So, what did YOU do during last week’s too damn hot weather? Me, I dragged my slightly sickly self out in that nasty, unbearable heat to go sit in a nice, well-chilled home with seven other people with the express purpose of making some of them scream. No, I didn’t do my *legendary* crowd-pleasing Chippendale’s act, people (wait, I have a Chippendale’s act?). I simply put a very old plan into action I’d successfully executed a few times in the distant past in introducing a fine horror film to some friends who had either never seen it previously, have only seen a heavily edited for TV version or yes, just disliked scary movies.
Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that I’ve actually previously reviewed an older DVD version of the 1982 John Carpenter film and I’ve also deconstructed the 2011 prequel which I found okay, but lacking in some respects (I think the studio meddled a bit too much with the film, turning it into less than what director Matthijs van Heijningen intended to be a more solid horror experience). Now, I didn’t just show up unannounced, tie seven people to assorted furniture and force them to watch the movie, so there. Nope, as a matter of fact, I was actually asked to host a little screening party by a friend who borrows movies from me on a semi-regular basis.
Initially I planned to decline the invite and just lend out the film, but another idea quickly popped into my head where I’d watch the people watching the movie to see how they reacted. Kind of like a pompous professor unspooling one of those horrific auto safety films before springing a pop history quiz on them, I guess. I thought there would only be three attendees at this experiment in terror, but a reschedule was needed thanks to a pet emergency at the screener’s place and the next thing I know, the attendance had doubled (+1!) thanks to some friends and relatives popping by the “screening room” for some July 4th week fun. I’m not the best with crowds, but The Thing just so happens to be a film where you really don’t need to do more that press PLAY, sit back and enjoy the results.
Would you believe that didn’t exactly happen? Of course it didn’t.
Well, what happened was, during lunch two of the audience members politely requested that some of the special features be run first because if they saw how some of the effects were done, they’d be more likely to want to sit through the entire film. That was a cue for a hand-raising session where it ended up that THREE people wanted that opportunity despite the plot spoiling this would lead to. I relented because I knew that even though they’d get their wish, the film would still get them jumping under the couch and chairs because it’s still an effective horror flick. The amusing part was after about 25 minutes or so of one of the making-of featurettes, the heroic trio decided they just wanted to skip to the main event.
Oh, even though it wasn’t the 4th, it was still part of the festivities. I split a rather large and tasty hot dog (not on my diet these days) with one guest and a rather nice slice of amazing fresh apple pie (ditto). I was going to refuse the complimentary scoop of vanilla ice cream until I found out it was homemade and settled for a small scoop. I think the bottles of water I drank were the only things that could been deemed “healthy”, but when in Rome, right?
As the film started, one of the guests asked if I’d sit with everyone else because she felt weird being watched. I admitted that yep, it felt weird watching people watch a movie, to which she replied “I’m sorry. It just reminds me of when I was in college and we had this professor…” and you can figure out the rest. Point taken, I moved the bar stool I was perched on a few feet over to where everyone was gathered, but ended up sitting on a few throw pillows near the sofa because I was higher up on that stool and it actually felt odd up there. That, and my poor back was starting to kick me in the back.
Only one other person had seen the entire film (the 14-year old son of the couple whose place the screening took place at), while the dad had only seen the terrible TV edit some years back (which is actually included as a bonus on the Shout Factory release). The oldest guest was the grandfather who actually remembered seeing the original 1951 film as a kid at a drive-in as a re-release “…sometime in what? 1955? ’56?”, which maybe means the film was at the very least, still living as part of a multiple bill years after its debut. At this, I was going to ask the man how old he was, but he was sitting there with a no-nonsense look, his arms crossed (arms that looked as if they could snap a guy like me asking poky question into a box of pencils). I found out later he was a proud Navy veteran and still working out daily. I kind of had to hold in a Popeye joke when I found this out, but he ended up making one as if he’d read my mind. Well, he did eat most of that spinach salad that was served up earlier, so I should have expected that.
