The Thing (1982/2011) Double Bill; or It’s What’s Inside that Counts

MacReady_and_Clark_approach_the_kennels_-_The_Thing_(1982).pngHello and Hallo-welcome to Two-fer Tuesdays, where you get two films for the price of one! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they suit up, fondle their flamethrowers and eye each other suspiciously.

Today’s film offerings: The Thing (1982) / The Thing (2011)

Andy: Lilly and I generally have similar tastes in horror. Ask us to name our top five found footage movies, and there will be considerable crossover. Classic Universal and Hammer really float both our boats. But occasionally there are … fault lines.

Lilly: Big ones. Gaping chasms, if you will.

For general ease, we’re going to be calling these Thing 1 and Thing 2. Or is that for my general amusement? Either way.

Andy: And of course, Thing 2 released in 2011 was actually a prequel to Thing 1, released in 1982. Neither Thing 1 nor Thing 2 should be confused with The Thing From Another World, released in 1951. All three were loosely based on a John W. Campbell story from 1938 called “Who Goes There?”. Following?

Lilly: God no.

Andy: Anyway, onto the 1982 Thing. Following a short and fatal encounter with two Norwegian men hell bent on blowing up a husky, the men of Station 31 in Antarctica learn that the station the Norwegians originated from had discovered some sort of flying saucer and alien in the ice, but is now a blackened shell and there is a very strange body in the snow outside. Much to their horror, they discover this body may not be entirely dead, and worse still, that the husky may not exactly be a husky.

Soon the true horror dawns on them – this life form is not only aggressive, it is also able to assimilate and perfectly imitate any living organism, including their companions. It is the ultimate paranoid fantasy – what if the man standing next to you was no longer a man, let alone the man you knew? What if you couldn’t trust anyone?

Lilly: Dun dun dunnnnn.

But seriously though! The Thing suddenly becomes this psychological mind game interspersed between scenes of horrific body horror (with disgustingly realistic practical effects) and Kurt Russell yelling. Add in the fact that no one is going anywhere, damn it, which comes with the territory of isolated horror, and boom, you got this nightmare of a scenario.

Andy: It’s pretty much a worst case scenario – add into the mix the fact that it is all but impossible to follow the chain of ‘infection’ as the film progresses and you get this horrible disorienting sense of terror. And of course, it does eventually emerge, either when forced to or when it has some poor bastard cornered, and at that point, some of the most creatively awesome effects in film history happen.

Lilly: Ugh. Yes, they do. And while I can admire how creative and fantastical the effects are, I really could do with never having to see them again ever. I mean, the guy with the neck…Come on. Come. On. But yet so unique. But so gross. But so inspired. But so. Gross. I was scared, and like made physically all squirmy, and while I am a bit of a scaredy cat, the physical feeling of unease The Thing gave me was impressive. I ended up just wanting everyone to be a thing so it could be over with. And it was a different sense of wanting the film finished than if I were bored, or if the film wasn’t all that great. No, it was just wanting some relief from the relentless awful, gross messes that the alien life form created, and props to the creature design people for rolling out all those monstrosities. It was tiring and terrifying at once.

Andy: And if that paragraph doesn’t sell you, it may not be for you. It is one of the last truly great horror movies to come out of the late 70s boom, and if you are fan of horror of any stripe, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie. It is one of the Greats.

Lilly: And now, Thing 2!

Or Thing Before the Thing. Whatever.

Andy: The Thing 2011.

Lilly: Shut up.

The_Thing_in_the_ice_-_The_Thing_(2011).png

The prequel follows the misadventures of a plucky palaeontologist who is invited on a journey south to a mysterious dig at a mysterious Norwegian research base by a mysterious Norwegian. What could go wrong!

See: 1982’s The Thing.

Plucky and her friend head down to meet up with a bunch of Norwegians plus a few Americans so we can all relate to them. Because Americans. They discover that the mysterious dig is mysterious due to the fact that it’s a great big bloody space ship! What! And a thing/alien/whatever in the ice! Double what! They carefully excavate the two sites over a few months of painstakingly diligent efforts, and it all pays off in the end when they aren’t massacred whatsoever.

Psych! So not what happens. Opposite. That’s the opposite.

While 1982’s The Thing was a sort of Who Dunnit mixed with alien nasty, this film seems to take the more heavy handed approach of ‘we’re ALL monsters, even the people who aren’t monsters!’ with the storyline, having early disagreements and prejudices easily fuel fires the moment it is found out that the alien can replicate/copy humans. Some of the characters were so easily hateable that by the time we found out who was or was not an alien, I had a list of people I was rooting for to be suddenly made into some horrific beast thing. 

Andy: It’s worth noting that the most charismatic and interesting character here doesn’t speak English.

Lilly: You mean the dog?

Andy: Lars.

Lilly: Whatever.

Speaking of horrific beast things, I was told the effects would be CGI and not practical in this one, and I was of two minds–yaaaay, no gross weird uncanny but booo more extreme possibilities. And I was not disappointed on the latter front. They really worked in this film to make sure no one thought the 1982 film was bringing more gross.

Andy: Which brings me to the two things I hold against this film. Firstly the CGI was painted over actual practical effects that they made, which aside from being completely pointless, means that this film looks weirdly out of sync with the 1982 one. Seriously, why would you do this? Why wouldn’t you do what Mad Max: Fury Road did and use CGI subtly to enhance the practical effects? This just looks terrible.

The second is the prequel nature of the beast. This isn’t a prequel in the Prometheus sense – this takes place days, maybe hours before the 1982 one. Which hobbles the movie at the knees. In a movie that is all about not knowing who’s who, about a creature that can take any form and attack you anywhere, you know that, at the very least, it’s going to end with two Norwegians in the snow chasing a husky and a burnt out Norwegian base with no one else about. Sucks the tension out of it, somewhat.

Still, it’s watchable and inoffensive and gross, but the 1982 version is a masterpiece, so this one falls short mainly due to the astronomical standards it sets for itself

Lilly: ‘Watchable’ is a stretch at times for us squeamish, but if you are going to set out to watch some staples of horror from the different subgenres, one of the Things films needs to be watched. 

Andy: On a fun side note, the guys who did the practical effects for this one were so pissed off at the CGI thing, they made another movie in 2015 called Harbinger Down, which is worth checking out.

Lilly: Because nothing says ‘screw you’ like the long and arduous work of making a film. Good job, guys!

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