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"Thing" movie unveiled, veiled

  • Blog Post by: James Lileks
  • October 11, 2011 - 12:57 PM

Apparently the lazy writer’s stylebook says that any sci-fi movie made in the 50s is related somehow to trepidations over Soviet expansionism:

It's been 60 years since alien thriller movie "The Thing From Another World" hit theaters at the height of Cold War paranoia and half that long since horror director John Carpenter revisited its themes in "The Thing."

 

On Friday, a new "The Thing" is back in movie theaters, hungrier than ever, in a version being billed as a prequel to Carpenter's examination of fear that is centered on an alien from another world who is discovered by scientists on Antarctica.

By this standard, the original “Dracula” hit theaters at the height of fears about European economic instability. Just because a movie was about a monster from another planet doesn’t mean it had anything to do with Cold War paranoia, or that “paranoia” was the term to apply to anything regarding the USSR. But the author doubles down:

The best horror films are both timeless, yet very much of their time. "The Thing From Another World" (1951) is seen as reflecting America's paranoia about communism, and Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982) has been viewed as a thinly veiled parable about the horrors of AIDS.

Okay, now it’s extra stupid with sprinkles on top. The term AIDS was proposed in 1982, replacing GRID, but unless you think John Carpenter frantically rewrote his script at the last moment after he got a heads-up from HHS, it’s probably unlikely that the movie is a parable, veiled or otherwise, about AIDS. If anyone was worried about contagion in 1981, when the movie was made, they were worried about herpes. But that doesn’t sound as deep.

 

That said, the prequel has one problem: everyone knows what happens. Do yourself a favor and rent the original: it’s not as gooey and disgusting as the remake, doesn’t have the same hopeless nihilism, and not only sports some damned snappy dialogue unlike any sci-fi movie of the era (thanks to Howard Hawks), but the Thing itself is played by our own Minnesota lad, James Arness.

 

Hey, wait - what’s this one trying to say in its own veiled way?

 

This new "Thing" could be viewed as a commentary on the present-day threat from the global war on terror, its makers said, but Van Heijningen was quick to add that he didn't set out to comment on modern times. "It's first and foremost a horror film about an alien. But you can definitely make the parallel in the sense that we have terrorists among us, pretending to be good neighbors, while they have a very different, hidden agenda."

Ah, the sound of a director going along with the interviewer, hoping the piece comes out complimentary.

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