Friday, October 24, 2008

Recommended Halloween Viewing: John Carpenter's "The Thing"

Hey everyone. Firstly, introductions. You're probably wondering who I am and what I'm doing here (and rightfully so). My name's Dan; in a nutshell, I'm your average dude from New York who grew up in the 80s, and thus has a (unhealthy) love for all things pop culture. As such, I'll be contributing posts every now and then concerning movies, television and the like. Thanks very much to the fine folks of Like Television for giving me a podium from which to speak, and allowing me to make something of my otherwise useless geek knowledge. Since Halloween is coming, I figured now would be a good time to talk about my favorite horror flick and kind-of forgotten gem: John Carpenter's The Thing.

(editor's note 11/25/08. You can now watch The Thing at our site.)

The Thing (1982) is technically a remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World. I say "technically" because it actually shares very little with the original film -- especially when it comes to creature design and gore -- and is more faithful to the 1938 short story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. that the '50s flick is based on. Without giving away too many details about the plot, the long-short of it is that a grotesque, deadly alien makes its way to a remote research outpost in Antarctica. The alien, however, can take the form of anything with which it comes into contact, from humans to animals, and the outpost's crew of scientists (led by a very beardy Kurt Russell) slowly begin to grow paranoid, tense, and downright distrustful of each other, as one or more of them could be the alien in hiding.

In many ways, The Thing is very reminiscent of Ridley Scott's seminal Alien, except I think it's actually better. Sure, both films have a similar premise: a ragtag crew in an isolated environment face off against a seemingly indestructible creature. But whereas Alien got its scares by a tall dude in a costume creeping in the shadows, Carpenter puts the danger right out in the open. This thing could be anywhere; it could be anyone; it could strike at any moment. The movie isn't even that dark -- whereas Alien and most horror films use the dark and space to build tension and fear, Carpenter's film is set in the middle of a bright, white, icy nothingness. True, The Thing's alien is frightening to see (we'll get to that in a minute), but Carpenter doesn't rely on it to make his movie work. No, Carpenter uses his alien's shapeshifting ability to create a sense of danger and impending doom that gives the film its power. The characters don't trust each other, they're in a vast snow-covered wasteland, and there is no escape. That's where the real scares of The Thing come from. That being said, when seen in its true form, the creature itself is pretty damn scary.

There's no perfect way to articulate what the monster looks like here, because it (brilliantly) does not have a singular form. Once revealed and forced out of hiding behind a human or animal facade, this alien is not a guy in a monster suit, nor is it a weightless, soulless piece of CGI animation. Rather, it is an amorphous being that can grow to the size of a room, or can detach itself, limb from limb, to make an escape. Tentacles flail, teeth gnarl from different places all over its body, and its size changes. And it's thanks to Rob Bottin, the special effects master whose work in The Thing is nothing short of genius; particularly amazing is "the head-spider" scene, which I won't spoil by discussing any further. If any film could show that good puppetry and makeup can trump modern CGI any day of the week, it's The Thing. There's a horrifying, tangible quality to the monster in The Thing and the way all the characters interact with it, which is largely due to the fact that it looks so good and is actually there. If this had been a CGI-fest, the movie would be much less effective. (Thankfully, Carpenter has not followed George Lucas's atrocious "Star Wars Special Edition" route and added awful digital effects to this or any of his films.)

To my mind, The Thing is John Carpenter's last truly great film. I love They Live and Big Trouble in Little China, but in both of those, Carpenter seems to just be trying a little too hard, whether with the action or the humor. In The Thing, everything really works: the tone, the effects, the dialogue, and the acting (Kurt Russell, as usual, is fantastic). I can't recommend it enough. A great film that only gets better, and for me, it's the best work of a master filmmaker.

(For those of you who have seen and enjoyed The Thing, I'd also recommend checking out Dark Horse Comics' The Thing From Another World comics. They take place right after the end of The Thing, and are surprisingly true to the spirit of the film. Apparently, Carpenter himself loved them. The comics are currently out-of-print, but they can usually be found on ebay for decent prices.)

Clips from Big Trouble in Little China

Thought you folks might enjoy a few clips from Big Trouble.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Brad Spivey Gets Older

Today marks the birthday of the one and only Brad Spivey - noted html author, actor and star wars freak. I am not sure how old he is, but I do know... he is old enough to know a few things, and has in fact proven more than once, that he is indeed capable in his server query language works of global importance. Who is Brad Spivey, well sit down partner, and check out this page - Urinal Screen, showcasing his skills as one of the first internet thesbians. If you want more Spivey, check out Zim Zum - he is interviewed by Dodge Benson in episode six. But what Spivey is best known for... well, he's the techno maestro who build the database and backend that holds all those videos on the LikeTelevision web site. So, on behalf of the 30 million plus campers who enjoy the site - Happy Birthday dude!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Coming Soon - ScreamFest 2008

That's right ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of the year again - October, time for the annual LikeTelevision ScreamFest. And how much fun, we launch the 2008 ScreamFest on Bela Lugosi's 124th birthday. (Béla Ferenc Dezsõ Blaskó, a.k.a. Bela Lugosi was born October 20, 1884 in Romania.) So by all means - check out a few Bela Lugosi movies today if you like. My favorite is called White Zombie, made in 1932 - this is the mother of all Zombie movies... in fact, this 1932 movie is the first zombie movie ever. It happened so long ago - that the black people in the film are afraid of their own shadows... ahhhhhh, and filled with all kinds of fearful voodoo mojo silliness. BOO!... ahhhhhhhh. Eyes opened VERY wide. ahhhhhhh. Anyway... the irony of where we are today, with a black well educated gentleman running for president offers quite a sharp contrast to Hollywood's embarrassing racial stereotype portrayal from 1932. Nuff said. I am treading too close to politics.. and well, Screw politics... personally, I abhor all this passionate yammering he said, they said, you lied, quasimodo died... whatever. Thank God for baseball and the world series. You see, politicians, like most of us, are all wise till they open their mouths. But i digress... Popeye for President. I am with the Spinach Party. Come to think of it, politics could be the scariest part of this halloween season. Enjoy the ScreamFest - we'll be posting new stuff, so check back at the blog for updates.