The Thing: A Horror Legend…

My housemate is currently in the middle of writing a distressing amount essays, one of which happens to about John Carpenter. An upside of this is that we recently spent an enjoyable evening re-watching and analysing a bunch of his films, starting with my personal favourite, The Thing. This made me realise that I have yet to cover John Carpenter in this blog and that is a tragic mistake. Allow me to immediately rectify this by looking at The Thing right now.

For those who don’t know, The Thing is a 1982 remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World which in turn was based on the book Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr. It cleaves more closely to the original novel than the ‘51 film and achieves a lot more in terms of creature design by virtue of having decades worth more developed practical effects. The film is a great watch and a very tense one at that. The story revolves around an Antarctic research base, which is invaded by an alien who can take the form of any living thing it kills. This leads to rising tensions and paranoia amongst the team as they try desperately to route out the creature and prevent it from reaching civilisation. Careful, some minor spoilers ahead.

Re-watching it, even knowing the plot in advance it is still stomach wrenching trying to keep track of who has been assimilated by the creature at what point. The film is very well acted by all the cast, particularly Kurt Russell as MacReady, who plays a tough no-nonsense helicopter pilot. A man who doesn’t normally lead, but naturally takes charge and keeps his head in a crisis. Russell was born to play tough rugged characters like this, and MacReady is a fun character to root for. He is resourceful and intelligent, yet fallible. Another standout is Keith David as Childs, who simultaneously provides a good sceptical foil to MacReady, and also brings some moments of levity, such as when he explodes after being tied to a chair for so long. His confrontational relationship with MacReady is contrasted well with his methodical and careful nature. He doesn’t want to take anything for granted.

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It is immensely refreshing to come back to a Horror film where the characters act logically and make smart decisions. The threat is immediately taken seriously and studied. Once the crew learn of the alien after seeing it assimilate a dog, they take many measures to try and wipe it out, even torching every creature they come across. The script allows for them to make mistakes of course, but they are much more capable than your average horror protagonist, and this makes their inevitable deaths much more impactful. We want to see these characters survive. The blood test scene is a perfect example of logical characters. After seeing different parts of the thing react with self-preservation MacReady devises a heated blood test, to see if the creature’s blood will react to defend itself. This creates intense tension and helps drive the plot forward, weeding out members of the group one by one.

Speaking of the creature, the makeup and practical effects in this film are outstanding. They were incredible at the time and they still hold up really well today. While I think CGI is often unfairly maligned in cinema, there is something to be said for trying to make things for real first, especially because there is always a visceral reaction to seeing something physical happen in a movie, even if you know it isn’t real. The grotesque models and animatronics used to create the various phases of the thing as it assimilates the crew are obscenely fantastic! All the credit in the world needs to go to Rob Bottin, who was only 22 at the time. He dedicated so much time and effort to getting these effects made, that he was ordered to hospital by Carpenter after shooting wrapped. The fact that he received not a single award for this movie is nothing short of criminal.

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In terms of direction, Carpenter employs a lot of the same techniques he used in his earlier horror, Halloween. The camera is almost always moving, creeping around the characters and often lingering on empty environments, giving the disturbing impression that the creature is always watching these people, waiting for the right moment. The shots of the base without people in view shape the idea that the building is almost a character on its own, hiding the creature with its small rooms and long corridors. I love the way that Carpenter turns the bright comfortable building, full of beds and TVs into the more inhospitable environment; a place of endless fear where the thing could be hiding in plain sight at any moment. Contrast that to the dark, freezing cold outside, which feels oddly safer at times, forcing the creature to be out in the open and vulnerable, nowhere to corner one of the men to assimilate him. The film also makes great use of reincorporation, bringing things that have been casually set up back later in the film. My favourite example is the idea of using blood to test the men, which initially fails because the samples are ruined, only for MacReady to improvise a simpler, more intuitive version later on. The fact that the crew keep finding torn garments in the trash is another little detail that I picked up on the repeat viewing. Later in the film we find out the creature tears the clothes of it’s victims, and so needs to rip the name label to avoid giving the game away.

This film is an iconic achievement, and it has influenced a lot of media over the years. The creature effects are now legendary and its atmosphere of paranoia inspired directors like Quentin Tarantino, when making the Hateful Eight. John Carpenter is a fantastic cult director, who’s varied body of work is quite an experience to watch. I would strongly recommend seeing this movie, although be warned, it’s not for the squeamish.

Unusual YouTube gems…

I have been rather sporadic in my posts recently, as I have been on a long holiday in Iceland and before that was busy with yet more university work, however I am now back to the grind and can promise I will be posting more regularly from now on, hopefully on Wednesdays. With that said, let’s get down to business!

I thought that since I haven’t seen many new films as of late, and since I want this blog to explore other related topics, that I would take a look at YouTube this week instead. I have been an avid YouTuber for a long time, in fact I started watching videos on the site not long after when it first began. Since 2008 I watched many film-making and sketch shows, and after a while I created my own account, to upload crappy movies my friends and I made. On a side note, don’t go looking for those films, I deleted them a long time ago, and the rest have been lost to the ether. Since 2011 I’ve subscribed to a metric ton of different channels, as my tastes have evolved and so today I thought I’d share five of my favourite channels, still with quite a small audience, and whom I would love to see get more attention.

