Monster of the Day #39

Yesterday we went old school, today (comparatively) new school.  The ’80s gave us a couple of perfect examples of how to execute a ‘reimagining.’  This is one of them (Cronenberg’s The Fly being the other), but sadly Hollywood decades later has shown no sign that it was paying attention.  Carpenter did it by returning to the source material, which would have been technically impossible to shoot in the ’50s, and thus wisely foregone.  Even so, the later version demonstrates how gobsmacking practical effects can be.  We will see how the story is handled in the digital age soon, as a prequel to Carpenter’s version is in the works.  It would be nice if the film were even half as good as either of its forebears, but I won’t be laying any money on it.

  • I’m sorry, both the Christian Nyby version (as well as the novella “Who Goes There”) were superior. Only the special effects here are even worth a look.

  • BeckoningChasm

    I think both versions are excellent in their own way. But yes, this does show a rare example of how Hollywood occasionally gets the whole “remake” thing exactly right. These are probably the only two films that could have their own double feature without seeming redundant or repetitive.

  • Henry — I’m really not arguing with you, as I think the Hawks version is a better film. However, you discount Carpenter’s skills as a director to your peril; he was really at the top of his game back then. There are gags in the film that, as with the Hawks version, still get you to jump even if you’ve seen the film numerous times before. (In the Mouth of Madness has some similar moments.) In the end, both films hit the bullseye of what they were trying to achieve. Past that, I think, it’s personal preference as to whose aims you prefer.

  • Wayne

    I think both are good in their own way. Both are well-made and fascinating. The first one totally changed the story but still worked and scared you by NOT showing a lot. The quick glimpses of the Thing worked perfectly and still make me jump. The remake followed the story closely and shoved your face in gore…but the acting was good, the story moved quickly, it was well-directed and the special effects are still fascinating to this day.

  • I like this movie a lot. I feel that the acting was effective, the setting paranoid, and the plot moved right along. The underlying powers of the Thing were carefully never completely explored, and the use of the special effects was carefully spaced so that I was creeped out during the periods between otherworldly fright.

    I think this is a really good movie – possibly Carpenter’s greatest, and certainly one of the very best horror movies of the 1980s.

    That said, I love the original Thing and feel it’s one of the greatest horror movies of the 50s.

  • Heres my predictions about the prequel:

    1. The CGI will be subpar to the original real-life FX.
    2. The cast will be full of Hollywood pretty boys and not the grizzled looking roughnecks from 1982.
    3. They’re going to fill it with political agendas (EEEEEVIL government/capitalists will try to get their hands on it to make money/weapons).

    At least one of these will be evident, judging by Hollywood’s current standard of moviemaking.

  • BeckoningChasm

    John – you forgot that one of the cast will be a kick-ass woman, who will be the designated hero, as she will be leagues smarter than anyone around her. Her actions will get several people killed, but the film will not blame her for this.

  • Plissken79

    Carpenter’s version of The Thing is his best film (Halloween would be a close second), and one of the greatest horror films of all time. It also the rare remake that is superior to the original. Hawks’ version is slow, dull, not scary at all and has very little to do with the original novella.

    I have never understood the admiration for the film, probably a nostalgic mindset that deems the first version of anything as automatically and forever superior to a remake or a reimagining, look at people who laughably argue that Tim Burton’s Batman films are superior to Christopher Nolan’s (such as the Nostalgia Critic).

    As for the new Thing movie, the decision to focus on the Norwegians who found the alien seems like an interesting angle, although I do not where Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character would come from

  • Plissken—Mileage varies, but you are WAY off. Nostalgia has nothing to do with it. TTFAW is simply a great film.

  • Gamera

    I can only agree that both films were great, but different enough I find it hard to compare them but enjoy both.

    Personally I think Carpenter went a little overboard with the gore but I love the whole paranoid angle. Trapped in a remote base the guy standing next to you could be the Thing and just waiting for a chance to consume you. IMHO one of the scariest movies ever.

  • Not-So-Great Cthulhu

    I was wondering if this would show up as a MotD… and exactly which picture you would use, considering it’s unlikely that we ever see the alien’s true form.