Speaking of expected, even the pre-viewing of that slice of special features goodness didn’t stop the human jumping bean act at all. The infamous transforming dog sequence had those who hadn’t seen it before actually me ask to run it back so they could study the effects, which led to a priceless “Now, I know that’s NOT a real dog… but that looks like a REAL dog!” from one viewer. This led to one of the ladies present noting she was “not much of a dog person” which led to the first needle scratch moment of the afternoon. She explained that she’d been knocked over by a relative’s dog a few times as a child, so she just “didn’t trust them. Well, I mean BIG dogs!” , which was more that a little amusing because I could have sworn her phone had a picture of her holding a cute Labrador puppy. Naturally, another guest pointed this out to her and she bounced back with “Well, puppies are OK… and I look GOOD in that picture!” That matter settled (I guess?), it was back to the movie.
The Norris on the table sequence was the high point for some who thought it was a bit of overkill, but everyone stuck it out after grandpa made a deadpan Farewell to Arms joke that made all in the room laugh so much I had to pause the film so we could recover. Hey, there’s one in every crowd, right? Usually, it’s me who’s the one with the whippy quips, but I had planned on not interrupting the show for the first-timers. Leave it to the oldest guy in the room to also be the funniest. Oh, the ending to that scene also broke up the room when Palmer let out his famous line. The Blair going bonkers scene led to a “that was like my last poker game.” comment from the vet (and more laughs in the room) and yeah, those jokes were a nice bit of glue that made the film easier to take for the former non-horror fans watching.
Some of the viewers got hung up in trying to figure out just who was the monster was even though Carpenter was playing the intentionally coy fiddle-master in keeping the guessing game going. It actually didn’t matter who got the blood cabinet key, whose room the transformed dog slipped into or where the heck Blair got that noose from. One thing everyone seemed to love was the black humor throughout. The grandfather even let out a head-turning (well, my head turned at this) “Yep, just like the Navy” at one point during the brilliant blood test scene and Garry’s hilarious line at the end of that sequence had everyone in the room cracking up again.
There was a second record scratch moment after our veteran noted the music in the film seemed familiar and as the film was paused because there was a bathroom break, I found out the guy was a big fan of old to modern westerns and had seen and liked The Hateful Eight. Well, that led to a sidetrack discussion about Tarantino’s seeming to using more cues and entire tracks from The Thing than were in that finished film. I also turned him on to a few of Arrow Video’s excellent spaghetti westerns he had no idea existed, which had him whip out a small leather bound notepad to jot titles down. That got the grandson laughing as he pointed out the his gramps isn’t a cellphone user even though he got one recently for his birthday.
With the bathroom break over, amusingly enough right before the speedy finale, everyone sat down to that and yes, MacReady’s quip as he tosses the creature an explosive surprise got the room laughing. When the ending rolled in and the credits rolled, there was some light applause followed by dead silence for about ten seconds before a “Well, that was depressing!” comment from the host’s wife, which had the room crack up once more. The general consensus was that the film was indeed frightening enough and also led to someone asking what else Carpenter had done. That was a fun bit because as the son poked around online with his phone, it turned out everyone had seen one or more of his films at some point. Less work for me on the recommendation front, but I have the feeling if this is done again, either In the Mouth of Madness or They Live would be on deck.
I should probably mention that the film got a pretty interesting, pretty difficult and very well-made sequel of sorts in the form of 2002’s The Thing, a mostly excellent and terrifying PS2/Xbox/PC game by now defunct developer Computer Artworks. The game picks up after the events of the film as a pair of U.S. Special Forces teams head out to discover what happened at Outpost 31. While some of the mechanics were a tad unpredictable (some of your team members tended to become infected and “Thing out” on you at the worst times even after you game them a blood test), the third-person shooting and squad-based elements were pretty solid. Toss in an uncredited John Carpenter (who approved the game’s creation) voicing a character crucial to the plot and a nice surprise at the end and you get a title worth tracking down if you have access to one of those older game consoles or a gaming PC.
Note: if you can find it, the PC version should work on Windows 10 provided you’ve the proper graphics card and don’t mind a bit of patching to get things going.
Speaking of getting going, I’m going to stop here and post this now as it’s part of The Winter in July Blogathon hosted by Debbie over at Moon in Gemini. Go poke at the other entries and get more cold comfort from some fine authors. Feel free to drop a comment below if you like. I won’t bite (maybe).