Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “The Thing.”
The Movie: “The Thing”
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Director: John Carpenter
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A research team in Antarctica is hunted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of its victims.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 84 percent
Brown: From clowns to things, we’re in full Halloween mode on the JOE-DOWN.
While last week was a modern retake on a sinister clown in “Joker,” this week we’re revisiting a staple of the JOE-DOWN.
Not Travolta. Not Cage.
This is the fourth Carpenter movie we’ve reviewed. Five if you consider we did a remake of one of his movies.
Today’s pick is “The Thing,” which I have never seen before but have been intrigued by for a long time. Plus, after last seeing Kurt Russell in “Furious 7,” it was time to come back and see him in his ‘80s feathered hair/epic beard greatness.
While I go find my flamethrower, give me your first take, Froemming.
Froemming: I thought I had seen this before, what with my love of Carpenter and Kurt Russell, but it appears I had not, because this was all new to me.
I also have never seen the original movie, but from the research I did after watching this, apparently I am not missing out on anything, since this movie is far superior to the original from everything I have read.
Also, the original movie does make a cameo in his original “Halloween” film, which is one of those moments of either dumb luck on Carpenter’s part or fate. Probably the first of those.
And look, I don’t think Carpenter has made a movie I didn’t enjoy watching. Have there been clunkers? Sure. But the man always entertains with his knack of blood, gore, practical effects and the unstoppable charisma of a bearded Kurt Russell.
Wait, was Carpenter and Russell the original Tim Burton/Johnny Depp director/muse pairing, but you know, 100 percent better than the latter?
Anyway, Brown as I prepare to debate Wilford Brimley on the pronunciation of the word “diabetes” —
— why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: Well, the opening scenes of this movie is watching a couple guys on a helicopter trying to shoot a dog out in the Antarctic wilderness so yeah… that was alarming.
Meanwhile, we come across a research station where it doesn’t seem like anyone is doing research. In fact, they look like they’re drinking their boredom away, especially MacReady (Russell), who is downing scotch like it was Fiji water and playing chess against a computer. The computer wins and Russell ruins the computer by dumping ice on the circuits and calling the computer a cheater.
Man, if this were even 10-15 years later, MacReady would be killed by the rest of the crew for destroying the only access to porn.
This sled dog the helicopter guys (who are from a Norwegian research station nearby) are chasing ends up at the research station.
Now, what research station do you think is going to be better armed: The Norwegians or the Americans? Yeah, the Norwegians die due to a bullet to the head and incompetence (one of their grenades blows up the helicopter).
Froemming: Well, to be fair…
This movie ingrained into me a deep mistrust of the Norweigian people. They are a shady group of folk who hunt dogs in the Antarctic tundra and try to fly helicopters at Kurt Russell. Much like our president in his great and unmatched wisdom, I am troubled by our European friends’ actions here.
But this is a good old-fashioned bait-and-switch, which I thought was done pretty well. We will get to how Carpenter played on our love of animals and our hatred of Norwegians later.
Now we kinda meet our cast of characters. I say “kinda” because McReady is the only name I remember, even though everyone had pretty easy nicknames or easy to remember last names.
Brown: The way I identified people in this movie:
- MacReady: Russell
- Blair: Diabeetus
- Nauls: Roller skates. Wait, who brings roller skates to Antarctica?!
- Childs: “Look you crazy mother!”
- Windows: Dude wearing sunglasses in a dimly-lit research center. Also named Windows?
Froemming: You brought this up to me, and I want to ask it here: Does Antarctica have no laws, since people are pretty cool about shooting other people dead? It’s like the Old West out there.
Brown: Or Florida. After this movie, I think Antarctica has a “Stand Your Ground” law.
Froemming: But he shot a white guy…
Anyway, so they shoot that Norwegian dead and take the dog into their base. Why? Because everyone loves dogs, that’s (REDACTED) why. But this dog acts strange. Which is something because dogs always seem to act a little strange because they are animals and I know nothing of their behavior outside of “feed me” and “play with me.”
Brown: It’s because this thing isn’t a dog. Turns out, it’s a Cronenberg, Morty!
Yeah, I love dogs, so I was not happy here.
Also, prior to this, MacReady and co. make a stop to the Norwegian research station and see a huge block of ice they dug up. Also, the first sight we see of the Cronenberg and… it’s fascinating. The imagery of the monsters in this movie is so (REDACTED) terrifying and creative. Like, they all still hold up. Levi’s sales in 1982 probably spiked with how many pairs of pants kids soiled when seeing these things.
Froemming: I loved how the movie set it up to make us think the Norwegian guy was a thing trying to kill this dog, but it is the dog that is some sort of thing. See, they put the dog in a kennel with some other dogs and its face just bursts open like a mutant flower blooming with blood and vomit and goes all Cronenberg on those poor pooches.
