There are certain filmmakers from the 70’s and 80’s that contributed in raising me and turning me into the kind of movie nerd that I’ve become. And there were none more prolific than John Carpenter, whose films I literally grew up watching since my family first took me to see HALLOWEEN in ’79. There was a new John Carpenter movie out pretty much every single year of my early childhood and teen years in the 1980’s and I would always be there on opening day. THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, CHRISTINE, STARMAN, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, THEY LIVE and the two that I’m gonna talk about now, ruled that decade and have provided the creatively bankrupt movie industry of today with a whole bunch of original properties to remake and ruin.
This week the New Beverly Cinema programmed a great double feature of Carpenter’s all-time masterpiece THE THING (1982) along with the criminally underrated PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987). I joined the rest of the “real” geek squad on Sunday night, but almost didn’t make it inside when I was attacked in line by Max Landis, who was wearing an original ROB BOTTIN mask mold from the movie!
I distracted him with my TROLL 2 shirt and ran inside to take a seat and watch one of my favorite horror films of all time…
The New Bev’s own Julia Marchese interviewed actor Joel Polis before the film and he talked about how THE THING failed at the box office when it was first released in 1982, because it was sandwhiched in between E.T. and POLTERGEIST. I remember seeing all three of them, one after another, that summer. 1982 was definitely one of the greatest genre movie summers ever.
He also told us a few stories about the production, including an explanation of why the audience never gets to see the demise of his character Fuchs. Apparently, they actually shot an entire scene in which Fuchs is hung up on a door with an axe in his chest and all covered in blood. Carpenter decided that the Thing just wouldn’t kill someone this way and that it was way too slasher-ish, so they came up with what you see in the movie instead. I personally like that it’s ambiguous as to whether or not Fuchs burned himself up or if someone or some-THING else did.
Then the film started and for 2 hours you couldn’t hear a pin drop, except for the screams. THE THING is a great film with a brilliant script, cast and direction. I love so many things about it and I really enjoy watching it with an audience and people that have never seen it before. It’s a testament to how effective the film still is when they continue to jump and scream like crazy at all those classic moments. Like the dog kennel scene. Or the scene where Copper gets his arms bitten off by Norris. Or my favorite scene with the blood test where Palmer goes berserk.
Other things that are awesome about THE THING:
KURT RUSSELL coming off an iconic badass performance for John Carpenter as SNAKE PLISSKEN, creates another iconic badass performance with R.J. MacREADY!
ROB BOTTIN delivers a tour de force of the greatest makeup effects ever created and what he couldn’t finish, the late great STAN WINSTON contributed!
Carpenter has scored the music for every single one of his films (and a few he didn’t direct too), but didn’t have time to do it for THE THING. But that’s fine because he got the genius Italian composer ENNIO MORRICONE to do it! It’s also cool how the score is very much like Carpenter and very unlike Morricone.
The entirely male ensemble cast lends a lot to the intensity of the film with their performances. There is an increasing amount of hostility that comes out of the men as the paranoia begins to rise and it’s due to some superb acting that includes KEITH DAVID, WILFORD BRIMLEY and T.K. CARTER.
When the movie was over, there was a short break and then…
I saw PRINCE OF DARKNESS in the cineplex back in 1987. I think it is one of Carpenter’s most overlooked films and it was a great pairing with THE THING because even though they are very different in tone and pacing, they have a very similar set up and story.
PRINCE OF DARKNESS tells the tale of an old Catholic church in downtown Los Angeles that has been keeping a lid on Satan as he sleeps in a large container of swirling green energy. DONALD PLEASENCE is the priest in charge of keeping it a secret, but it has become apparent to him that the church’s unwanted guest is starting to awake and illicit others to do his bidding. He brings in a group of quantum physics students and their professor to help figure out a way to stop it, but they are slowly taken over by Satan’s will.
This is a horror movie about the coming of the Anti-Christ that has a heavier emphasis on science than religion. It is much more atmospheric than any of Carpenter’s other films and has a slower dreamlike pace that feels like it was influenced a lot by DARIO ARGENTO.
For me, one of the creepiest moments in the film is when everyone has that weird “dream” of the dark figure walking out of the church. It becomes even creepier to learn that these are actually video messages being sent back in time from the future to warn them that if they fail, the world will be taken over by the Devil. Every time we see one of them I always get goose bumps, never fail.
Before the film there was an intro and interview with script supervisor and wife of John Carpenter, Sandy King and actors, Anne Marie Howard and Peter Jason (who’s been in a lot of Carpenter and Walter Hill’s movies). The actors told us how they all had private “zombie” meetings with John Carpenter to discuss how their character would return from the dead. Actor David Warner suggested to Peter Jason to play the part like he was in constant pain and that’s what he did. Sandy King told us how the movie was made for about 3 million bucks and was a union shoot that was mostly shot in her living room. She also said that when Carpenter started writing it, he told her to go out and “get everything you can on quantum physics”, which she did. When someone asked her if POD will ever be remade she said that it was the only one that they haven’t been approached with a remake offer. Thank god! POD is it’s own unique little snow flake and nobody can provide as much fright on such a small budget as Carpenter could.
This was another great double bill at the New Beverly Cinema. This Saturday at midnight they are showing SHOCKER and WES CRAVEN will be introducing it! See you there! And if you see some-THING that looks like Max Landis, RUN!