Tag: the thing

The Thing

The Thing (1982)
★★★★ / ★★★★

John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” based on the novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, does not waste any time inspiring viewers to ask questions: Why is a man aboard a Norwegian helicopter intent on shooting a sled dog dead? Why does it appear as though the canine understands precisely what it is that’s going on amidst the utter confusion, following prior shooter’s death, in the American research station? What happened exactly at the Norwegian research base before being burned to the ground? What is its connection to the charred remains of grotesque corpses that resemble a fusion among man, animal, and beast?

The picture works as a high-level science fiction and horror hybrid because it tickles our deepest curiosities. Questions are brought up and answers are provided—at times almost immediately. But then some answers pave the way to new questions, and some of them do not have easy answers. The men at the American research facility must face a parasitic extraterrestrial life form that infiltrates another organism, assimilates with its host’s cells, and then imitates the host’s body. There is some evidence that the so-called Thing is able to retain the host’s memories: it knows how to perform daily tasks, to converse, and to recall details of events it has no way of knowing prior to infiltration. But the screenplay by Bill Lancaster is astute enough to refrain from answering this mystery directly because it is far scarier to have an understanding or appreciation but without knowing for sure.

There is a dozen men in the facility, and each one is given a spotlight. We learn about their jobs as people of science in addition to those who support these scientists to get the job done and to keep the facilities running smoothly. Some of their personalities may clash, but there is a sense of community among them. We believe that they have known each other for months, possibly years, in the way they have learned to tolerate one another’s eccentricities. Now is the time for their bonds, as strong or as tenuous as they are, to be tested in most unimaginable ways. Can you shoot a colleague or friend in face pointblank? How about with a flamethrower? Do you have it in you to cut someone else’s guide rope and leave him out in the Antarctic snowstorm?

The helicopter pilot, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), serves as our central protagonist not because he is smartest or strongest but because he is able to keep his cool, and therefore think clearly, during the most intense situations. Notice how the other men are written: already ill-tempered even before first alien reveal, trigger-happy, excessively nervous or anxious, overly suspicious, gutless. Their personalities and quirks are in total contrast against MacReady’s.

And on the occasional moments when MacReady does lose control out of sheer terror, his reactions are played for laughs occasionally. The decision to provide comic relief, as evanescent as they are, is correct because tension generated reaches unbearable levels at times. There is a memorable scene, for instance, when men—suspected of being infected—are tied up and right next to them is a colleague, actually infected by the Thing, undergoing horrifying convulsions, tiny tentacles protruding from his face and body. There is the confined room… and then there is being tied up in that confined room with the boogeyman.

The star of “The Thing” is Rob Bottin’s unforgettable creature and special effects. It feels like the macabre images have been ripped right out from our nightmares: giant mouths with teeth that could chomp through a grown man’s wrists with ease, spider legs coming out of a decapitated head and then crawling about, dogs’ melted faces and bodies fusing into one big, bloody lump with long tentacles coming out of it and whipping about, bodies breathing in amniotic sacs… Blood and guts are generously thrown about, but notice they come in different colors and textures, too. Transformation from man to Thing is observed unblinkingly. It is without question that the filmmakers are willing to do whatever is necessary for us not to look away, mouths agape in gleeful horror.

Blood Glacier

Blood Glacier (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s cult classic sci-fi horror “The Thing,” Marvin Kren’s eco-horror “Blood Glacier” is a mutated imitation by comparison. While this may sound like a compliment on the surface because the latter involves horrifying mutant organisms that must grow inside their respective hosts, the statement is a critique in that the material attempts to deliver B-movie entertainment without the required intelligence, creativity, and a central protagonist worth rooting for—three reasons why its inspiration is more than yet another forgettable creature-feature from the 1980s.

The practical effects are effective especially when jump scares are delivered. The creatures are truly ugly—for instance, there is a fox-beetle hybrid which has grown to the size of a dog—and so when they suddenly appear on screen with an accompanying booming score, jolts surge up one’s spine. The shock is likely to be followed by uncomfortable chuckles because one realizes that these monsters look like detailed and well-made puppets. It does the job.

But remove the special effects. All that’s left is another movie set in an icy and snowy terrain with things that go bump in the night. There are supposed to be three scientists (Hille Beseler, Peter Knaack, Felix Römer) and a technician (Gerhard Liebmann) who work at a research station, but the audience is not given a complete picture of what it is that they do there exactly before they are confronted by the creatures. The dialogue touches upon climate research but establishing conversations and images fails to provide specifics so that we, too, feel like a part of a team doing important work. Make no mistake: It has nothing to do with the budget. The problem is a lack of depth in Benjamin Hessler’s screenplay; it lacks faith. It goes by the assumption that the viewer is not interested in scientific details.

