Monster Movie Mash – Part One
No matter how many horror movies you’ve seen, there is always one you missed. To celebrate Halloween this year, Team Unwinnable sought out the monster movies they haven’t seen to find out if they are as good as everyone says…
It is the deep, dark open secret within Team Unwinnable. It has followed me – haunted me – for nearly a year. It has been so identified with me that it is almost an inside joke with my fellow contributors, and Stu likes to say that it’s only through his magnanimous beneficence that I am still here despite it.
Until this week, I had never seen The Thing.
To be honest, I never wanted to see it in the first place, simply because I don’t like horror films. Hell, I’m not even all that crazy about Halloween. I rarely dress in costume (but I did win the office costume contest last year dressed as one of the Hanson brothers from Slap Shot), I don’t answer the door for trick-or-treaters (a convenient excuse not to buy candy), and I sure as hell don’t watch horror movies. And, yes, I wrote that piece last year about the soundtracks of Dario Argento’s films, but that’s only because I like Goblin. Of all the things to look forward to in October, Halloween ranks below Canadian Thanksgiving for me, and I’m not Canadian. So, it’s in that spirit that I sat down with my Netflix subscription and watched Kurt Russell’s ridiculous facial hair.
SPOILER WARNING: This movie is almost 30 years old. I have friends younger than the movie. And I have to assume that if you’re interested enough in geek culture you’ve already seen it.
First, what I liked: For the most part, the visual effects were appropriately grotesque for a horror movie. There’s something to be said for the pre-CGI era, and I have to believe that a computer-generated version of Blair-Thing at the end would be less disgusting than the puppet. The spider-like Norris-Thing, though, just looked silly, which is a shame because its birth – Norris’ head slowly disengaging itself from the body – had serious potential. But for the most part, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston did a fantastic job, culminating in the moment where Palmer-Thing attacks and kills Windows.
I also thought that Ennio Morricone’s music for the film was almost perfect in creating a sense of dread. The droning single notes that make up the opening and closing titles reminded me a bit of the soundtrack to the classic Intellivision game Night Stalker. Sadly, Morricone’s score is long out of print, but if any reader has a spare $1300 lying around and wants to buy it off Amazon, more power to you.
Now on to what I didn’t like. The characters all seemed to be drawn with very broad strokes, and as a result there was limited development. MacReady is a grizzled and bitter alcoholic. Nauls is comic relief. Childs is the angry black man. Garry is the ineffectual leader. Windows is a stoner. And Blair is, well, an alien. The rest of the cast seemed to be a faceless collection of researchers, so there really wasn’t much to make me care about any of them until some of them met their untimely ends. Couple that with snail-like pacing, and about an hour into the movie I had to fight the urge to just look up the plot summary on Wikipedia and whip up a review based on that. I’m astounded that this is given the “classic” treatment by so many people, and its ranking on the IMDB Top 250 (#170 as of this writing) boggles my mind. This is hardly The Shining, a movie I found scarier, better acted, and better directed. Of course, there’s a world of difference between Carpenter and Stanley Kubrick, and Russell and Jack Nicholson.
Utimately, I came away from The Thing with a slightly better opinion of it than, say, In The Mouth of Madness, the only other Carpenter horror film I’ve seen, and a movie I found to be over the top in its ridiculousness. This hasn’t ruined my opinion of Carpenter at all – I still rate Big Trouble In Little China and They Live as good films – but I don’t expect that I’ll make my way through any of his other horror films any time soon.
Don also doesn’t see himself checking out the recently released prequel, no matter how cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead may be. Follow him @UnwinnableDonB.
Tune in tomorrow for Dave Trainer on [REC], Olivia Davis on Prince of Darkness and Erik Weinbrecht on Freaks!