In 1982, John Carpenter, the mind behind horror classics such as Halloween and Escape From New York, directed The Thing, a film based on John W. Campbell Jr.ís short story ďWho Goes There?Ē The movie bombed, partially because it hit theaters only a couple weeks after Steven Spielbergís E.T. -- really, how could it compete with a lovable, misunderstood, snotty puppet with a love of Reeseís Pieces? Critics and viewers saw too many similarities between The Thing and Ridley Scottís Alien, released a couple years prior. Conspiracy theorists hypothesized that it didnít star Kurt Russell at all -- just Sigourney Weaver in a frosty beard.
And all of this turned The Thing into a cult classic.
Carpenterís film wasnít the first adaptation of Campbell Jr.ís story -- in 1951, Christian Nyby directed The Thing From Another World, which was much milder, in an Ed Wood thrash-in-the-water-with-a-giant-octopus-puppet kind of way -- nor would it be the last. Inevitably, modern-day Hollywood went down its remake checklist, found that The Thingís turn had come, and decided to make a prequel (probably in order to lessen the amount of incoming hate mail), which was released last Friday, Oct. 14.
The difficultly named Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr., takes the directorís chair, with Mary Elizabeth Winstead as our leading lady. After a frustrating half hour of trying to remember where Iíd seen her before, I realized that she played Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; it was somewhat of a leap to see her with non-crayon-colored hair and wielding a flamethrower instead of a large video game hammer.
As the backstory to the original film, the prequel features a gaggle of Norwegian researchers who discover an alien life form and its nearby ship buried beneath layers of ice. (At this point, I was wary because Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull started out sort of the same way, and it was all Shia-Labeouf-dressed-as-Marlon-Brando-Galadriel-fighting-giant-ants downhill from there.) Like all good horror movie dopes, the crew in The Thing digs up the alien in a block of ice, prods it with sharp things, and leaves it unsupervised to melt. You get where this is going: alien ravages camp; alien kills people and assumes their identities; paranoia runs rampant. The movie diligently ends where the original begins: with a crazed Norwegian in a helicopter trying to shoot a dog.
I must admit, I am not the biggest Carpenter fan. I didnít like Halloween, as I spent the movie annoyed at Jamie Lee Curtisí incompetence and correlating Donald Pleasance with The Pumaman. So Iím not the right person to indignantly sputter at how the prequel butchers the original; it was certainly entertaining enough, and the gore factor was there, for those who enjoy that sort of thing (and not eating). The minds behind the film paid great attention to detail in matching The Thingís story and events, down to the axe embedded in the wall at the Norwegian camp. Unfortunately, while aspects of authenticity took precedence, the character development, dialogue, and story did not.
One of the biggest disappointments of this new prequel -- and one of the biggest differences between it and the older version -- is the monster effects. In 1982, Hollywood was really vamping it up (horror movie pun intended) with the special effects. Films like Planet of the Apes, An American Werewolf in London, and even Evil Dead all made their supernatural elements look realistic and not laughably goofy. Whether you enjoy the original The Thing or not, you canít deny that the amount of puppeteering and man-made effects (like the prop guy waggling tentacles around off-screen) gives the monster a visceral presence in the film that modern-day CGI just cannot replicate.
The original The Thing is an almost-mandatory part of the Halloween movie playlist. As for the 2011 prequel, itís a safe bet to save $13 and wait for Redbox. Iím hoping that next time, Hollywood will leave this franchise alone and get back to the basics in horror movies, like Halloween 35: Michael Myers vs. Freddy vs. Shia Labeouf.
Share your favorite Halloween movies in the comments. Check back to TNGG Boston all week for Halloween-themed posts!
About Nathalie -- Nathalie grew up in a small town in Maine. As was tradition in her region, she saddled up her moose when she came of age and journeyed to Boston, where she attended Massachusetts College of Art and Design. There, she learned a variety of skills in the arts, majoring in 3-D glass and animation. She currently lives in the city with her collection of plants and spoons, and she likes it that way.
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