    This ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies. I can’t say it’s better or worse than Hawks’ version since it wasn’t trying to be the same type of movie. Hawks’ version dealt with people banding together against a common threat while Carptenter’s version had them torn apart by (justified) paranoia.

    It also had amazing special effects. The use of stop-motion and other practical effects trumps even the best CGI to me. It just seems so much more… tangible.

  • Gamera

    And I always feared that Wilford Brimley was really an evil space alien……

  • Rock Baker

    The Thing prequel might at least throw us a Lance Henriksen or a Dick Miller in a supporting role, there’s your silver lining.

    Haven’t seen Cronenberg’s version of The Fly in years. Is it really as good as The Thing? I hardly remember it.

    Hawk’s version slow, dull, and unscary? If you’re jaded enough I suppose you might not find it as spooky as others, but the slow and dull part is just confusing. I’m with Ken on this, nostalgia has nothing to do with it. It’s simply a great film, right up there with Island In The Sky. (I will grant you that I also believe the Burton Batmans are overrated, and I’m exactly opposite to Ken’s statement -in the Superman IV review- that Batman Returns is one of the best superhero movies to ever grace the screen.)

    One might argue that The Blob was also well reimagined in the 80s -as Killer Klowns From Outer Space!

  • BeckoningChasm

    I honestly didn’t care much for Cronenberg’s “Fly” though I will admit it was very well made. My problem with Cronenberg is that his movies are loaded with interesting concepts, but his characters are very insubstantial. “The Fly” goes partway against that by casting Jeff Goldblum (who’s almost always pretty charismatic) but the character–all the characters–seem very one dimensional.

    This is okay if you’re dealing with an interesting idea, but if I’m supposed to care about the characters, like in “Dead Ringers” then the movie falls flat.

    I emphasize the above is entirely my opinion and has no basis in fact.

  • Rock Baker

    Let’s see, the only Cronenberg movies I’ve seen recently enough to have recall were Scanners and They Came From Within. I do remember that Scanners didn’t make me feel as involved as it should have, but I assumed it was me and not the film itself. They Came From Within was equally intriguing and appalling, I remember being focused on the events but the actors don’t stand out in my brain. I think you may be onto something about Cronenberg’s characters.

  • BC — I get what you’re saying, but I feel the opposite about The Fly. I think Goldblum and Davis had one of the great screen romances of the ’80s in that movie.

  • BeckoningChasm

    Ken – to be fair, it has been a while since I’ve seen The Fly. I was going largely on what I remembered, what struck me most about the film, and I can’t really remember any character stuff. Perhaps I ought to netflix it. I do remember I wasn’t overly captivated by it.

  • Plissken79

    Sorry, but I have never cared for the original Thing, it is just not scary, IMHO. The “alien” looks like a circus freak, and he is taken out so easily. There are plenty of horror and sci-fi films from the 1950s I enjoy (like the original War of the Worlds, much better than Spielberg’s remake) but not that one.

    Cronenberg’s The Fly is also a better film than the original, although the Vincent Price version still holds up well. That being said, most horror movie remakes in the last ten yewars have been awful, often worse than the original horror films which were not that great to begin with (Prom Night, My Bloody Valentine, etc)

    Rock, I agree with you on Ken’s statement regarding Batman Returns, I wonder if he still feels that way since the Superman IV review was a few years ago and we have had alot of comic book films since then. I suppose that Burton’s nihilistic mess of a film looks good to comparison to Schumacher’s cinematic atrocities, but that is not saying much

  • Rock Baker

    I remember seeing Batman Forever when it came out and liking it, eventually wound up with the laserdisc. Batman and Robin (the movie, not the serial -tho I have it too) was empty but I didn’t comprehend just how terrrible it was until years later (after I got the laserdisc). However, I’m still quite fond of Batman Forever. Its not perfect, but it’s a pretty fun super-flick. (And at the risk of public stoning, I thought Val Kilmer handled the role nicely) It was played a bit straighter than the out and out camp take of Batman and Robin. They finally bring in Batgirl and THAT’s the movie that stinks to high heaven! Batman Begins and the Dark Knight have been good movies, but are way, way too long.