This causes panic and they eventually kill this whatchamacallit (technical term). Then we get old Wilford Brimley to do an autopsy on this creature from “Naked Lunch.”
Froemming: Brown, is Brimley among the actors we have seen that have never been young. You know, like Kurtwood Smith? We will also have this question next week with the late Sid Haig.
Brown: If Wilford Brimley has always been old, that means that his bizarro version that always stay young is Michael Cera.
So I was laughing pretty hard when after doing an autopsy on this dog-monster thing that he has a computer that spouts off exposition that the thing perfectly imitates beings that it absorbs, there’s a 70 percent chance someone on the crew has already become one of those things and this thing, if it gets to a population center would destroy the world in no time. That is advanced technology for 1982, man.
After looking at notes and footage of the Norwegian research station, the Americans head over to a dig site that shows the Norwegians found a spaceship. The Millenium Falcon has seen better days.
So yeah, this thing is not human and I doubt it likes Reese’s Pieces.
Froemming: When it came to taking out these things, the answer seems to be “kill it with fire.” Because that seems to keep these things down. And after discovering his computer is an exposition dump, Wilford Brimley starts smashing all their communications equipment like Pete Towshend smashing his guitar after Who concerts. It might have helped if he had shared the information his computer told him to the rest of the crew, because now he just looks like a crazy person trying to kill them all by keeping them stranded in North Dakota — wait, Antarctica.
Brown: They’re the same, Froemming. And you made a mistake moving to Fargo.
So while Wilford Brimley is destroying any sort of communication the station can have back to civilization, he neglected to tell the crew the thing they brought back from the Norway site wasn’t completely dead and yeah, it gets Bennings.
Oh, Blair also took a pick axe to the chopper and killed the rest of the sled dogs, so now I really hate him for killing dogs.
Go to Hell, Wilford Brimley.
Froemming: Well, MacReady and the gang do what everyone else does when an elderly person becomes too much to handle: They lock them up somewhere far away from them so as to not be bothered.
So they lock Blair in some cabin with a bottle of vodka and wish him the best. They have a long night of paranoia ahead of them as they realize these things are getting better at taking over and mimicking humans.
Brown: OK, a random line that bugged me: MacReady mentions at one point that he hasn’t slept in days. This dude is sipping scotch at a steady rate, hasn’t slept in days, is in constant panic over these things and yet, MacReady always looks very refreshed with his perfectly quaffed hair. At least give me some bags under the eyes or something, movie.
So the doctor has an idea: They will test their blood with the blood from the blood bank on the site and if there is anything off, then that person is probably some sort of thing. Except they find the blood reserves have been damaged as well, adding to the paranoia that one of them is some sort of monster. So naturally, the team puts the weight of the leadership on the guy who has not slept in days and has constantly downing scotch.
Brown: Not only do they make MacReady the leader, but when Childs, a black man, suggests he should be the leader, two WHITE guys in the crew point weapons at him. And if that isn’t a perfect analogy of the Republicans’ reaction to the Obama presidency, I don’t know what is.
Froemming: Yeah, I was also troubled by the fact the one cook in the base is also the one other black guy. I got flashbacks of “Deep Blue Sea” from that.
Brown: Come on, Froemming. You mean to tell me this movie wouldn’t be improved by the use of a hip-hop prayer?
Froemming: Brown, this movie doesn’t really need improving.
Well, two of these yahoos find Fuchs all burnt up outside in an apparent suicide. I can think of many ways to do this without the horrible pain of having your skin melt from your body, but maybe Fuchs had a flair for the theatrical. It is right before this that the movie starts playing on the viewers’ paranoia by having Fuchs think MacReady might be compromised. This happens again when the gang splits up, and Nauls ditches McReady at his quarters because he finds torn clothing that might indicate our bearded hero might be assimilated.
Look, MacReady’s blood has enough alcohol to kill just about anything, I doubt even an alien from outer space could survive that much scotch in their system.
Brown: I admit I had a good laugh when MacReady returns to the research site nearly frozen to death then all of a sudden becomes a Loony Tunes character by grabbing a bundle of dynamite and threatening to blow the station to Hell.
As MacReady is threatening the crew, two of them go behind MacReady and try to subdue him. That’s a (REDACTED) bold move to jump a guy from behind when he’s wielding dynamite and a lit flare.
Froemming: What would blow first, the dynamite or MacReady’s blood from the alcohol saturation here?
Brown: Look, I’m stunned MacReady didn’t combust the moment he lit that flare. Surely his clothes are soaked in bootleg gin he makes in his shack.
During this donnybrook, Norris seems to be having a heart attack or some kind of cardiac episode. When the crew tries to revive him… this happens. B-movie schlock at its finest.
To be fair, the Norris head-spider is more convincing than the spider monster at the end of “It 2.”
Froemming: Whenever they make an “It” adaptation, just get rid of the spider. It has failed TWICE so far. Doesn’t work.
