REVIEW: The Thing (1982)

Hello, comrade!

Hello, comrade!

The Thing: A+

This movie is about an Arctic research scientist and flamethrower enthusiast named Kurt Russell fighting a homicidal alien. It’s also about the Cold War. It’s also one of my favorite movies ever, so I’m not fucking around here.

The Thing came out in 1982, before I was born, and was one of the first rated-R horror movies I ever saw. It was made a few years after Alien and the two share the same dark atmosphere of isolation and paranoia although I would argue The Thing is scarier because the monster’s infiltration is much more intimate than in Alien. Imagine that radar scene from Alien, but now it is 80 minutes long!

Scientists dug too deep in the ice and they found the Thing. The Thing murders the shit out of all the scientists (as imagined in the forgettable CGI orgy that is the 2011 Thing reboot/prequel) and flees to a nearby research station run by Kurt Russell and friends.

The biology of the Thing is sort of confusing; it can mimic other organisms, but it can also “absorb” them, assimilating living things cell-by-cell until the organism has become a part of the Thing. The Thing is one sentient creature, but each cell has an independent survival instinct and is able to exist independently from the central Thing. It’s a hive-mind alien with self-replicating abilities. I don’t know if I’m making any sense; Wilford Brimley does a better job explaining it in the movie with Atari-esque computer models that represent the alien microbiology.

Since the Thing can shapeshift and absorb its prey, it decides that the best thing to do is enter the base disguised as a stray dog (in Antarctica?) and assimilate the crew one-by-one. All it has to do is get a guy alone in a room, and then it can Thing-ify him.

The Thing is also a communist; it is a foreign power posing as your neighbor. The 1950’s Cold War paranoia that barbeque owners Bill and Natalie next door might secretly be KGB operatives Boris and Natalia is ballooned to intergalactic proportions. And while the Thing personifies American fears of communism (like forced “equality,” total homogenous conformity, and just being foreign), Kurt Russell’s handsome ass represents the rugged individualism of blue blooded Americans. He looks more like Wild Bill Hickok than a fucking Arctic research scientist (he even wears a cowboy hat for much of the movie).

The Cold War undertones are pretty consistent, even to the point where, in the final act, K-Train is ready for some Mutually Assured Destruction. This part is foreshadowed brilliantly at the beginning of the movie when Russell loses at computer chess and responds by dumping a glass of scotch on the motherboard. The Thing is content executing a methodical takedown of the base, calculating its moves and taking people (pieces) one at a time, but Russell decides that the best move might be to torch the entire base; if he can’t get the Thing in checkmate, he wants an incendiary stalemate. Take that, you fucking pinko!

Some people think that there is no Cold War allegory and this is just a movie about an alien and Kurt Russell and glasses of scotch and flamethrowers. Pay no attention to these people. They will go away if you ignore them. I am so all-in with this allegory, that I think you could make the argument that it has a timeless quality; to the original audience of the film, the Thing is a communist. Or maybe it is an AIDS patient. Now, he’s a terrorist cell. “Snake Plissken Fights a Monster, The End” isn’t good enough. There’s more here.

Critics of the movie will also pick apart Kurt Russell’s ham-handed Thing-hunting and, yeah okay, he is pretty Kurt Russelly the whole time, I’ll give you that. But who did you want in there instead? This is The All-American Computer who Wore Tennis Shoes! Sorry stool admonisher Clint fucking Eastwood wasn’t available to squint at the Thing for 90 minutes and instead you are stuck with a guy who has done a pretty good job making a career out of running around yelling like a lunatic.

The film has legitimately revolting special effects, probably the most impressive horror/sci-fi makeup ever. If you read some other reviews for the movie, they will likely spend more time on it than I did, which is the right thing to do. For instance, you know that scene with the arms? They got a guy who has no arms for that scene. And it’s fucking gross. There is dismemberment, reanimation, people getting sprayed with parasitic Thing goo, and all sorts of other horrifying shit.

