A mistake which is commonly made about neurotics is to suppose that they are interesting. It is not interesting to be always unhappy, engrossed with oneself, malignant or ungrateful, and never quite in touch with reality. Neurotics are heartless.
— Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave, 1944
1944 – 2019.
[Update: I didn’t create this meme, and I don’t know its author; I shared it from Facebook.]
And she was predictably impressed. Here are a few observations that came up for me, about the categorically rewatchable sci-fi/horror movie that keeps on giving. (Yeah, I know I sound overly preoccupied with this movie, and that’s weird, but I’m just really into movies. And John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is the same kind of classic for monster movie fans as “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Story” is for people who like Christmas movies.) [THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS.]
1) It was fun watching “The Thing” with someone who was seeing it for the first time. Not only did I have to stifle a chuckle at her cry of “That poor dog!” during the opening credits, but I also watched while she guessed (incorrectly, as most of us did) at which characters had been assimilated by the shape-shifting monster as the story progressed. (I noticed something ironic last night that I couldn’t mention. When MacReady delivers his short “I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me” speech, all of the men he’s addressing are also still human … Unless I’m mistaken, Norris and Palmer are elsewhere.
Which brings me to what at first occurred to me as a … remotely possible plot hole in this otherwise perfect masterpiece. If The Thing truly wants to escape Antarctica and prey upon the rest of the world, it doesn’t need to assimilate (or “Thingify,” as I like to think) everyone in the camp. It only needs to overtake a single human. (This would be the silhouetted figure that the dog first approaches; my money’s on Norris.) Think about it … nobody stationed at Outpost 31 remains at the research station indefinitely. They’d cycle out at the end of a shift of … six months? Eight months? Longer? (And what about vacations and holidays?) Sooner or later, they’d fly home. And, having perfectly replicated a human’s anatomy, The Thing need only sustain itself until that departure by eating the same food the other humans were eating. Then, as soon as it arrived at any other, warmer location on earth, it could attack life in its abundance.
But this morning I realized that my analysis here is faulty. First, the humans were already getting wise to The Thing and its means of procreation — thanks to a pre-diabeetus Wilford Brimley wisely intoning, “That ain’t dog.” Maybe The Thing was smart enough to realize the humans could effectively quarantine it. Second, I am assuming in my criticism that “The Thing” is acting as a single entity. Yet it shouldn’t act that way at all; this is the entire point of MacReady’s “blood test.” While one incarnation of The Thing is safely munching on canned goods disguised as a human, a separate incarnation was sitting in storage, exposed — presumably only until the humans finally realized it needed to be destroyed somehow. That iteration of The Thing needed to attack and duplicate Redding if it wanted to save itself.
2) The Thing actually shouldn’t need to reach civilization in order to begin attacking all life on earth; it only needs to reach the Antarctic coast. If it enters the water and begins assimilating sea life (and why shouldn’t it be able to?), then it’s game over. I said last night that “a fish can travel wherever it wants,” which my friend found pretty funny, but it’s true. A Thingified fish (or its fish-Thing progeny) could arrive at any continental coastline.
3) If The Thing replicates a human perfectly on a cellular level, then … might it be reluctant to kill anyone else, because it would basically be a human? (Obviously, the film’s plot-driving antagonist has no such reluctance, but … still, think about it.) If it perfectly replicates a human brain, right down to its cellular structures and chemistry, then wouldn’t it have a conscience and experience empathy? My friend pointed out the reductionist nature of my question, though — it assumes that conscience and empathy can have only physical origins.
4) The movie’s characters (and most viewers) assume that The Thing is “a lifeform” or an organism. Is it, or is it simply “live” tissue? Somebody on the Internet Movie Database message board pointed out long ago that it’s “just cells,” and that’s … literally true; the film even shows this via crude 80’s-era computer graphic. Is it an “organism” if it is simply tissue that replicates? Or is it no more a “lifeform” than a cancer, or tissue grown in a lab?
5) I honestly opine that the film is perfect, or very nearly so. It is the paragon of sci-fi/horror movies. And I’d put it on par with other films that I hold virtually perfect, like “To Have and Have Not” (1944), “Alien” (1979), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Aliens” (1986), “The Accidental Tourist” (1988), “Alien 3” (1992) and “Vanilla Sky” (2001).
6) My friend reaaaally likes Kurt Russell’s hair in this film.
Okay, enough. I’m sorry about this. Hey, at least I’m not obsessing over comics tonight.
