I have always been a HUGE John Carpenter fan. His films have always seemed to capture some sort of element other directors can’t seem to capture. I think he is kind of a master at taking a world that has a lot of strange things going on in it that we don’t know about and picking out an occurrence that draws us into that little scenario for awhile. And when Carpenter does this well we feel we are living in that story in some small way.
The two movies I want to talk about in this review are ‘The Thing’ and ‘They Live’. Both movies came out during the 1980’s and was during the height of Carpenter’s popularity and both offer a different kind of viewing experience but is some strange way the results to the victims are the same. Let’s start with ‘The Thing’.
‘The Thing’ is a remake of sorts from the 1950’s movie ‘The Thing From Another World’ but also loosely based on a novella called, ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Campbell Jr. The start of the film shows a helicopter chasing a dog across the arctic wastes as one of the passengers is trying to shoot or bomb the fuck out of the dog. As the dog runs across the arctic it finds itself at an American research facility and the group there. The chopper lands, the gunman gets out starts firing blindly at the dog and screaming in Norwegian meanwhile the pilot blows himself up with a mishandled grenade. The gunman also gets his head blown off by one of the Americans.
This is all setup for some strange life form to infiltrate the research facility and begin to overtake each member one by one. Not only does this life form take over a person it does so in a way that you never know when it has replicated a person…in fact I don’t think the victim ever knows when they are infected or anyone knows when the line has been crossed from being human…to not. This makes the movie even more compelling.
When you watch ‘The Thing’ you are always wondering who is infected, are they infected now and don’t know it, have they turned yet or are they still thinking with their human mind, when does the human consciousness end and the creatures start and you also find yourself trying to guess when someone got infected. It all leads the viewer to start second guessing characters in the film and their motivations much like the characters in the film begin to turn on each other. Eventually, as a viewer, you don’t know who ultimately if anyone can be trusted and become just as paranoid as the characters.
Another great aspect of ‘The Thing’ is the location of the film. Not only are you trapped with something that can replicate you 100% but you are cut off from any kind of help by being stuck in the Antarctic. With this setting the movie makes you feel very isolated in an event that can have worldwide repercussions that could destroy humanity without humanity ever knowing they were going extinct.
While the story and premise for ‘The Thing’ is great the film would not be held together like it is without the great acting in the film most notably of course from Kurt Russell as McReady. The man has become synonymous with John Carpenter films and here he is on his A Game. The man exudes a subtle take charge attitude and keeps things in order as best as anyone could under such circumstances.
Then of course there are the special effects of the creature itself. I remember as a kid the dog kennel scene and the difibalator scene. Those scenes stuck with me to this day and the creature effects in this film were and still are spectacular to this day and beat what most CG can do.
‘The Thing’ embodies the idea that the world has a lot of places in it that evil can lurk far away from the public eye. It espouses the idea, while we may safe for now, off in some dark corner, in an unknown place there can be something coming for us all and we won’t ever realize it.
Now I have a confession to make here. As much of a fan I am of Carpenter’s work, especially the 80’s stuff, ‘They Live’ was one of his movies I never got to see all the way through as a kid. The one scene I remember is the month long fist fight(which must have been inspired by Roddy Piper’s wrestling) and the line ‘I’ve come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum’. So needless to say I’m coming at this film fresh which can be an advantage in that I’m not looking at a movie through rosy tinted nostalgia glasses.
‘The Live’ stars Roddy Piper of wrestling fame who is a drifter named Nada who is going from town to town looking for work. Nada is someone that believes in the American Dream and even though the times are tough in America he feels if he works hard the opportunity will come for him to have a fulfilled life. Nada represents the ideal American: full of hope and the idea that you do your part to make the country great you can have a good life and live your dreams. Unbeknown to Nada there is a sinister presence on the planet that are part of the global elite that have been working on conforming the human race into slave livestock to increase their fortunes.
Before I go further I want to state that while this movie was Carpenter’s cry out against Reaganism of the 80’s you could take the dialog in the beginning and end of this film and it makes Carpenter look like some kind of prophet for the current state of affairs today. You have lines that talk about we are told to make the best for ourselves no matter what and fuck over the people around us to do it. Strive to get that promotion while fucking over our peers. Present someone with an assload of cash and they will sell out their principles in a heartbeat. That there isn’t any countries anymore just one big conglomeration of business for pure profit. And we have a country that is living in a near police state.
All of these ideas are presented in this film but wrapped in a sci-fi package…and honestly the ideas in this film seem like what we are living in today. Honestly, I think maybe David Icke watched this movie to get the basic idea of his ‘Reptilian’ race conspiracy theory. Because ‘They Live’ uses the premise of a secret race that has penetrated our society and has culled us into mass consumerism and instant gratification by taking over our leadership roles.
Now let’s back up a bit and talk a little more in depth about ‘They Live’. As I mention Roddy Piper plays a character named Nada and he is the guy who believes in the American dream. As he works on a construction job he befriends a guy named Frank who shows him a squatter camp that he can stay at. As Nada observes his surrounding he notices some strange TV broadcasts and behavior taking place at a church across the street.
As Nada pokes around he discovers a group of what would be referred to as conspiracy theorist nut jobs as they claim there is a group subverting the human race to be their livestock and work force. His friend Frank represents the people who want to just keep their head down and mind their own business and walk the white line but Nada tells him the white line is in the middle of the road and the best place to get hit.
As the movie unfolds Nada discovers a special pair of sunglasses that allows him to see things for what they are…a giant subliminal campaign to make the populace numb to the workings of a higher power who is subjugating and exploiting them for vast fortunes.
‘They Live’ is great movie even though as it gets towards the end some of the scenes are a little silly…like the main characters brandishing their weapons in the wide open or trying to hold their weapons in a certain way to look cool and there is some funny lines delivered in the movie as well. But really that’s minor stuff as the movie holds together really well to this day, even though I wished the ideas could have been explored more. Especially with the social commentary being so accurate to how the world is today is kind of scary.
‘They Live’ is another great classic from Carpenter that everyone should check out.
Also, it should be noted that in Carpenter’s films he does his own music which you can ALWAYS identify as his and helps give his films such a distinct and doom feel.