I cannot recommend this movie enough. See it right away.

REVIEW: Village of the Damned (1995)

village of the damned

Village of the Damned: C-

This is a variation of The Brood and Children of the Corn that features telepathic blonde kids who have long-term plans for world domination and short-term plans for hurting/terrifying rednecks.

There’s this little town with a population of 2,000. One day, everyone in the city limits passes out for a few hours. There’s a real Under the Dome vibe as law enforcement even paints a border around the coma zone, marking lines that, once crossed, cause people to faint. When everyone wakes up, ten women are pregnant, several of whom have legitimate excuses for how they couldn’t have gotten pregnant.

Some weirdly autonomous, chain-smoking government agent, Kirstie Alley, shows up and takes a creepy interest in the immaculate coma-conceptions. She convinces the women to carry the mystery kids to term and then even personally helps in the delivery room (all the births happen at once), punctuating the ordeal with her nihilistic wise-cracks and power-smirk. You can tell she isn’t to be trusted because she smokes, wears sunglasses indoors, and always wears black.

Nine kids are born and one is still-born. SPOILER: The dead baby looks like an alien fetus and Kirstie Alley keeps it in a pickle jar in her basement so she can look at it and, I think, ponder her own cosmic insignificance.

Then something stranger than any of the coma-pregnancy alien fetus stuff happens: the film flashes forward several years to show the nine kids, all Aryan looking toddlers, existing as acknowledged telepaths with a dominant choke-hold on the town. No one openly fucks with the kids because they will telepathically make you jump off of a cliff or telepathically stick your arm in boiling water. Why wouldn’t they show us the townsfolk realizing that they have creepy telepaths on their hands? Why wouldn’t they show the power-plays the kids must have used to take control? THAT sounds like an interesting story. Instead, the rest of the movie is the kids being mean to / killing people and fucking Kirstie Alley smirking.

Christopher Reeve is the only one who has any success blocking the kids’ mind-reading so the town nominates him as the kids’ special tutor and he decides the best course of action would be to suicide bomb them. Mark Hamill is a priest who is bothered by everything.

The kids reveal they are aliens with similar telepathic colonies set up elsewhere on Earth. Kirstie Alley reveals that the government knows all about it and that she has a little alien fetus in her basement. John Carpenter reveals that he is a badass with belligerent synth music but inept as fuck with an acoustic guitar.

Not horrible, I guess.

REVIEW: The Ward (2010)

ward

The Ward: D+

Thanks for this, John Carpenter. This movie has the same plot as Identity staring John Cusack. Your movie made me think about John Cusack. How do you like that?

Here’s ANOTHER movie about a mental institution with dark secrets and ghosts. ANOTHER movie about multiple personalities offered up as one of many cop-out “twists.” ANOTHER movie where the “crazy” protagonist has to do detective work to figure out what a fucking ghost is trying to say to her.

Kristen is in a mental institution because she burned down a barn and can’t remember doing it. The only other patients in there with her are other good looking girls in their 20’s. They all become buddies and they dance around and stuff.

A ghost that looks like a female zombie keeps teleporting around everywhere and killing the patients one-by-one. Kristen tries to warn the staff but why should they believe her? Her amnesia that she had one time in her entire life rules her out as a reliable source of information regarding what clearly look like murders, right?  “There’s no killer, Kristen is crazy,” says the British guy from Mad Men who orders her shock therapy.

The murder/warning/disbelief cycle happens over and over and over and over. After the kills, the ghost leaves behind some clues about who she is/was. Kristen has to put the pieces together JUST LIKE CUSACK IN MOTHERFUCKING IDENTITY. When the reveal happens, I dare you to give a shit.

There are some good jump-scares. Maybe a couple of scenes of suspense but they are short lived and overshadowed by a shameless carnival of cliches and your own inner monologue asking how any of this shit is going down the way it is.