So now MacReady has a new idea for seeing who is on the up and up, and it is some MacGyver (REDACTED) that is probably my favorite part of the movie.
He is going to heat up some fresh blood by each of the survivors with a copper wire. He thinks it will work because Norris’ head tried to escape on it’s own, leading him to drunkenly conclude that every part of these things are their own entity. Heat up the blood, it will act out on its own.
It is a good idea, but wasn’t everyone just thinking MacReady was one of these things? Sure he has dynamite, but hell, I would just run off and take my chances.
Brown: Strange aside, but this is what we do on the JOE-DOWN: How has this entire crew not died via hypothermia yet? Like, I mean months before this whole incident started. Every time something explodes or catches fire in this place and a hole bursts to the outside, the walls in this research base are paper thin. We live in Minnesota and every wall is insulated so we don’t freeze to death. They are in (REDACTED) Antarctica! As far as research bases go, they’re living in the equivalent of the Bluth model homes.
Froemming: Because shut the (REDACTED) up. That is how.
Anywho, MacReady heats up the old copper wire and begins his blood tests on everyone. And because Carpenter is always good with a jump scare, when the wire hits Palmer’s dish, THE BLOOD JUMPS UP OUT! It got me, I knew it was coming, but it still got me.
Brown: We should mention before the test that we lost another crew member when MacReady shoots Clark in the head when Clark tries to go after him with a surgical knife. Stand Your Ground!
Froemming: But he was a white guy…Florida has taught me this isn’t how that works.
Brown: Yeah, I knew the jump was coming as well and while I didn’t jump, the idea of watching a friend turn into a monster while you’re tied to a chair (plus someone is using a FLAMETHROWER to kill it) seems like a scary proposition. And somehow, two flamethrowers don’t work and Windows gets attacked. After the thing is subdued, MacReady sets Windows aflame.
OK, the first person MacReady kills was self-defense. This, cold-blooded murder. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
Froemming: Remember Wilford Brimley? Because the movie forgot him too at this point. The team heads out to test the old coots blood, only to find he is not in the shed. In fact, there is a hole in the shed where they see he has started to build his tribute to an ELO album cover, or maybe his own UFO, who knows at this point.
Brown: I figured it was Wilford Brimley recreating the Boston album cover.
Froemming: When they return to the base, they find Childs is missing, probably fighting “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in an alley nearby or something. They also find the power generator is now destroyed.
This has not been a good day for these folks. No wonder MacReady is hammered all the time.
Somehow, the more drunk MacReady is, the more knowledgeable he becomes, like a reverse drunk in real life. He deduces the thing is going to go into hibernation until a rescue team arrives, and it can start killing again. How he jumped to that conclusion in the fog of scotch and sleep deprivation, I have no idea.
Brown: If the thing had some Evan Williams, 100 percent MacReady lets it live.
MacReady also comes to the drunken conclusion that without the generator there to keep the heat on, no one is surviving this ordeal so they need to kill the thing. Although that thought is well reasoned.
Froemming: He must later on become Gotham’s infamous Clown Prince of Crime with this line of logic:
Brown: While MacReady, Garry and Nauls (sans roller blades. Honestly, what the hell?) are setting dynamite to blow up the base, Blair reemerges. Turns out, he’s been infected by the thing and fuses with Garry. And the way they fuse Garry with Blair’s arm is a really well done effect. Man, I miss practical effects this good.
Also, Nauls goes missing and its implied he got got, too. So now it’s one scotched-soaked man versus a shape-shifting thing. But, this wino also was Snake Plissken in a different life, so the thing is doomed from the start.
Froemming: This thing is not making the whole blow-up-the-base plan easy as it knocks the detonator for the bombs they planted from MacReady’s (presumed) shaky hands (from alcoholism). But MacReady has been carrying around a stick of dynamite just in case (I thought dynamite is pretty volatile and should not be all shaken up by a drunk running around near flames). And he uses it to blow the station and Wilfred Brimley’s diabetus straight to hell.
Brown: With the base aflame, only MacReady is left, until Childs come back from the shadows after putting on the glasses and seeing that aliens have taken over the world getting lost in the snowstorm. Knowing rescue isn’t on the way, MacReady and Childs are resigned to their fate. Childs take a pull from what looks like one of MacReady’s bottles and we fade out.
There is no way that Childs froze to death. As soon as he took a drink of MacReady’s bottle, I guarantee that MacReady shot him point-blank to commit his third murder of the movie.
Froemming: Florida HAS taught me that this scenario is a person Standing Their Ground.
Brown, let’s test our blood with a hot wire down in recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: This movie was fantastic. John Carpenter is a favorite of ours for a reason. Have this on your Halloween watch list.
Froemming: Oh absolutely. This is probably Carpenter’s best made films. Not his best, but best made. It is a lot of fun.