It gets worse as it goes on. Eventually, the four characters are joined by at least five others. We are provided even less detail as to why they decide to visit the station. They take plenty of photos on the way there. What is clear, however, is that it is a mistake to put them all in one location because nearly everything is reduced to panic, screaming, and yelling at one another. The sense of dread established during the first thirty minutes is erased nearly completely by the halfway point. We watch the potential prey stumble about with the hope that the creatures start picking them off so the material could have a chance to get back on track. Unfortunately, the picture never recovers.

I watch this type of film with great fascination because there is almost always at least one scene in which curious creatures are opened up and dissected. I find images considered to be disgusting by most as rather beautiful—the slimier the images, the giddier, more tickled I feel. When the camera is unafraid to keep still and let the viewers appreciate the artistry on the table without music cues, the material is at its most compelling. Perhaps it takes me back to childhood when I collected insects and opened them up just out of curiosity. But there must be equally compelling reasons to keep watching outside of these autopsies.

Harbinger Down

Harbinger Down (2015)
★ / ★★★★

“Harbinger Down,” written and directed by Alec Gillis, comes across as a lame and cheap imitation of its inspiration, John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror classic “The Thing.” An argument can be made that just about every element that could have gone wrong with Carpenter’s picture are shown here. To begin with, it lacks an identity of its own. Just about every major turn of event begs to be compared to its superior template.

For a story that unfolds aboard a fishing trawler, it never establishes a convincing sense of place. It is astounding because the ship is not that big and yet we do not get a complete mental map of the place. And so when characters attempt to escape from the extraterrestrial they released from frozen sea ice, the situation is most unconvincing; it gives the impression the characters are merely in a cramped, unclean apartment. If the filmmakers really did understand what made “The Thing” such a horrifyingly great experience, they would have put it in more effort into making the setting as plausible as possible.

The lead character named Sadie (Camille Balsamo) is a boring protagonist and therefore an unworthy final girl. Although Balsamo is not a performer with the greatest range, the script is at fault for the most part. Sadie’s backstory is forced, her exchanges with other characters—especially with her grandfather (Lance Henriksen), the captain of the the boat—do not sound natural, and we never get a chance to measure or sense her level of intelligence, especially since she is supposed to be a graduate student studying effects of global warming on whales. Her characterization relies solely on egregious dialogue. I suppose we should be thankful we were spared from flashbacks.

The monster’s appearance is uninspiring for the most part. Although I admired the decision to use CGI only sparingly, the special and visual effects fail to create a terrifying creature, one that deserves to be remembered. Filmmakers should note that tentacles on their own are not scary. You can have a hundred of them wriggling at once, coming out of an orifice, but they are still not scary. They may look gross or disgusting, especially with the aid of slurping sound effects, but they do not elicit horror without us eventually receiving a clear, well-lit, and compelling picture of its entire form. The idea that since the creature has the ability to alter its genetic makeup and so there is no point in showing its whole figure up close is absolutely not an excuse.

It fails to capture a sense of isolation and an increasing sense of hopelessness. So, when the final scenes come around and we expect the picture to end soon, we feel a sense of relief—even excitement—that the torment of sub-mediocrity is almost over. Watching sci-fi horror should never feel this way. The greats of the genre may make us feel anxious, disgusted, and downright horrified—but we want to keep watching and we wish for it to keep going nonetheless even though the story is complete, most characters are dead, and the final irony has been delivered.

The Thing

The Thing (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

In John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” the opening shot featured two men in a helicopter shooting at a dog in order to prevent it from reaching an American research facility. “The Thing,” written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., consisted of the events that led up to aforementioned curious scene. When a group of Norwegian researchers, led by Edvard Wolver (Trond Espen Seim), stumbled upon an alien space craft in the Antarctic ice, Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) was immediately alerted. But before the scientist and his assistant, Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), could get there, Dr. Halvorson recruited an American paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), for her expertise. Upon their arrival, they learned that not only was there a craft, there was also an alien trapped in ice a couple of meters from the wreckage. What I enjoyed most about the film was it successfully emulated Carpenter’s paranoid tone. Although I knew what the alien was capable of, there was a sense of excitement in the way Kate and the Norwegian crew opened up the alien’s body and explored the grim and disgusting details inside. When the camera showed the guts and the organs, I felt like I was in that room and I wanted to participate in touching the viscera and the accompanying slime. If anything, the picture proved that even though most of the audience knew what was about to transpire, as long as the journey that led up to the characters’ discoveries was interesting, the project could still stand strong. The prequel shared the same main weakness as Carpenter’s movie. There more than ten characters but we only somewhat got to know Kate. There were at least two other characters worth knowing more about. For instance, how well did Adam and Kate know each other prior to their mission? It seemed like they had some history. If their relationship was more defined, the latter scenes in which Kate suspected that Adam was possibly infected by the alien virus would have had more impact. After all, if you think that someone you’ve known all your life is no longer that person you’ve grown to love and care about, that he or she is simply a replica of an extraterrestrial, and it is necessary to kill that certain someone, wouldn’t you feel rotten before and after deciding to eliminate that person/being? To some extent, I would. Even though, in truth, that friend is an alien, it has the face, the voice, the mannerisms of a human being. I also wanted to know more about Sam (Joel Edgerton), the helicopter pilot. There were a few scenes which suggested that there was an attraction between Sam and Kate. Again, another possible human connection that could have been milked more with the regards to the bizarre happenings. “The Thing,” based on the short story called “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., while suspenseful most of the time, it was ultimately let down by having too much CGI. I didn’t need to see the craft being activated when it didn’t even get to fly for even a few inches. What I wanted to see more was the creature, hiding inside a human, just biding its time till its prey inevitably lets his guard down.

