Double That Feature #1: John Carpenter’s THE THING
**Double That Feature is a series where Giallo Julian suggests film pairs for movie night.**
Here’s something all my friends know about me: I LOVE John Carpenter’s The Thing. Now that you know that little fact, that means we’re friends, too. Forever. I don’t make the rules, I just come up with them. Anyway, friend, I personally believe it’s the best film to have ever graced any type of screen. Between the acting, the atmosphere, the story, and the special effects, there’s just a lot to love.
I’m sure a lot of you know what the film is all about, but for those who don’t, I’ll give a quick rundown. You ready?
1982. Antarctica. U.S. Outpost #31. National Science Institute Station 4.
A group of researchers doing science encounter a couple of gun-toting Norwegians practicing their aim on a sled dog. After relations between the two groups end with a bang, the researchers adopt the dog. Curiosity then leads them to the burnt down remains of the Norwegians’ camp, where they discover that their Scandinavian friends found something buried in the ice. Something alive and pissed off. Thing is, it has an incredibly unique survival mechanism…one that makes trust pretty hard to come by amongst the crew. Also, that dog has been acting a bit weird…
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That’s all I’m going to say about it, on the off chance some of you haven’t seen this cinematic gem. Seriously, check it out when you get the chance. Watch it again if you already have. Better yet, why not have a double feature with it? That’s a great idea, definitely do that! This does, of course, lead to one small question… what film would one pair with this masterpiece?
Never fear! Giallo Julian is here to offer FOUR suggestions that I think will perfectly compliment the gooey meat and crunching bones of The Thing. Trust me, I’m more than qualified, I’ve been doing double features for years now. Hell, every birthday I have duodecuple features, so know that you’re in good hands!
With that said, let’s put on our winter coats, don our weird-looking sombreros, and unearth some frozen eldritch horrors! Don’t worry, I’m sure nothing bad will happen.
We got this!
1. The Thing From Another World
(Directed by Christian Nyby (*cough* Howard Hawks *cough*); Starring Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, James Arness; 1951)
“Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a bloodthirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost.” – via IMDB.
I’m sure those of you aware of The Thing’s history saw this coming, right? But I mean, what better movie to pair it with than the original 50’s adaptation! Oh right, I forgot to mention, both of these flicks are adapted from John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?. The plot of which is essentially the synopsis I gave earlier, so I’m not going to repeat myself. Because of their shared source material, these two films have many similarities, including environment and atmosphere. Nevertheless, they still have just as many differences.
For starters, they take place in LITERAL polar opposite locations: this one situated in the North Pole, with the 1982 version in the South Pole (like the original novella). Why did they change the setting for this film? …I have no idea. I guess it makes more sense for a military base to be stationed North than South? The heroes of these ‘50s monster flicks tended to be military guys, so maybe that factored into it.
The characters are drastically more numerous than the small crew in the ‘80s flick as well. This is more in line with the novella, which I think had at least 30 characters… don’t quote me on that, it’s been awhile since I’ve read it. Given that this take’s main location is an Air Force base as opposed to a small outpost, this makes complete sense. This film’s cast is also a lot more jovial and confident than Carpenter’s counterparts, who are tired, depressed, and done with all the bullshit. It’s safe to just chalk this up to the nature of ‘50s monster movies than anything else.
The biggest difference, though, is the monster that stalks our intrepid heroes during the narrative. Instead of a shape-shifting alien instilling paranoid discourse throughout the crew, we have the immense terror of a… vegetable. An alien vegetable… I mean, sure. The creature is a plant-based humanoid that drinks blood, so it’s basically a vampire carrot with legs. The characters take it as serious as they possibly can, so that arguably silly aspect doesn’t ruin the movie too much, if at all.
Fun fact: Many people think that Howard Hawks really directed this film, and not Christian Nyby. By “think”, I mean everyone knows that Hawks definitely directed this film. The main giveaway is that the characters will talk over one another during conversations, as opposed to the traditional way of speaking one after another.
That’s a staple of his style.
The compatibility this film has with its 1982 parallel is through the roof. After all, they’re the same premise told two distinct different ways. One as an atomic-age alien invader flick, and the other as a fleshy, bloody, gut-wrenching splatter of cinema.
They go together like blood and a heated wire.
2. Horror Express
(Directed by Eugenio Martín; Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alberto de Mendoza; 1972)
“While traveling on the Trans-Siberian Express, an anthropologist and his rival must contain the threat posed by the former’s cargo: a prehistoric ape which is the host for a lifeform that is absorbing the minds of the passengers and crew.” -via IMDB.
Back in the ‘70s, a film producer came into possession of a prop. What prop, you ask? A train. In particular, the train from the 1971 film Nicolas and Alexandria. Now, what does one do with an acquired train prop from a historical drama? The correct answer is use it to make a Hammer-style horror flick (based on the novella Who Goes There?) starring not only Christopher Lee, but Peter Cushing. I know, common knowledge, I shouldn’t insult your intelligence like that. I apologize!
Yes, before Carpenter’s fantastic contribution to the world of sci-fi horror, there was a second adaption of John W. Campbell’s tale of Antarctic terror. As far as faithfulness to the source material goes, this one is the farthest from the story… and any setting usually associated with it.
So, how bad is it? Funny you should ask… it’s actually not too shabby. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty gosh-darn good (and I don’t bring the GD word out lightly).
The basic premise is The Thing on a train… so think Agatha Christie’s The Thing From Another World Murders on the Orient Express and you have a pretty good idea about what it all entails. Lee and Cushing play men of science who accidentally let an ancient monstrosity run amok on the locomotive, which would already be bad enough… but there’s more. Turns out, this damn dirty ape kills by sucking the intelligence out of its victims. On top of that, it can mind-swap with people, taking over the bodies of whoever looks into its eyes (that’s where Campbell’s influence comes in). At least the passengers can take solace in the fact the trip won’t be boring!
