Sunday, 25 May 2014
Fortunately for me, I seem to naturally space out my viewings of The Thing just enough that I forget who turns out to be infected. Heart attack Norris is a constant, his face as engine to a repulsive insect form is seared into the part of my brain that pores over books about 1980s make-up effects (Mark Salisbury's Behind the Mask in particular). I'm less sure of everyone else though. It helps that there's a lot of doubling in the film - at a glance Blair and Doc Copper could pass for at least cousins. Palmer and Windows have a similar acid-fried outline. Kurt Russell's bearded MacReady toys with having a twin in kennel master Clark, only to trump Clark's modest baseball cap with a fuck off ten gallon. Individuality asserted.
The Thing endures, and thrives, because the threat is mostly abstract. John Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster are never tempted to telegraph anything specific. Instead danger exists as a potential, logical constant. The men deprive themselves of sleep and attempt to build alliances, slow to get a handle on a creature that gobbles up men and spits out facsimiles. A couple of the drones don't even seem sure they're imposters - it's only when cornered that their characters break, the creatures cycling through violent looking attack modes to stress threat while a contingency plan slithers away.
Unlike the Alien that stalked the Nostromo, the Thing is cowardly and opportunist. The shapes it takes don't prowl, attempting to sexually dominate the humans, they skulk. Masters of misdirection. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr's wobbly remake-cum-prequel proposed a drunken mugger, desperate to procreate. This Thing is more like a rapist. It waits until its prey is alone, success momentarily secured, before it dares to strike. It's a wimp playing a numbers game. When a defective component is offered the opportunity to lead it denies the promotion. It screws its face up and drops bass, feigning the kind of weakness that leaves trace levels of disgust. Leader Thing could've sabotaged from the front, plunging the survivors into needlessly dangerous situations, weakening the group. It didn't though. It considered short term gains irrelevant, dangerous even. Instead Thing chose to bide its time and blend into the crowd. Above all then the Thing is a survivor. It isn't driven by pride or anything else recognisably human. It'll debase itself, wrench its body apart, in order to see another day. It's truly alien.