  • Re: batman Returns. That scene where Batman and Catwoman appeared at the costume party as their ‘real’ identities of Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle? That totally nailed the underlying truth of those characters. Also, Keaton remains the best Batman we’ve gotten so far.

    That said, Dark Knight is an absolutely brilliant film, and head and shoulders above all the rest of them. But then, I think it’s one of the best handful of American films made since, oh, Unforgiven.

  • BeckoningChasm

    I still think Batman Returns is one of the best Batman films ever. Probably not for the reasons that most superhero films reach for.

  • GalaxyJane

    OK, ok so the gorechicken has to admit she’s nevr seen either this or the “Fly” remake (though shee did see, and was disgustaed by the “Blob” remake). The tomato throwing may now commence.

  • The Rev. D.D.

    If you thought the Blob remake was disgusting you should probably stay away from The Thing. Actually, it’s a damn fine film, so you should watch it, but be ready to look away a lot. Maybe find an edited broadcast (USA used to play it a lot but that seems to no longer be the case).

  • D

    Ken, Michael Keaton was a TERRIBLE Batman. Too short and physically unimposing, a nothing voice, simply not the intimidating presence that terrifies criminals that he is supposed to be.

    Val Kilmer was a good Batman in a lousy movie. With a decent script, he could have been perfect.

    Christian Bale is perfect. He plays Batman as a frightening, powerful presence. His Bruce Wayne is the best of all actors to play him, as he shows that it is Batman in disguise as Bruce, not the other way around. He also shows more intelligence in the part, which is greatly aided by the scripts for Batman Begins and The Dark Night. Batman is a detective, and most of the movies before the Nolan/Bale ones have almost no detective work being done.

    George Clooney deserves a kick in the junk. Actually, he deserves a bunch of them, but at least one should be earmarked for his performance as the absolute worst Batman in movie history.

    On topic, Carpenter’s The Thing not only had great effects and atmosphere, it also has one of the all-time great nihilistic horror endings. That scene is simply brilliant, and gets too little recognition for being the cherry on top of that film.

  • BeckoningChasm

    In my opinion, the best Batman/Bruce Wayne ever was Kevin Conroy. No contest, none at all.

    On topic, who’s with me in thinking the reason Carpenter’s Thing did poorly at the box office was that it was released in the middle of summer? Think of how much more effective it would be in winter. You’d leave the theater, surrounded by people all wrapped up against the cold…

    Also, when first released, this film had one of the best slogans ever: “Man is the warmest place to hide.” When the film choked, quick thinking execs changed that to “The ultimate in alien terror.” I can only imagine that the person offering that both proceeded and followed his suggestion with a long, drawn out “Duuuhhhhh…”


    My friend and I were just talking about what an honest-to-god jolt scare the movie has when the Doc is using the defibrilator, AND…

  • Rock Baker

    I also think Kevin Conroy IS Batman (just as Sean Connery IS James Bond), and they have yet to find a Joker as perfect as Mark Hammill (but the late Andrew Koenig came pretty close in Batman: Dead End).

    Batman Returns did have some good scenes (the exact moment they realise who each other is remains a classic moment in the franchise), but I just can’t climb on board. This is only in my opinion, but it just isn’t a great movie, or even a very good one.

    Keaton also has his moments, but I’ve never been convinced he was right for the part. He just seems too colorless to be Bruce wayne (oddly enough). He’s not bad in the role, but I never found him all that memorable either. Robert Lowery burns a deeper image in my memory (probably because he mugged a bit more?).

    Bale is good, but he doesn’t physically suit the role (again, in my opinion). Following the Superman mold, Batman has become too tall and stick-shaped. It’s Bale’s thin face, it just doesn’t say “I’m Batman.” Bruce Campbell or Billy Zane in their prime might’ve done well. Clark Bartram was good in his all too short stint as Batman.

    The gore in The Thing is pretty heavy, but spaced out well. Carpenter uses a slow build-wham!-slow build-wham! approach to draw you deeper and deeper into the story, a story where the gore actually has something to do with the events. The Blob used gore more to shock and gorss out the audience, The Thing uses it more to actually TELL THE STORY!

