical effects and good horror films coming out a couple times a year). The Thing was a disgusting gorefest, but those effects were a sight to behold. As someone who wants to direct a horror film one day, I will watch this movie to take notes, because right from jump street, these effects are amazing. The big nasty dog-thing stuck out in particular.

Aaron: I actually vehemently disagree that horror’s golden age was in this era; to me the golden age is now. I’ll also go on the record and say the monstrous Cronenberg-like practical effects monsters do nothing to scare me. I admire the effort, but for me the Thing was a lot scarier when it was hiding. But that’s just personal taste and I’m sure other viewers are frightened or at least grossed out by that sort of thing. And I agree about your point on practical effects; tangibility and innovation are lost qualities in the CGI-saturated era.

Michael: I guess my admiration for the effects doesn’t come from a place of them being “scary” — I love the horror genre but outside of being startled, I’m almost never scared. It’s the stories told and oftentimes the allegories behind them that tend to resonate with me. The special effects are just a feat in filmmaking that I appreciate.
Cold War Paranoia
Aaron: Horror films usually use their gimmick to deal with some form of social anxiety. Dracula personifies the sexual fears of the era, The Exorcist deals with the fear of God losing his influence on society in the 1970s, The Babadook deals with mental illness and parenting problem children. The Thing is set firmly in Cold War paranoia: you can’t trust anyone, because anyone could be a Commie monster out to kill you. If you don’t, the world may end. Watching this band of humans be their own worst enemy and eventually find common ground struck me most strongly. Carpenter often gravitated towards films with a political bent and it stood out to me here.

Michael: You hit the nail on the head with all of that. It mixed the “other” with the familiar very well. One of my favorite stunts showed something that we all have inside us, blood, and reminded us that we all look the same, and that you have to really pry to get the truth. In this instance, it was introducing heat. If you put the heat on something, it’ll crack and reveal itself to be different. Then once you know it’s different, LIGHT IT ON FIRE!! Okay…so if interpreted wrong, this movie is very xenophobic, but you get the point.

Aaron: That escalated quickly. Something else than might be more terrifying is that the book this was adapted from was already made into a film; 1951’s The Thing From Another World. Both films deal with some degree of cold war paranoia, despite over thirty years between them. That’s a frightening idea in and of itself. But I also think that looking at the two and how they are similar or different would be a worthwhile exercise.
Does Horror Have to Be Scary?
Michael: I’ve had the debate with my friends about whether or not you have to laugh at something for it to be considered comedy, and after what you said in the first section, I’d actually love to get into this with you regarding horror. I don’t think horror has any responsibility to legitimately frighten you. I understand that I’m harder to scare than a lot of people (and I know some lightweights who won’t go near a movie just based off its box/poster art), but since I’m in that position, I still really appreciate the horror genre. What makes a film “horror”? If it’s not defined by scaring me, I’d actually call horror the genre that uses allegory or metaphor to make a comment about the state of the world, oftentimes criticizing a problem without dealing with it directly.

Aaron: I suppose I would probably say “No”, but the best ones do. Not with jump scares or bloody murders, but by how the film sticks with you. I recently argued that It is a deeply effective horror film because it targets the various ways that we are isolated and bullied. The clown isn’t scary, but the reason he is able to prey on you is. Similarly, It Follows isn’t scary because of the monster, but because it represents the inevitability of death catching up to you. To me, the best horror films are the ones that make us think, confront and hopefully overcome our real life fears. Which is not wholly unique to horror; science fiction, fantasy and surprisingly, comedy, can all use their mediums to accomplish this.

Michael: I agree that those are all scary ideas, and certainly dark, but again, they don’t actively scare me. They make me think and at the end of the day, that’s all I really want from a story. Something devoid of plot holes, chock full of interesting ideas, and characters I can dig my teeth into. I think The Thing accomplished that on all fronts.

Aaron: I really dug this film, although I think some slightly better characterization could have pushed it to being a genuine classic. That said, aside from Alien, this might be the best sci-fi horror I’ve ever watched.


Michael: This actually reminded me a lot of Alien, but if it took place on Hoth. I loved the practical effects, the story, the paranoia, and Kurt Russell. I agree about the characterization, but I liked it a bit more than you did I think. The atmosphere of this film is unforgettable and that’s enough to make it a classic for me.


Aaron: Imagine if Tauntauns had mouth heads.

Michael: Omg. Now that just scared me. Good job!

Does horror have to scare you to be good?

Next week:

Aaron: Next week we are keeping in the spirit of the season, but in a very different direction.
Little Shop
Michael: Is this the one with Rick Moranis? I’ve seen this before as a musical, but never the movie. Seems fun!

Aaron: Yeah, Rick Moranis is great in this. If you’re familiar with the play you’ll love the special effects in this.

What is your favorite horror or quirky musical?

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The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Few directors do B-Movies quite like John Carpenter. The Thing is a wonderful little sci-fi horror gem with great Carpenter standbys like Kurt Russell and Keith David in key roles. It's got gory practical effects, high stakes, a bit of political terror, and a lot of fun. Recommended for fans of sci-fi or horror.