There are films that fall from our view -- after the initial heat-rush of their release, they quickly cool and fade, their flash of incandescence dimming like a dying ember until they disappear. There are other films, however, that do not fall from view, or fade, but rather shine constantly, unceasing and unwavering in their quality. These enduring films are not all high art; some of them (indeed, many of them) are excellent trash, casual masterpieces. Their enduring glow is like the sickly undimming light of radioactivity; their tenacity is like that of the cockroach. Many of these films were made on a shoestring with a legion of low-level actors and without a single original bone in their bodies -- and yet, something in them reaches us, resonates, tapping -- deliberately or accidentally -- into some primal aspect of our psyches to endure as dreams or visions or, in some cases, nightmares. John Carpenter's The Thing, released in 1982, endures even though we might not want it to, much the same way we'd try to shake off a bad dream -- it's a remake of a d-grade b-movie that rises head and shoulders above the source material and still sends both wet, visceral disgust and cold, clinical terror keening through you 25 years later. As Stephen King points out in his genre study Danse Macabre, there's a difference between revulsion and fear, between shock and suspense. But The Thing has all of those: the bloody terrors of sudden death, the terrible quiet in the icy halls as our heroes are eliminated one by one; the existential nightmare of the other replacing you and the more immediate concern of the other in the room with you, snarling and slashing and hungry.

And you'd be hard-pressed to imagine The Thing enduring at the time of its release; it was conceived as a mid-level moneymaker, with a $10 million budget and (with the exception of Kurt Russell and director Carpenter) completely devoid of marquee value. Screenwriter Bill Lancaster's previous credits were for the Bad News Bears films -- which hardly suggest that sci-fi horror was his forte or his passion. The Thing was a flop at the box office; in a cruel twist of fate, Steven Spielberg's E.T. opened two weeks before The Thing made its debut, and Spielberg's kinder, gentler visitor from beyond went on to rake in money hand over fist. And yet, there's a reason why we remember bitter nightmares more fiercely than sweet dreams. ...
categories Features, Cinematical