    And it is the type of film you want to watch on a dark winter night, with the lights turned off, bundled in a blanket, all alone… Be sure to leave the dog outside though.

  • Elizabeth

    I love this movie beyond all reason. Probably my favorite movie of all time.

    The original was great for what it was, but the creativity and daring of the creature effects is amazing, and, as Ken said, there are jump moments that still get me even though I’ve seen it dozens of times.

    One thing I really appreciate is how there’s none of this wishy-washy “But we should try to communicate with it!” business, like in TTFAW or countless other sci-fi films. These guys are nothing if not practical, and when an alien shows up and starts eating the sled dogs, a practical man sets that alien on fire.

    Besides, it has one of my favorite lines of all time, because I really hate unnecessary backstory; when asked several unanswerable questions about the alien at once, Kurt Russell finally snaps back, “Because it’s from outer space! What do you want from me?” How many times have I wished scifi/horror movies would just say “Because it’s from outer space/hell/the future/another dimension” and leave it there? Sometimes it’s the little things you really appreciate.

  • BeckoningChasm

    Elizabeth – there’s a similarly wonderful line in the George Pal “War of the Worlds.” The General talks about how the Martian cylinders are “joined magnetically” and asks Dr. Forrester, “Is that possible?”

    “If they do it, it is.”

  • MadZab

    I never watched the 1950s version so I cannot compare but I do know that Carpenters The Thing was one of the scariest experiences I ever had regarding horror movies. Watching it again, the practical effects are still so good that they rip straight through other aspects of the film, that would otherwise destroy my suspension of disbelief (Shotguns and a FLAMETHROWER?! In the Antarctic?! All ready to go?! Why?!) and end up right in my gut where I take a long, hard look to see that there is -thank god- not a maw full of teeth there…

    When it comes to the new version I agree with John M. Hanna: CGI will be unsubstantial, which is pathetic when you look at, say, Jurassic Park, a stupid movie but with REAL looking dinosaurs (and that was now 17[!] years ago), everyone will be good-looking and in their early twenties plus possible political agenda and the token kickass-female that seems to be the apology for all other female characters hollywood is turning out (and is also, I have to say, a shameful attempt to retreat Alien’s Ellen Ripley – Sci-Fi Action Heroine #1).

    Focussing on the Norwegians in that movie might really prove interesting because when has Hollywood not been focussing on Americans pretty much wherever they shot because of their idea of audience identification? I was surprised that they didn’t write a white man-love-interest into to Geisha when they made that book into a movie…

    But then again, maybe kickass-female is actually an American researcher working on the Norwegian station (making them even better body-count-fodder) and the point-of-view-character of it all…

  • Plissken – The Thing was viewed as an effective film way before Carpenter’s came out, so it’s not just nostalgia that makes people like it. I can confirm that, being a fan of the original movie (despite the fairly lame alien which is wisely not seen much) before Carpenter’s appearance.

    I think that Cronenberg’s Fly is not as good as Carpenter’s Thing, just as the original Fly was not as good as the original Thing. They parallel one another I guess. I am a big Cronenberg fan and would suggest that perhaps his movie with the most 3-dimensional characters might be The Brood. I must be the only fan of Cronenberg who hates Dead Ringers – it did absolutely nothing for me.

  • (Shotguns and a FLAMETHROWER?! In the Antarctic?! All ready to go?! Why?!)

    Don’t know about the shotguns, but the flamethrower would probably be used for emergency de-icing, I’d think.

  • I think one reason people love the original The Thing is that is it one of those rare sci-fi movies where the rest of the film is as entertaining as the monster stuff. The crisp writing, acting and direction means there are no scenes where you’re impatiently waiting for the monster to appear, which is why when it does, perhaps, that the appearances remain shocking.

  • John Nowak

    If it’s Antarctica, they’re not going to have any shotguns or obvious weapons (flamethrowers might be a tool, as Ken suggested), and they’re not going to have any sled dogs.

    Maybe the film was made before that rule.