The Thing

The Thing (1982)
★★★ / ★★★★

In the icy landscape of Antarctica, a Siberian Husky attempted to outrun a helicopter because one of the people inside was shooting at it. When the dog arrived in an American research facility, the helicopter landed and came out a man speaking Norwegian. Nobody understood the dialect. He started shooting; Americans shot back. Everyone was baffled with how quickly everything happened and without an apparent reason. When the researchers took the dog to be with its own kind, in the dark, it revealed its true nature: inside it was an alien organism. Based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. and written by Bill Lancaster, “The Thing” deservingly gained a strong cult following over the years. It took its time in showing us the alien’s abilities and how it was able to survive for so long. It was dangerous because it seemed to have both intelligence and great survival instincts. It was capable of copying an animal in exact detail but in order to do so, it had to absorb its victims’ cells. Although the picture didn’t quite delve into specifics, it made sense because cells house DNA. Humans in a contained area were right for the picking. R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) was the helicopter pilot and the eventual leader of the group. Along with Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart), they had to figure out a way to find which of their colleagues were imitations. One of the best scenes involved MacReady and Dr. Cooper visiting the nearby Norwegian facility and finding the place in utter ruins. They saw deformed and charred human bodies as well as a hunk of ice which, from the looks of it, formerly preserved something. The grotesque and mysterious images allowed us to construct a narrative in our minds about what possibly happened. The film successfully captured a paranoid atmosphere. For instance, the camera’s attention shifted from one person to another. Characters were often in different rooms because they had jobs to do, some were on shifts depending on time of day, while others kept to themselves because certain personalities clashed. What happened to Person A when the camera was on Person B? Another element that added to the paranoia was its calculated use of score. It was able to generate so much tension by simply allowing us to hear heartbeat-like notes during key scenes. And it wasn’t only implemented when a person would walk into a dark room in an attempt to investigate something. It was used in broad daylight when danger was right around the corner. Unfortunately, I had serious issues with the film’s pacing, notably with its final thirty minutes. While it managed to maintain a certain level of creativity in terms of the build-up of who was possibly infected, once we knew, the point-and-shoot-the-flamethrower tactic became repetitive. There was nothing inspiring or surprising during the last fifteen minutes. Despite its shortcomings, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen. The special, visual effects, and make-up teams should be applauded for creating images found in nightmares. Directed by John Carpenter, “The Thing” is one of the few movies I feel I must watch every year. I’m hypnotized by it each time.


Whiteout (2009)
★ / ★★★★

Kate Beckinsale stars as U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko whose job was to keep the people safe in a research facility in Antarctica. But she soon found herself in a case full of deceit after stumbling upon the first murder of the continent. With the aid of another man from the government (Gabriel Macht), they tried to get answers to questions such as the identity of the murderer and what were the contents of the box that the Russian plane carried. This picture was a prime example where the music did all the work in portraying tension instead of letting the images speak for themselves. I just really dislike it when I’m all too often aware of the music and nothing particularly interesting is happening on screen. For me, the music should be a suppplement of the visual experience and almost always not the driving force. In this movie, they used music to trick the audiences that something exciting was happening, when in reality, we were watching something really dull. In fact, we could barely see anything half of the time because of the quick cuts and the thick blizzard. During the so-called climax of the movie, I felt dizzy and frustrated because I could not tell who was who or if the protaginist was winning. For a murder mystery, this movie lacked tension and worse, a lack of urgency. I felt like the writers, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, had so many ideas but they couldn’t focus those ideas or eliminate the ones that just did not make sense. As for the so-called twists, I saw them coming from a mile away because the looks that certain characters gave were so obvious. I felt like it did not even try to mask (pun intended) the identity (or identities) of the antagonists. I thought the setting of the movie was great; I really felt like I was Antarctica. But that was the only thing I liked about it. The movie felt like it ran for more than two hours (it was actually around an hour and forty) and I was just exhausted after watching it. “Whiteout,” directed by Dominic Sena, was based on a graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber and maybe it should have stayed that way. Somewhere in the middle, I really hoped that it was going to be an alien movie–somewhere along the lines of “The Thing.” Unlike “Whiteout,” that movie knows how to keep the viewers engaged with big rewards every fifteen minutes or so. Instead, I advise someone to watch “The Thing” or the extremely well-made documentary by Werner Herzog called “Encounters at the End of the World.”

