Timing is everything, and in the film world, this is no exception. Time is either harsh on former beloved works that fade away, or very kind to movies that didn’t make a splash at the time but have become classics. John Carpenter‘s The Thing is a major example of the latter. Following three massive indie hits (Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York), Carpenter was poised to hit the big time with a huge cast and Universal’s budget and backing, and yet it was a thud upon release. Now, nearly 35 years later, Scream Factory pays ultimate tribute with their Blu-ray release.
It’s amazing how it’s just culturally accepted that The Thing is Carpenter’s best, and how much it was derided and shunned at the time. In the summer of 1982—one of the best summers for movies ever, P.S.—The Thing had the ultimate misfortune to come out shortly after, and still in the wake of, Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. So the public was in a very “we love aliens” mood, and they didn’t want to see one of the bleakest and grottiest alien horror flicks ever made.
But in the years hence—likely through home video releases—the movie has become a favorite, a pillar of the strength of practical creature effects and a testament to Carpenter’s ability to create tension and mood. Once you see The Thing, you don’t soon forget it. The cast, led by Kurt Russell, is made up of distinct and rounded characters, even if they don’t get all that much screen time, and for much of the run time (especially in subsequent viewings) the audience can’t help but try to guess who’s become the Thing at what time. It’s a mystery that’s almost unsolvable because that’s not the point: It’s the distrust that gets to the men of the camp far more than the monster itself.
Scream Factory have been steadily putting out special edition Blu-rays of Carpenters films for awhile now (as of this writing, eight feature films and two TV movies by Carpenter have been released by the company) and as always, they put in a great deal of care and effort into making the movie look and sound its best, and offer a great mix of features both old and new. Disc two gives us a brand new 2K scan of the interpositive supervised by director of photography Dean Cundey and a new 4.1 audio mix created from the original 70mm six track Dolby soundtrack. It truly looks and sounds gorgeous. The disc also has three commentary tracks: a brand new one with Cundey, a brand new one with co-producer Stuart Cohen, and the classic laserdisc commentary with Carpenter and Russell, which is the gold standard for commentaries where they tell you what’s happening on screen and then talk about other things. Love it.
Disc two has some fascinating and insightful new documentaries and featurettes, first and foremost being “Requiem for a Shape-Shifter,” a 30-minute interview between Carpenter and his friend, filmmaker Mick Garris. Garris has made a small career out of being the go-to interviewer and moderator of master horror directors. The discussion goes through Carpenter’s career leading up to The Thing and includes reflections on the making of the film and theories about why it both didn’t succeed at the time and has become such a fan favorite subsequently. And they also talk about Carpenter’s newfound music career, which is fun.
The next big feature is a 51-minute doc called “The Men of Outpost 31” which has interviews about the making of the film with actors Keith David, Wilford Brimley, David Clennon, Thomas Waites, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, and Joel Polis. Things like this are Scream Factory’s bread and butter and it flows really well and remains informative and entertaining throughout, not least seeing the very old-looking Brimley talking casually while his tiny dogs fight on his lap. It’s hilarious.
Also included are shorter featurettes about the editing, visual effects, make-up effects, sound effects, shooting locations, and the film’s novelization. As far as older features, the excellent feature-length doc “John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape” from the movie’s initial DVD release is included and that’s really one of the better studio-produced making-ofs you’re likely to see. Glad it’s still here.
The Thing is a movie that infects your mind and imagination, the way the alien bits infect the men of the camp. It’s got the requisite big scares and awe-inspiring creature effects for an ’80s horror flick without an ounce of cheesiness. Everything is treated completely seriously, and the result is a movie that was too bleak for the time, but can’t be ignored evermore. It’s a classic. Buy this shit.
5 out of 5 Norwegian Dog-bitten burritos:
Images: Scream Factory