ACF Middlebrow #20: The Thing

 

Last week, my friend Scott Beauchamp and I talked about the Catholic horror, The Exorcist. This week, we turn to its antithetical double, the scientific horror, in this case, John Carpenter’s The Thing. We talk about body horror and its relation to nihilism, horror of life in its meaningless, destructive quest for reproduction. About science, the cold universe, and fire — the power behind technology. About post-Vietnam manliness retrieving the darkness of the noir detective or the cowboy who cannot live in the community he saves.

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There are 14 comments.

  1. Coolidge

    That is a well made movie. An improvement on the original for plot and screenwriting. The effects are hookey by today’s standards, but the suspense is top-notch. A great thriller!

    • #1
    • December 5, 2018 at 4:36 pm
    • 1 like
  2. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Yes, it is. It’s got great images & themes, too. Man hunts dog; fire in the Antarctic; a blood test…

    • #2
    • December 5, 2018 at 5:07 pm
    • Like
  3. Member

    Between this and The Exorcist podcast I guess I have to disabuse myself of the notion that Lovecraft was Gothic. Maybe atmospheric is the right term?

    There’s a great Lovecraft story, At the Mountains of Madness, that I wish someone would make into a movie. It’s set in the Antarctic and the heroes come into contact with a alien presence that’s not one of us.

    • #3
    • December 6, 2018 at 7:04 am
    • 1 like
  4. Member

    A fascinating discussion. The existential elements are someting I have battled with since my early teens, but I never considered them in terms of the horror movies which have been the meat and potatoes of my entertainment choices. The fact that we are “organisms”, collections of parts whose existence depends on all or most of the parts cooperating and that The Thing is more like a lower form of life composed of independent “cells” , all capable of a separate existence and reproduction yet also possessing a kind of intelligence comparable to our own, makes for a pretty scary scenario. Combine that with the concept that we are alone in the universe, without any possible devine intervention gives our existence a real meaninglessness which is equally terrifying.

    Thinking a bit about the two versions of this story as told on film. The Howard Hawks version does pick up on the creature being a lower life form, phylogenetically, but also one of considerable intelligence having built a space ship and flown to earth from a distant planet, and also possessing the ability to regrow an amputated limb. (I always found that disembodied hand moving under the light in the lab really horrifying) However, it also seems to lack a soul and sees humans as a source of materials needed for it to reproduce its kind. The element of physical isolation present in both versions exacerbates existential isolation of the human mind in a universe without a deity.

    Dr. Carrington in the Hawks’ version is an interesting crossover person. He is a man of science, but, at the same time, one who seems to believe in the essential goodness in all of God’s creations. He thinks that he can reason with this deadly carrot. The others, military men likely veterans of WW2 and possibly even Korea, have a very different take. Their view seems to have grown out of the final solution of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They are the cowboys, the American heroes.

    It is funny in a way. The first time I saw the Hawks’ film I was eight years old. It scared the you-know-what out of me. I have watched it dozens of time since then, and until your discussion I never really thought to analyze why it was so scary. I suppose that Carrington was a stand-in for the rest of us who want to believe in the essential goodness of the God-created universe, and his near demise is a reminder that it aint so nice.

    I think another interesting horror film that has had two versions and which I would enjoy hearing analysis of is Cat People.

    • #4
    • December 6, 2018 at 10:46 am
    • 3 likes
  5. Member

    blank generation member (View Comment):

    Between this and The Exorcist podcast I guess I have to disabuse myself of the notion that Lovecraft was Gothic. Maybe atmospheric is the right term?

    There’s a great Lovecraft story, At the Mountains of Madness, that I wish someone would make into a movie. It’s set in the Antarctic and the heroes come into contact with a alien presence that’s not one of us.

    Lovecraft is unquestionably atmospheric, almost cinematic, though I am yet to see one of his works successfully turned into a film. My favorite will always be Pickman’s Model. It leaves enough to your imagination for you to scare yourself with the possibilities.

    Along that same light is Fitz-James O’Brien’s What was it? It is a marvelous short story that take place in New York City in the late 19th Century. The protagonist of the story was a lodger in a tenement. He and a few others indulge a habit of the time of smoking opium in the garden in the evenings. Following one of these events he returns to his room and goes bed. With the lights off he is assaulted by a creature which he just manages to overpower. However, when he turns on the lights, there is nothing to be seen. It is there. It is solid, but it is also invisible.

