Halloween Top 13: The Remake #1: The Thing (1982)

Trust is a hard thing to come by these days. Or any days for that matter, but I hope you folks will trust in me that John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) ranks up top as the best remake around. Yes, we’ve finally made it to Halloween and the top of the Halloween Top 13: The Remake (which also heralds the era in which I promise to never have such a lengthy event title again), and I hope everyone is having a great All Hallows Eve. I’ve had a wonderful weekend dressing up and going out with my friends, and we’re capping it off tonight with a Walking Dead viewing party. One of the highlights of Halloween, as it has been for the past three years, is doing this countdown and getting to share movies I love as well as getting all the fabulous lists from my blogging friends. Before I get into the review I want to thank each and every one of you folks who pitched in, stopped by to read a post, retweeted, liked, or whatever other kind of social media thing you did. You’ve all made this a wonderful Halloween for me, and I can’t thank you enough.

I also can’t thank Mama Carpenter enough. Without her, we wouldn’t have John, and my list of favorite films would be devoid of Escape from New York, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, and Christine. (You may notice that I failed to list Carpenter’s eponymously titled holiday film from the list. I like it and respect it, but I don’t love it.) Of course, tonight’s film, The Thing, also belongs on that list. Looking back over all the lists that folks sent in, The Thing was the most popular title to appear on a list as well as the most popular choice for number one. When I first jotted down notes for this list back in November of 2009, The Thing was the first film I wrote down, and without a doubt it took top honors. Combining horror, suspense, paranoia, and action into a cohesive film, Carpenter showed everyone how isolated terror and remakes were done.

The original 1951 film, entitled The Thing from Outer Space, was directed by Howard Hawks and starred James Arness (Matt Dillon of Gunsmoke Fame). In it, ‘The Thing’ is a Frankenstein’s monster type creature from space, frozen in a block of ice, but when a group of scientists stationed in the artic thaw it out, it seems that it hadn’t come in peace and proceeds to start killing them off. Carpenter’s film dispenses with the plot of the ‘51 film, and instead goes back to the source material, the novella ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Campbell, Jr. Sticking closer to the original story, the 1982 Thing once again terrorizes an Artic base, but it no longer needs a single actor playing it. Instead through a series of great performances and an array of mind blowing special effects, the updated ’Thing’ no longer looks like a Western star with a huge forehead, but in its place can look like anyone, any creature, or reveal its horrible metamorphic form.

Carpenter begins his film by introducing us to the stark whiteness of the location which was filmed both in the Artic and snowy British Colombia. Throughout the film the camerawork and lighting is stunning, and major kudos have to go to cinematographer Dean Cundy for his incredible high contrast work. The careful viewer will also notice several times that Carpenter fades to white or the black during the film which subtly add to the atmospheric tone of The Thing. We are soon introduced to our reluctant hero R.J. MacReady, another wonderful character brought to life by Kurt Russell in a John Carpenter film. Russell is one of the best at playing heroic characters that are everymen, and he hits that perfectly here.  Surrounding him are a cast of characters played by wonderful actors like Keith David, Wilford “Diabeetis" Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, and Charles Hallahan, and they all give great singular performances differentiating the characters in what could have been a crowded field. This group of men finds themselves trapped by a creature that is a ruthless killer and an unseen menace. Suspicion and paranoia soon run rife though the outpost, and soon people are beginning to question if they could be the creature and not even know it.

As I mentioned yesterday with The Fly, the invasion of the body by an outside force is a common theme in horror films, but what Cronenberg and Carpenter share is the ability to execute their vision. That being said, Carpenter takes a less graphic (and less sexual) path to get to where he was going. He relied on good old fashioned Hitchcockian suspense and a claustrophobic atmosphere to draw the audience into the story of these men. They are, after all, the last line of defense against ’The Thing’ destroying the Earth. Carpenter cleverly hides his hand until the last reel of the film, and then you better hold onto your hat. The whole film is enhanced by the score which is uncharacteristically not penned by the director himself. Instead the duties were handed to Italian maestro Ennio Morricone who gave the film a sound very complimentary to Dean Cundy’s moody lighting. I also have to mention the use of pop songs in a few parts of The Thing because I can never hear Stevie Wonder singing ‘Superstition’ without my mind going to this film.

With The Thing, Carpenter thrills and horrifies in exactly the way I want during Halloween. I want to be afraid of the thing (no pun intended) that goes bump in the night, but I also want to keep a healthy fear of my fellow man going on as well. It delivers on every level, and it not only ranks at the top of this list, but also very near to the top of my favorite Carpenter films overall. That about wraps it up for HT13: TR and my review of The Thing. Once again I want to thank everyone who got involved in the events over here at The Lair, and I hope you all keep coming back. I have lots of great stuff in store for the next couple of months, and I’m already kicking around ideas for next year’s list. 13 Giant Monsters? 13 Foreign horrors? 13 Classics? Who knows? You’ll have to stay tuned right here for the next year to find out. It will be worth it. Trust me.

Bugg Rating

Today's final list of horror remakes is the person that takes the number one spot for me each and every year, my number one, my wife, the lovely and talented Ms. Directed. As always I have to send out a big thanks to her for being a trooper and not killing me as I tried to cram in 31 posts in 31 days. It takes an awful good woman to deal with that, and on top of that she has horror remakes. Take it away, hon…..

1. Thirt13een Ghosts- Taking the concept of the original film and taking the special effects too a whole new gory level, Thrit13een Ghosts made for a great film and Tony Shaloub and F. Murray Abraham were pitch perfect.

2. The Thing- Because I like Kurt Russell in (or out) of anything. I even love Overboard. When you look at it, it could have come out really silly, but Carpenter made it work.

3. The Fly- If you like Franz Kafka and horror movies, how can you not like this one?

4. House on Haunted Hill - I love William Castle, and his event films lend themselves to be remade. Perhaps not the gimmicks, but his stories are so strong. The only thing that holds it back is that Lisa Loeb doesn’t get killed.

5. Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman- It brings the pre-feminist fear of the original into a post-feminist world, and it proves that giant women kicking ass will always be fun to watch.

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