Dead Snow

Dead Snow (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

The Norwegian horror-comedy “Død snø,” or “Dead Snow,” told the story of eight medical students (Lasse Valdal, Vegar Hoel, Stig Frode Henriksen, Charlotte Frogner, Evy Kasseth Røsten, Jeppe Laursen, Jenny Skavlan, Ane Dahl Torp) who decided to go to a cabin up in the snowy mountains over Easter break. Little did they know that the land covered in ice had a history of Nazi occupation and that those Nazis turned into zombies. They only found out about the land’s history when a creepy stranger (Bjørn Sundquist) dropped in on them in the middle of the night. I love zombie flicks so I just had to see this movie even though the synopses I read sounded a bit cheesy. As cheesy as the movie was, I did like it in parts because I thought it managed to capture the eerieness of being in the middle of nowhere and all we could hear was the wind and all we could see were endless land of ice. In a way, the very isolated environment reminded me of a hybrid between “The Thing” and “The Blair Witch Project.” Unfortunately, the setting and the occasional effective scares toward the beginning were the only elements that kept this movie afloat. Perhaps I was lost in translation (I did see the movie with subtitles) but I just did not find the jokes to be funny. In fact, I felt like it was trying too hard, kind of like the American teen slasher flicks. I’m not quite sure if the movie was trying to be ironic by featuring medical students who are not very bright or lacking survival skills and instincts. But what I am sure of is the fact that it became the kind of movie that it was trying to poke fun of. A lot of horror-comedies fall into that trap and this one is no exception. I found the middle portion too stagnant–it felt like it didn’t know where it was going. Nazi zombies that could think and take orders was an original idea but the execution lacked tension. I really hated it when the characters would make jokes at each other when they were aware that a zombie was only a few feet from them. It worked for “Shaun of the Dead” because it wore its cheekiness on its sleeve but it did not work in “Dead Snow” because there were times when it aimed for seriousness. If I saw a zombie, I would either try to kill it (depending on its size and what kind of killing tool I have in my hands–yes, I’ve thought about this) or run like I’ve never ran in my life. Perhaps fans of gore and limbs flying everywhere might enjoy this zombie film. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite buy the universe that the characters were in. “Død snø,” written and directed by Tommy Wirkola, should have just been a straight-up horror picture. If it did, I probably would have liked it a lot more.

The Abyss

The Abyss (1989)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron (“The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Titanic”) directed this deep sea adventure which stars Ed Harris as the leader of a team of divers hired for a rescue mission after a nuclear submarine mysteriously sinks. His ice queen of a wife (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who he does not get along with comes along and a lot of tension brews between them. The divers are aided by the Navy led by Michael Biehn but we later discover that he is not emotionally, psychologically, and physically equipped enough to handle the pressure (pun intended) of staying underwater for an extended period of time. This film surprised me because I did not think it would be as emotional as it was. I thought what was going to happen was the divers would find the submarine, encounter some aliens and head back home. I did not think that it was going to be a story of survival, clashing against differing positions of power, dealing with fear and paranoia, and pushing an extraterrestrial agenda. The underwater scenes were nothing short of amazing. I really felt like I was deep sea diving with the characters because all I could see were giant rocks, endless darkness, and blue light coming from their mode of transports. It reminded me of scenes from a fascinating documentary (also directed by Cameron) called “Aliens of the Deep.” I also liked the fact that the alien angle of the story was minimized up until the very end. The tension rises after each scene due to human errors and vulnerabilities so I had no trouble buying into everything that was happening. When Biehn’s character finally lost it, I was scared for all of the characters that he considered his enemy because he knew how to kill and do it efficiently. Although the film could have been shorter, in some ways it worked to its advantage because we really get to feel how it was like to be stuck underwater for almost three hours. Two stand out scenes for me were the resuscitation and the falling into the abyss scenes. I felt a whole range of emotions during those scenes and even I had to tear up a bit because I had no idea how it was all going to turn out. In many ways, it had the drama of “Titanic” and the horror of “The Thing.” There’s a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche (or some version of it) in the beginning of the film that perfectly summed up the experience. That is, “If you look into the abyss, the abyss will look into you.”