Just because a movie’s manly doesn’t mean you won’t be shedding any tears, as you’ll find out if you watch 1892 horror flick The Thing.
The goal of this series is to show that being “manly” and being disconnected with your emotions do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. While the approach to these articles is one of comedy and satire, the emotional core of these movies is very valid. Manly movies make guys cry, for example:
Like my previous article about horrible horror film The Mist, this film is manly in how much pain one can withstand, supplemented with an extremely healthy gore-factor. The entire film has so much testosterone being thrown around that it could probably be renamed “Pissing contest, also aliens.” There’s dogs being murdered, people’s heads popping off their bodies and becoming spider-monsters…
In short: it’s no date movie. It is, however, a film that makes guys cry.
To be clear, we’re going to be dissecting the horror masterpiece released in 1982, not the cinematic equivalent to plastic vomit that came out in 2011. Why they decided on using the exact same title is beyond me, but one theory of my own is that they were hoping to confuse people who wanted to watch the first version, thus tricking them into spending money on the new one. Is the new one really that bad? Unfortunately, it’s more insulting than bad, and that’s what brings me to the first reason for tears in The Thing:
1. Its benchmark of quality is so high that Hollywood doesn’t even try anymore
The original Thing was a testament to the animatronic genius of Stan Winston. You know, the guy who built the Terminator and the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. And the aliens from Alien. And the Predator. And the original Iron Man suit. Let’s just leave it with GOOD GOD HE’S GOOD!
So when he makes an animatronic dog that looks like a real canine until it explodes into a mass of murder-tentacles, you better believe it’s going to look horrifying. Not only that, but the effects he helped create stand the test of time. Modern CG still can’t hold a candle to the terror that Stan Winston crafted for this film. It’s just sad that the prequel of the same name that came out three decades later looked like crap in comparison, because they went all computer effects and no puppetry.
It was said the original looked “too much like an 80s movie,” which to me is nothing but the highest of compliments. This film can still scare the pants off of any passerby, and the fact that Hollywood had the chance to replicate it and chose to use Jar Jar Binks instead brings a tear to my eye.
2. No one held the “dumb” card, yet they still bite it
Often in horror films, the action can’t really kick into gear until someone does something that makes no sense, or reacts in a very non-intuitive way. Meta-flick Cabin in the Woods even addressed this by saying I.Q. inhibiting drugs were being used to enhance the characters’ participation in their ritual sacrifice — but explaining the “dumb” card doesn’t mean they didn’t use it. The Thing is an extreme exception to this rule by avoiding any stereotypical stupidity, but it didn’t help our heroes at all.
First off, all the researchers are highly intuitive, realizing right away that something’s wrong. Wilford “Walrus” Brimley is on-hand with what the 1980s thought were computers and whips up a PowerPoint presentation for everyone to get up to speed on what they’re fighting. Walter also goes ape-shit crazy on the communication equipment, effectively preventing anyone or anything from calling for rescue, which seems like a dumb idea but was in fact rather smart, as he realized the danger of letting the Thing reach civilization. The crew, being a little put off that “Walrus” just decided their current problem should be fixed with a fire ax, locked him in a shed. None of this “Let’s keep him around until he snaps” that other films use to ratchet up tension: they saw a danger and quarantined it.
As teammates start getting picked off and a need to tell alien from bro-ham becomes evident, so the team calmly (for the most part) develops a test. For once a movie that claims “SUSPENSE” doesn’t rely on people refusing to take a test for no good reason, even though they would pass if they did. Best of all, when one attempt fails, they try a different test, not forgetting the value of knowing thy enemy just because a squirrel ran by and distracted them.
Yet despite all this intelligent, insightful, and intuitive decision-making, doom befalls all. It was the Kobayashi Maru, but this time even cheating didn’t help.
3. The humans didn’t even know if they had been turned.
This film does an excellent job of walking the line between answering a myriad of questions — one of which is “Do the humanoid aliens know that they’ve been turned?” — and leaving some questions for the audience to work out. Sometimes ambiguity can ruin a film, with audiences wanting answers and getting nothing but red herrings, but in this case it adds to the suspense.
Since the creature can infect a person, taking them over from the inside out, there’s the potential that someone could be infected but still operate as a human — even continuing the fight against the alien. Half way through the film, Kurt “look how thin I was” Russell is lost from the group, and the rest of the crew suspects he’s been replaced by the creature. There is little to prove that he isn’t, except for how vigorously he fights against the alien creatures as they crop up. So is he an alien or isn’t he?
This is a horrifying concept, to be slowly turning into the very monster you’re fighting. Sure, the same could be said about every werewolf, vampire or zombie film, but at least in those films the characters themselves know. Even if they choose to ignore them, they’ve seen warnings that they’ve got little time left, whether its a bite, or a scratch, or…well another type of bite. With this film, the actions that happen off screen are as much a mystery to the audience as they are to the characters.
For all we know, Kurt Russell could have been replaced so perfectly, he still thinks he’s human AND any memory of his attack erased from his mind. The sheer horror of that possibility is heartbreaking.
4. Wilford Brimley in a shed
This one’s short, but still makes me sad. Imagine the only person who truly comprehends the danger the team is facing forced to sit alone in a shed. In the Antarctic.
There’s no one to protect him and only freezing temperatures and deafening blackness all around to keep him company. There’s the occasional scream coming from inside the complex to mix things up a bit, but it just signals that his friends are dying fighting a monster that only he understands.
There’s nothing but poor Wilford Brimley to do but wait for his fate. Either a drop of infected blood replicates inside him until his humanity is snuffed out, or a terrifying creature slips under the door, plucks out his eyeballs and replaces his brain.
Either way, he got the shaft.
5. No one wins
I’m a guy who loves a happy ending, but I’ll settle for knowing if the bad guy won or lost. This film spits in my eye, and says “You want an ending? I’ll end the movie but you don’t get an ending.”
Keith “The Voice” David and Kurt “The Beard” Russell burn/explode everyone and everything in what started as an attempt to kill the Thing, but ended up being an attempt to prevent it from getting away. Even presuming that they were successful in burning every drop of infected blood, we as the audience and they as characters still don’t trust each other to be human. This film places importance on what happens behind the scenes in a very real and impactful fashion. If there was ever a moment that we weren’t actively watching both men that opens the possibility that either or both are monsters in disguise. And because of #3 on this list, we’re not even sure that THEY would know if they were turned into.
The isolation, darkness, cold and ambiguous danger all conspire towards an ending that just crushes all the joy in your heart.
Like what you see? Secure enough in your masculinity for more? Check out more Guy Cry Cinema or watch Dan on No Right Answer, the weekly debate show that knows what’s really important: Pointlessly arguing about geek culture.