Now, in Carpenter’s version, he used the Thing’s shape-shifting ability to create an extreme aura of paranoia that permeated throughout the film, keeping the viewer on edge about who could be trusted… this film does nothing of the sort. You know who the monster is at all points during the movie, which does cause some tension since our fearless heroes aren’t in the know, but it’s nowhere near as effective as nobody knowing who the monster is.
Regardless, it’s still a fun ride (heh) and a pretty swell companion piece to the The Thing, again given to the similarity in subject matter. If it were me, I’d definitely play this one first… save the best for last, you know?
3. Black Mountain Side
(Directed by Nick Szostakiwskyj; Starring Shane Twerdun, Michael Dickson, Carl Toftfelt; 2014)
“At a cold, desolate, northmost outpost in Canada, an archaeological discovery is made. A specialist arrives Nov. 1. Strange things happen. All contact with the outside world is down.” – via IMDB.
Out of all the flicks I’ve recommended, I can confidently say that this one is the most reminiscent to The Thing as far as tone goes. It’s tense, full of paranoia, there’s snow, it’s all there. Look at me, getting ahead of myself… let’s backtrack a bit.
The film follows a group of researchers in a snowy area during winter, who uncover an ancient relic, accidentally releasing a sinister force that… starts affecting them one… by… one… and… they start to turn against each other due to… paranoia… huh, this movie really is just The Thing with a lower budget. Despite that, it’s still a well-done film!
The difference is that while The Thing has great moments of special effects goodness, Black Mountain Side focuses completely on the tension. Whether this was a creative choice or just a limitation of the budget, I don’t know (I suspect the latter).
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Lack of viscous grotesque monsters aside, this film manages to be real effective at keeping the air thick with suspense. Starting pretty mundane with a dead cat and a lack of radio signals, it snowballs into bloody amputations and unexplained illnesses plaguing the motley crew. You know, usual archaeology stuff. Why all this is happening is left up to interpretation, but there may or may not be some sort of eldritch atrocity pulling the strings…
The movie lacks any kind of music, making it all the more atmospheric. The sounds of nature around the base are all that’s really heard… which I feel makes it that much eerier … I like it. In fact, all the sound design is pretty solid, from the crunching of boots sinking into the snow, to the hit of an ax whacking through bone.
It’s an extremely slow-paced film, I’m not going to lie. That might be a deal breaker for some, but if you don’t mind a story taking its sweet time unraveling the details, then I highly suggest throwing this on after your next watch of The Thing… or any other atmospheric Lovecraft-esque flick, really.
4. The Void
(Directed by Jeremy Gillespie, Steven Kostanski; Starring Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers; 2016)
“Shortly after delivering a patient to an understaffed hospital, a police officer experiences strange and violent occurrences seemingly linked to a group of mysterious hooded figures.” – via IMDB.
So, here’s a little tidbit about me… I have an immense love for Astron-6, which is the film group Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski hail from. They’ve made wild flicks over the years, from the blood-soaked fever dream that is Father’s Day, to the purple-lit Giallo love letter The Editor. Before any of those had the chance to grace my worn-out pupils, however… there was The Void.
Years ago, I remember running across this film’s concept trailer, promoting a crowdfunding campaign to help finance it. I thought it looked really neat… then I didn’t hear about it for a while. Such is the way it goes sometimes, I’m afraid… luckily, this one was actually released. After watching it the day it hit VOD, I fell absolutely in love with it. I truly believe it succeeds in being a spiritual successor to The Thing, something many others have tried (and failed) to be.
First of all, practical effects: nearly all of the monsters and gore are done practically. I only say “nearly all” because I’m sure there’s CGI in there, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you where. Better yet, it all looks fan-freaking-tastic. The tentacle demons look perfectly slimy and disgusting, the blood looks appropriately dark and chunky, all that good stuff we love oh-so-much. A lot of heart was put into this, and you can feel its beat in every scene.
The story manages to stay engaging, though it may feel a bit familiar if you have seen John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness… there’s a lot of similarities. Cultists keeping people in a location, monsters inside said location, portals to other dimensions, people dying brutally, just to name a few. It doesn’t detract from the film at all, just something I’ve noticed. Also, there’s definitely some Lucio Fulci influence thrown in there, just to add some flavor.
If you’re in the mood for some gore and slime, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you a better pairing than The Thing and The Void… or The Void and Prince of Darkness. You know what, just make it a Triple Feature. It’ll be a fun!
Bonus: The Hateful Eight
(Directed by Quentin Tarantino; Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh; 2015)
“In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.” – via IMDB.
Giving y’all a little something extra, because I love ya!
I’m sure it’s common knowledge that Quinten Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is low-key a remake of The Thing. I mean… c’mon. Kurt Russell? Snow? People who may or may not be who they say they are? Literal music from The Thing in its soundtrack? It’s not even trying to hide it.
That being said, it’s a Western, not really a Horror film. Also, I don’t think it’d make a good choice for a double feature given that it’s between 2-4 hours long, depending on which cut you watch. I just felt the need to (at least) mention it, given its nature as The Thing shape-shifted into a Western.
We made it through the winter, crew! And we’re all human… I think. Anyway, if you ever feel the need to watch The Thing again, think about tacking on one of these other paranoia-fueled/gore-filled flicks with it. Make a good night a great night! …save for The Hateful Eight. That one is enough to fill both slots by its lonesome.
Until next time. Ciao friends!