“Someone is not who they say they are”: The Thing prequel

Posted: July 16, 2011 in Commentary
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John Carpenter was king of the horror hill in the early 1980′s. He invented the slasher move in ’78 with the seminal Halloween. Two years later he created the brooding, atmospheric The Fog. And in 1982 he made The Thing, a film that achieved astonishing new heights with special effects.

Whilst he may not have been terribly creative with the titles of his movies, no-one can deny that these are all genre classics and films that people come back to time and again. Subsequent sequels to Halloween and the recent remake of The Fog didn’t live up to the quality of the originals, so it’s only reasonable to be a little apprehensive about the upcoming Thing prequel due out in the autumn.

Teaser poster for The Thing prequel

The trailer at least seems to confirm that they haven’t made a complete hash of it. Presumably they realise that this movie has a significant fan-boy following so maybe the big studios are learning from the mistakes of the past. Then again that could be optimism talking – we all want it to be good, right?

To sound a more cautious note – the director is a first-timer with an unpronounceable name. The female lead is the one from Final Destination 3 and looks a little weak. And we can only speculate about the quality of the effects, which were so critical in the original. No doubt they’ll be largely CGI but if they’re done on the cheap I have serious concerns about how they’ll compare to the hellish, squirming horrors of Carpenter’s vision.

The 1982 John Carpenter classic

But let’s not pre-judge. Nor should we forget that Carpenter’s film is itself a re-make. The 1951 “The Thing from Another World” is fondly remembered and is a pretty good movie, although for me it’s memorable mainly for the sheer number of actors they manage to cram into every shot. Watch it again and you’ll see what I mean.

The novella that both films were based on

Both films are based on an original story by John W Campbell who submitted it to Astounding Stories for publication in 1938. Interestingly it’s the Carpenter film that sticks more closely to the Campbell plot. The 1951 film has a very simple story and eschews the central plot device of the alien who can infiltrate our inner circle, taking on human form. It’s under these circumstances that the later film creates it’s claustrophobic, paranoid atmosphere so successfully.

The Thing from Another World 1951

Of course it’s impossible to shake off the unmistakable odour of HP Lovecraft’s eldritch tale of antarctic horrors, At the Mountains of Madness. Inspired by the heroic adventures of the polar explorers of the day, and intrigued by the alien world that they found there, it was Lovecraft who first established that the Antarctic contained more fearsome beings than polar bears.

With such an illustrious heritage, the new film has much to live up to. Early signs are good, so let’s keep our fingers crossed that a no-name director and a b-movie actress can deliver something that’s respectful of its ancestry.

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