 

1. AgentXPQ.

A channel I have followed for a long time, Levni Yilmaz is a Turkish American film-maker who makes short, mostly anecdotal animated videos in a series called “Tales of Mere existence”. I discovered him when I came across his video “a typical conversation with my mom” which I found so instantly relatable and funny that I subscribed on the spot. His style is to film short static cartoons of what he is talking about as the lines are still being drawn in, creating a unique and really cool look for the series. His videos cover many observations about his life and pop culture in general as well as quite a few amusing and unusual stories from his life. The videos have a mildly pessimistic and sardonic tone, and while I am not a pessimist, it is very cathartic to watch a melancholy perspective to balance out some of the more positive and saccharine channels I watch. The series is also very funny in a dry pithy sort of way.

2. Harry Partridge.

Another channel I am a long-time fan of, Harry Partridge is in my opinion the finest 2D animator working on the internet currently. He has been around for a long time, originally posting mostly to Newgrounds, and has developed a lot as an animator. His cartoons are highly polished and very funny, the humour a mixture of campy parodies of various pop culture and absurd and slightly immature comedy. I think Harry is at his best when making completely original content that sends up old material, such as his most famous creations, the Starbarians, a loving parody series mimicking the classic 80’s Saturday morning cartoons by being as far from them in tone as possible. Full of blood, crudity and completely reprehensible characters, the Starbarians is the most hilarious cartoon series online at the moment. The overblown style of the animation and the stellar voice acting from Partridge make for a winning combination, even if the videos are inevitably a little short on plot. The only major drawback is that owing to the time-consuming nature of hand-drawing cartoons, and Harry’s own heightened perfectionism, you can expect maybe two videos a year currently! I for one though, feel they are more than worth the wait.

3. Lindsay Ellis.

One of the creators I love most that came out of Channel Awesome, I would say that Lindsay Ellis has far outgrown her slightly cringey beginnings. For those who don’t know, Lindsay started her online career as the Nostalgia Chick, a persona created by the Channel Network now known as Channel Awesome to parallel the Nostalgia Critic, a character played by Doug Walker. She won a contest to play this character, and the idea originally was that she would focus on the “girly” side of nostalgic film and television, leaving the Critic free to keep his fragile masculinity intact. As such her early content is hampered by a lot of restrictions, first of the limited material and secondly the need to keep a similar style to Walker’s content. However, in recent years, and especially since leaving Channel Awesome, a very smart move in retrospect, Ellis has started to make some of the best video Essays on film I have ever seen. She may be my all-time favourite YouTuber, and there is some tough competition. Her style and voice have really developed over the last few years, and her roots as a film student have really come into play. Her analyses of films are insightful, deep and very engaging. She has taught me quite a bit about story structure and auteur theory, and she has a cheeky, dry sense of humour that I really appreciate.

4. FilmJoy.

Taking a look now at a more recent find. FilmJoy is a relatively new channel, having started only four years ago. The Channel has a small number of subscribers as of yet, but the content is worthy of a hell of a lot more. In particular the “Movies with Mikey” series created by Mikey Neumann is a great watch. The videos explore various aspects of films, from popular blockbusters to more obscure films like The Rocketeer. Mikey has a very laid-back style, seeming almost drunk in his speech, but nevertheless extremely insightful, and in every single video has a unique perspective on the film in question I have not heard before. His humour is quite anarchic and careless but funny in its own way. However, what really got me interested in his videos is his video editing. Each entry in his series seems incredibly slick and professional. The openings to the videos are colourful and well shot, the clips of films are fantastically edited, keeping the pacing light and quick and yet the series is unmistakable in its style. You know when you’re watching Movies with Mikey.

5. Passion of the Nerd.

Lastly, I wanted to share a YouTuber who is still criminally small for the quality of content he puts out, Ian Martin, AKA Passion of the Nerd. Ian caters to a very specific corner of the internet, Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans. I have no doubt he has brought renewed interest to the series through his videos “Why you should watch Buffy/Angel” because I started watching those series mainly because of him. He started out making weekly videos looking at Buffy episodes in his Buffy guide, mostly to let you know which ones to skip. However, after a while his videos have evolved into deep analyses of the series sub-textual meaning as well as the character growth and story arcs. His take on each episode and how it fits into the series as a whole is very interesting and engaging. He is also of course very funny when he wants to be. Now making reviews and discussion videos on other movies and media as well, he still makes his best content looking at the works of Joss Whedon and exploring its cultural impact. His guides have been fascinating and stimulating, and I sincerely hope he gets millions of subscribers, because Ian really deserves more.

 

So that’s my top five most interesting YouTubers, I hope you check some of them out! I’m definitely going to try and expand this blog, talk about more aspects of films, and not just Hollywood movies, so expect more posts looking YouTube channels and videos in the future. Also expect more posts in general, as I’m going to try and keep to a very loose schedule from now on. If any of the channels I have covered sound interesting I urge you to give them a watch as many of them are quite small and could do with many more subscribers. Hope you enjoyed this different sort of post and let me know if you want more content like this in the future.