As I’ve shared here at the blog before, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was a pretty big part of my college experience. MST3K parties were indescribably fun. I honestly believe that I have literally never laughed so hard in my life.
I’ve previously linked to the priceless episode where Joel and the ‘Bots skewer Joe Don Baker and 1975’s “Mitchell.” Below are three more that were the unofficial required viewing for the second floor of Mary Washington College’s New Hall during the 1993-1994 school year.
What was maddening about MST3K was how difficult it was to explain to the uninitiated. (Bear in mind, this was before the days of Youtube, with which you could just send your friends a clip.) It was an amazing TV show, but my efforts to explain it to friends made it sound preposterously stupid: There are these three comedians that make fun of old movies — really bad ones — as the movies are playing. Two of the comedians are portrayed by robot puppets … There’s an ongoing skit in which they’re stuck in space. The special effects are really terrible — but that’s okay, because it’s kinda part of the joke …
The first episode below is 1966’s “Manos: the Hands of Fate,” which I understand to be the most popular among fans. (Even aside from MST3K’s satirical riffing, I’ve read that this is widely regarded as the worst movie of all time — a distinction I’m not sure it truly deserves.)
The second is the episode devoted to 1944’s befuddling and blithely moralizing “I Accuse My Parents.” (I and the other guys on my floor might have actually liked this one even more than “Manos.”)
The third is my personal favorite — the entry for 1951’s saccharine, preachy “The Painted Hills.” In a strange coincidence, I think it’s actually the first one I ever saw. And it’s also one that I’ve never heard named as a favorite by another MST3K fan. Seeing the Joel and the ‘Bots make fun of a poor defenseless dog (played by the same dog who played Lassie, no less!) was just too irreverently brilliant. SNAUSAGES! (And does anyone else think that this was a morbidly strange film when it was first conceived? It was marketed as a family-oriented “Lassie” movie, but it contains just a bit more murder and bizarre horror than you’d expect from that.)
“Manos: the Hands of Fate.”
“I Accuse My Parents.”
“The Painted Hills.”
This is my favorite poem of all time — read by my favorite poet of all time.
Once again, this is an excerpt from Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” first published in 1944.
Operation Overlord (the Normandy Landings), D-Day, 6 June 1944. Men of the 13/18 Hussars on board LCT’s (Landing Craft Tanks) heading towards the Normandy beaches.
Photo credit: By Mapham J (Sgt), No 5 Army Film & Photographic Unit [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Well there’s one thing I can cross off my bucket list. (There’s a lot on there, and some of it’s weird.) I finally saw F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu: ein Symphonie des Grauens” (1922).
And am I damn glad I did! I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I love plenty of classic movies; “The 39 Steps” (1939) and “To Have and Have Not” (1944) are among my all-time favorites. But I’m accustomed to modern horror — my tastes generally extend only as far back as “The Birds” (1963) and “Night of the Living Dead” (1968).
I waited until I was in just the right mood. (This is the first silent film I’ve ever seen from start to finish — the only exception being Mel Brooks’ 1976 parody, “Silent Movie.”) Then I began it shortly before midnight.
The movie just worked for me. It was sublimely creepy.
I think it helped that the grainy, flickering, black-and-white period footage made this expressionist movie utterly atmospheric for a modern viewer. These, combined with the shots of Max Schreck superbly made up as “Count Orlok,” were damned unsettling. Schreck also appeared to be a great physical actor, with his gaunt stance and stilted, inhuman movements. (Was he unusually tall too?)
The vintage footage also enhanced my enjoyment of the movie in a way that Murnau probably couldn’t have expected. I know this is strange, but … nearly a century later, the thought that occurred to me several times during this movie was this: “Everyone involved in this production is long dead by now.” Yes, I know that is a morbid thought — I’ve never done that before! I think it was just the film itself that did that to me — it’s about undeath and immortality, after all.
It also helped that I’d read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897), of which this film is an unauthorized adaptation. The resulting lawsuit by Stoker’s estate is interesting reading: supposedly all copies of the movie were ordered by the courts to be destroyed, bankrupting Prana, the production company. But a permanent cult following developed for the few surviving prints.
Anyway, I followed this up with the palate-cleansing “Night on Bald Mountain,” the final segment of Disney’s “Fantasia” (1944). That combination, too, totally worked for me — I followed up the black-and-white nightmare-fuel of the seminal vampire film with some vivid, incongruously hellish Disney nightmare-fuel.
“Nosferatu” is in the public domain. You can view the entire film on Youtube at the link below.