Every month, I will write about a film, album, book or event that I consider horror, and that had a warping effect on my young mind. You will discover my definition of what constitutes horror is both eclectic and elastic. Don’t write in. Also, of necessity, much of this will be bullshit – as in, my best recollection of things that happened anywhere from 15 – 25 years ago. Sometimes I will revisit the source material contemporaneously, further compounding the potential bullshit factor.
This is not history. This is not journalism. This is not a review.
This is my life in horror.
Now It’s Time To Show You What I Already Know.
Tough to be sure, but I’m going to go ahead and blame this one on Uncle Edward. He had a pretty sizable VHS collection of movies recorded off the telly. They sat behind glass in a cabinet, row after row of identical plastic cases with faux hardback book colouration and gold leaf edging, differentiated only by numbers stuck to the spines. To decode what was going on, you needed The Book – an A5 notebook with a number per page, corresponding to the number on the cases and tapes. The book served a duel function – of course it was the listing, so you actually knew what was on each tape. But it also served as a kind of cultural archaeological catalogue. For example, a typical entry might read:
When Harry Met Sally - WATCHED!
Carebears the movie 2 - WATCHED!
Police Academy 3 - WATCHED!
Eastenders Christmas special - WATCHED!
Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door - WATCHED!
Ghostbusters - KEEP!
See? I really think, looking back, you could have learned almost everything you needed to know about the cultural taste of the person whose house you were sitting in if you could just get five or ten minutes with The Book.
Uncle Edward had a similarly relaxed approach to the notion of video certification as the video van man did. My uncle’s policy was, if you could read the name of the film you wanted to watch, you could watch it. To be perfectly fair, he’d sit and watch it with you. So, you know, responsibly irresponsible.
(Total aside, he also had what was to me a bizarre and borderline sacrilegious habit of turning the film off the second it ended, which was diametrically opposed to my father’s mute insistence on watching the entire credit crawl before leaving the theatre/turning the lights on and getting up. I mean, what a weirdo, right?)
I wish I could tell you how old I was. Too young, is all I can reasonably say.
“Uncle Edward, what’s ‘The Thing’?”
“Oh, that’s the one about the alien at the north pole that kills people. It’s good. Want to stick it on?”
Oh, my, yes.
This film, man. The music, for starters – this minimalist single bass pulse, broadcasting menace.
The opening, a helicopter chasing a husky, shooting at it, drunk Kirk Russell pouring scotch into his computer because it’s beaten him at chess, the head of the base shooting the pilot through the eye (as an extremely gruesome close up of the body confirms) – we’re five minutes in, and already I’ve all but overdosed on awesome.
I know people bang on about the central premise, and it’s not to be ignored – a great example of simplicity being genius. Arctic base, huge storm, small group of people, and one or more of them is actually an alien life form that can completely consume and then duplicate any other life form. I mean, come ON people. But I have to say, that’s not my abiding memory of the film. No, the thing that sticks with me the most, the moments seared into my memory, are the goddamn creature effects.
Because they are insane. I mean, off the hook batshit crazy. Example: The husky from earlier is put into a cage with the other huskies. The men become aware that something may be wrong with it – that it may not be what it seems. They head down to the holding pen. It’s badly lit. They can hear whining, the other dogs in distress. While they fuck about trying to find a light, we get to see the dogs. They appear to have been skinned and impaled on tentacles. There’s a moment when the suspect husky is growling, snarling, and then suddenly it’s snout splits open four ways, revealing teeth, raw red flesh, and a tongue that whips and grows, becoming one of those deadly tentacles. It happens with a loud snapping noise, is my memory, and I just about leapt out of my skin.
I stayed there for the duration. I was paralysed with awe at the enormity of it – this creature could do anything, transmute its flesh at will. I saw a mouth open in the chest of an apparently dead man, with huge teeth which proceeded to amputate the hands of the doctor applying the paddles. I then watched in mute numb shock as that body was burned, and the head of the body
stretched it’s neck until the head severed off upon the floor, wherein it fully sprouted eight legs and scuttled out of the door.