    It is a very freaky story which I have read a number of times. Along with The Monkey’s Paw it is one of my favorite short reads.

    • #5
    • December 6, 2018 at 1:17 pm
    • 2 likes
  6. Member

    Eugene Kriegsmann (View Comment):

    blank generation member (View Comment):

    Between this and The Exorcist podcast I guess I have to disabuse myself of the notion that Lovecraft was Gothic. Maybe atmospheric is the right term?

    There’s a great Lovecraft story, At the Mountains of Madness, that I wish someone would make into a movie. It’s set in the Antarctic and the heroes come into contact with a alien presence that’s not one of us.

    Lovecraft is unquestionably atmospheric, almost cinematic, though I am yet to see one of his works successfully turned into a film. My favorite will always be Pickman’s Model. It leaves enough to your imagination for you to scare yourself with the possibilities.

    Along that same light is Fitz-James O’Brien’s What was it? It is a marvelous short story that take place in New York City in the late 19th Century. The protagonist of the story was a lodger in a tenement. He and a few others indulge a habit of the time of smoking opium in the garden in the evenings. Following one of these events he returns to his room and goes bed. With the lights off he is assaulted by a creature which he just manages to overpower. However, when he turns on the lights, there is nothing to be seen. It is there. It is solid, but it is also invisible.

    It is a very freaky story which I have read a number of times. Along with The Monkey’s Paw it is one of my favorite short reads.

    After mentioning Lovecraft an acquaintance recommended Thomas Ligotti. I’ve got Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, but haven’t plowed through all the stories yet. The Frolic is a creepy story. Ligotti is not scientific horror, but has plenty of insanity (but is it insanity?). Not sure how you’ld make a movie out of that.

    I’ll have to check out that O’Brien story.

    • #6
    • December 6, 2018 at 1:49 pm
    • Like
  7. Member

    I will look into Ligotti. Thank you.

    • #7
    • December 6, 2018 at 2:18 pm
    • Like
  8. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Lovecraft has a conservative idea of horror: The greatest power is not in the future of scientific progress, but in the chaos of the forgotten origins. Religion deluded man about that overpowering chaos & madness for a long time, but that delusion led men to create the powers of science which first destroy religion & then are left to go mad in face of horror-

    • #8
    • December 6, 2018 at 10:26 pm
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  9. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    Another horror podcast coming soon: Frankenstein!

    • #9
    • December 6, 2018 at 10:27 pm
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  10. Member

    Which version of Frankenstein, Karloff or Robert DeNiro?

    • #10
    • December 7, 2018 at 5:42 am
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  11. Contributor
    Titus Techera Post author

    The novel, first; then its history on the stage; then the early James Whale movies; then Young Frankenstein!

    • #11
    • December 7, 2018 at 6:37 am
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  12. Member

    Sounds good. I am looking forward to it.

     

    • #12
    • December 7, 2018 at 8:43 am
    • 1 like
  13. Member

    DonG (View Comment):

    That is a well made movie. An improvement on the original for plot and screenwriting. The effects are hookey by today’s standards, but the suspense is top-notch. A great thriller!

    I think the effects stand up quite well.

    • #13
    • December 9, 2018 at 6:35 am
    • 1 like
  14. Member

    I thought for a while that you were going to go by what I see as the most important aspect of the film: paranoia. As Scott pointed out, once they begin to understand the nature of the Thing, it’s all about the paranoia that expresses itself at every possible level..

    The ultimate expression of this is during the blood test, as MacReady is about to test T.K. Carter’s blood. Carter sits there terrified of the test. Even though he’s human, he’s no longer even sure about himself, so it is the terror of finding out that’s he’s also a monster.

    There can be no organized resistance in that situation. No cooperation, when you not only can’t trust your companions, but also can’t trust yourself. The best you can do is MacReady’s response; I think I’m still human, so I’ll act as though I am. I think that at least one other is also human, so I may get aid from an unexpected source, but no more than that because the person that helped me in one scene might be a monster by the next.

    • #14
    • December 9, 2018 at 6:48 am
    • 1 like