2011 The Thing Is Just Meh

Last week we experienced our first summerlike days and nights with temperatures in the high eighties and lots of humidity. It was too early to turn on the air conditioner, so I kept cool another way: by opening a can of frosty beer and popping in a DVD of an Antarctica-based horror movie. You can think yourself cold this way.

The 2011 version of The Thing is billed as a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and I think that’s where the movie goes wrong. It starts out so sincerely, trying to root the movie in the early 1980s. Grad student Kate Lloyd, a paleontologist, who ends up being the lead in this movie, gets a little tired while working in the lab so she slips on large, wonky headphones and pushes a button on her Walkman to listen to Men at Work. I thought, Aw, how cute.

Later, she’s recruited by a scientist and his American assistant, and the illusion is ruined for me. The grad student and assistant end up looking like kids from my neighborhood. It made me think, Did they do the casting call at my local bar?

These scientists are transported to the Norwegian base in Antarctica where an unnamable “Thing” has been found, and I tried to line up the similarities that fit with the opening of J.C.’s The Thing. There are a few characters who could physically pass for the living and videotaped Norwegians from J.C.’s The Thing, and they’ve got a husky. Okay. I tried to will myself back to a certain time in 1982, a few months before the Thing bursts into the American camp, but I found it impossible.

The sets are too shiny and new. The equipment is streamlined and compact. Don’t these people know anything about the ’80s? Everything was big and clunky and buzzed with electricity. As I followed these characters, I had a very hard time believing that they are functioning in a world, a time, without palm-held devices that tell them everything.

I can see that the filmmakers are being respectful to J.C.’s The Thing, trying not to step on any toes. Instead, they make many homages to the 1982 version, replicating many scenes with just a little twist. But nothing new is brought to the table in this 2011 version. I found myself just not caring anymore, especially when the tenuous links to the opening scenes of J.C.’s The Thing are destroyed. I thought I had been watching the prequel here. Now, it turns out there’s a pre-prequel?

Later, in the very ending credits, after the Norwegian/American team is killed off, a new crew comes in, and now things start lining up with the beginning of J.C.’s The Thing. These scenes are shown in eyeblinks, and it turns out that this is the “prequel” I was duped into watching.

I have to say I felt cheated, but looking at all the ice did make me feel a little bit cooler on this early summer night. Next time, though, I’m going to be cooling off using John Carpenter’s The Thing or maybe the X-Files episode “Ice” that brings a different take to the Thing story line.

This prequel to a classic horror movie also has me a little worried about the upcoming Alien prequel that’s coming out this week, Prometheus. Am I going to get a satisfying backstory to one of the scariest creatures of all time, or is Ridley Scott going to do me wrong?

Top Five Horror Movies Featuring Old People

My Girls Write Now mentee hates horror movies, but she likes to make sure I’m keeping up on mine. A few months ago, Danni and I were talking on the phone about writing projects, but then we got to horror movies and she wanted to know if I was excited to see Cabin in the Woods and The Raven. At the time I hadn’t even heard of them, so she e-mailed me the trailers; then she asked me, “Why are so many horror movies about teenagers?” I gave her what I’ve been told so many times—that one of the scary things about being a teenager is having your body change so dramatically in such a short amount of time and a horror movie mimics or shows what a teen might be feeling inside and outside. Then I told her that not all horror movies are about teenagers, and I would make her a list of some. So here it is: my top five list of horror movies featuring old people.

1. CRONOS: This one’s got a special place in my heart since it was my first horror magazine assignment. I was supposed to be reporting on a cult movie Raw Meat, but the magazine I was working for couldn’t get any art from the movie. Thankfully, Guillermo del Toro was introducing Raw Meat as an inspiration for his work, and he talked quite a bit about Hellboy, which was in preproduction at the time, and that ended up being my first horror movie article. At this event, del Toro showed his first full-length feature Cronos about a vampiric device created in the Middle Ages that gives users eternal life. An elderly antique dealer stumbles upon it and is menaced by the nephew of a dying man who will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. Ron Perlman plays the nephew, and this movie is the beginning of the artist-muse relationship shared by Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman. It gets extra points for the most innovative use of a toy box that I’ve ever seen.

2. ROSEMARY’S BABY: Though Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is barely out of her teens in this movie, I chose this one because of the evil old people that surround her, never letting her make a move without commenting on it. Once Rosemary and her husband move into their dream apartment at the Bramford, the elderly in the building start to take an unusual interest in her. At a critical point in Rosemary’s pregnancy, which has been accompanied by constant pain, she decides to throw a dinner party and tells her husband, “I’m having a party for our old…I mean our young friends—Minnie and Roman are not invited. Neither is Laura-Louise nor is Dr. Sapirstein. It’s going to be a very special party. You have to be under sixty to get in.”

3. ALIEN: I think this is such a groundbreaking movie, and since it came out in 1979, not many other movies have been able to touch it. It starts out slow, building up the tension. We have a group of workers out in space starting their mission: They wake up, get dressed, eat a little something, drink coffee. Then they get their assignment, but it’s work—a little boring but something they have to do. First up, go check out this alien spaceship. They do, and worker Kane (John Hurt) provides the first scare of the movie with his alien rape from a pod, which leads to one of the scariest movie moments ever: the Alien birth scene. Probably the most brilliant part of this movie, though, is casting thirty-year-old Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. It was her first major film role, and she tore it up.

4. DAWN OF THE DEAD: While I love George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, I prefer the 2004 remake because U.S. shopping habits have changed so much and that is the main point of the movie. After flesh-eating zombies have taken over the world, a few surviving humans hole up in a mall, which is perfect for their needs. There’s food, water, furniture, supplies, and most importantly, security. Zombies, too, are attracted to the mall, remembering it as a place of importance. I love the casting of nurse Ana (Sarah Polley); it’s always important to have a medical authority in a zombie apocalypse who can tell you exactly what’s going on. And Ving Rhames as tough guy Kenneth is a joy to watch. I enjoy apocalypse movies so much because you have a large cast representing the general population and how it reacts after Earth is blighted by a natural or “unnatural” disaster.

5. THE THING: This is such a scary movie, and I’m glad I didn’t see it until my twenties. My friend’s teenage daughter was permanently traumatized after seeing this one at a tender age. It starts brilliantly, a beautiful panning shot of mountains, white, and ice and endless expanses of it. You know these characters, working guys, are out in the middle of nowhere and nobody’s around to help them. A helicopter mercilessly chases a beautiful husky dog, taking shots at it. When the copter crashes, you’re glad because these guys were trying to shoot a beautiful dog, but later in the kennel, all hell breaks loose. I knew a few guys in college who modeled themselves after the main character MacReady (Kurt Russell)—to the point where they would only drink J & B whiskey. I’m still not sure if that was deliberate product placement or not. Knowing John Carpenter, probably not.

Looking back on this list, I see that all the movies have to do with body horrors—using a vampire device to stay young, giving birth to aliens or a devil, or fighting off dead people who want to eat you. So maybe there is some truth to teenage horror movies being rooted in that scary thing known as puberty. Anything I’ve left off the list? What are some other horror movies with older people that should be included?

Showing the Monster

Today I was transcribing an old tape with quotes from John Carpenter about The Thing for an article I’m working on. He said what he wanted to do was show the monster to light—that it was an old Hollywood cliché that the monster must be hidden. This reminded me of when my best friend Susan and I were writing our screenplay about monsters in the New York City subway system. Her dad is a movie buff, and Susan asked him to take a look at what we had written. After he flipped through the first ten pages of our script, he tossed it aside and said we showed the monster too soon. We got a lot of flack from our classmates about this too, and that made us so mad because who said you couldn’t show the monster within the first ten minutes of a horror film? Where was this rule written down? I can remember one guy using Jaws as an example of when the monster should be shown (this particular guy also used to wear a hat with WRITER emblazoned across the front of it, which made my stomach turn). Susan and I knew Jaws, and we argued that the only reason the shark doesn’t appear until the end of the movie was because of mechanical difficulties during shooting. Our classmates didn’t care; they still insisted we showed our monsters too early. I feel vindicated now, hearing Carpenter’s words from four years ago.