The Thing opens with (well after the obligatory spaceship to Earth scene so the audience know this film is definitely going to be about aliens) a chase scene in which a Norwegian helicopter is trying to kill a husky. I don’t know if the gunman is just a bad shot or unlucky but the amount of shots he takes and misses is impressive. He also manages to miss blowing up the dog with a grenade, instead managing to blow up his helicopter and shoot a person in the leg – not very good. In contrast to the Norwegian’s terrible aim, he gets brought down by a bullet to the eye in a very tricky shot by the American scientific camp leader where the chase ends. The aforementioned American scientific camp is home to a twelve man team, most of whom are entirely forgettable.
Puzzled by the Norwegians bizarre actions, the helicopter pilot MacReady, played by Kurt Russell (Stargate, Grindhouse) leads an expedition to the Scandinavian base camp where they come across a gruesome scene – everyone is dead and there is a strange half-burnt corpse which they take back to the American base, which struck me as a very bad idea. When they arrive at base camp things go rapidly downhill when the stray dog devours the rest of their pack animals and it becomes clear that is isn’t a dog at all, rather some form of extra-terrestrial that subsumes and copies living creatures – including people. It is too late by now to know who is or isn’t human, anyone is a suspect. All they know is that they can’t let the alien escape from the frozen wasteland to civilisation or it will be the end of the world.
The Thing delivers the predictable to an incredibly high standard, which is only to be expected from horror master John Carpenter (Halloween, Ghosts of Mars). Indeed, the only thing missing is sex and nudity, there are zero female characters, which I guess wouldn’t fit well in a 1980’s expedition to Antarctica so I am willing to overlook it, equally it is set in the South Pole so it doesn’t leave much chance for bare skin. The Thing does however feature a screeching violin soundtrack, “found footage” and makes great use of the desolate location.
The paranoia of the team, who can they trust isn’t the alien apart from themselves and how they handle the pressure is well written and acted. The number of people on the base means that there are plenty of spare bodies for horrific death scenes whilst leaving enough survivors to drive the drama on. However, what The Thing does best in my opinion is the gore (I know it is good when my wife refuses to sit and watch it!). From the first alien-dog eating the rest of the dogs with its face peeling back like a deranged bloody flower through to the masses to tentacles fighting MacReady at the end via the head-spider combination it is amazing to think that it is all done without the help of computers and it came from someone’s brain. The Thing walks the line between sickening and comedic, staying just to the side of realism (as realistic as this implausible scenario is).
I thoroughly enjoyed The Thing to both horror fans and sci-fi fans.
This cover makes the film look A LOT scarier than it is.
Horrors Of The Red Planet was first released as The Wizard Of Mars which hints at the film’s take on The Wizard Of Oz and has also been released as Alien Massacre. When watching the film I completely missed this homage to L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book but reflecting on it I don’t know how. Horrors Of The Red Planet even has a golden road!
Horrors Of The Red Planet tells the story of four astronauts who crash land on Mars with only enough oxygen to last for four days. Rather than wait for a rescue team that may or may not be coming, they decide to try and find the main stage of their rocket which was lost during the crash. The team consists of Dorothy (How did I not see this reference?!) played by Eve Bernhard, who seems to bring very little to the space mission except a pretty face (I guess it was the 1960s…); quick to anger Charlie (Jerry Rannow); Doc (Vic McGee) who is filled with some very spurious science; and the leader Steve (Roger Gentry) who is probably the most wooden of all the terrible acting. The four head out to Mars taking little with them, a raft, a gun and some very flimsy looking spacesuits. It is a good thing that a) the gravity on Mars is the same as Earth’s, b) there is water on Mars for the raft and c) the Martian atmosphere, whilst thin, has enough oxygen to boost their limited supply and contains no poisonous chemicals.
Whilst on the hunt for the rest of their rocket the team encounter various trials, which I’m assuming are the ‘horrors’ mentioned in the title. Such horrors include large leech-like amphibians more akin to Pokémon than monsters and the inside of a volcano. The team make it safely through the volcano only to discover that the signal the were receiving was emitted by an older unmanned probe. After giving up hope, a storm uncovers the ‘golden road’ which leads them to an ancient and uninhabited city, presumably a version of the Emerald City.
Up until this point the film was pretty enjoyable with very dubious science and only slightly better special effects. The special effects featured the budget director’s methods of choice including blatant cutaways to stock footage and poorly applied overlays, especially for the volcano. Unlike The Deadly Bees though, there was some attempt at consistency, for example the sky on Mars always appearing red (although an obviously painted landscape). This may also have been a reason why so much of the film takes place either in a cave or in a city without windows. The second part of the film however is less good and is taken up primarily by John Carradine (The Grapes Of Wrath) as “The Wizard of Mars” doing a very boring monologue to camera whilst superimposed on a picture of a galaxy. What follows this is clearly a rush job in which director David Hewitt running out of time and having no ruby slippers as in the original tale as well as taking advantage of giving the only well-known actor (Carradine) as much screen time as possible.
This is pretty much the last 20 minutes or so of the film.
It is no surprise that Horrors Of The Red Planet was first released as a TV movie. The first half is pretty enjoyable with the poor special effects and bad science, it is definitely not a movie to take seriously nor would I recommend it for realism. However the poor second half really lets it down, so if you are going to watch it I would stop at the appearance of Carradine’s large translucent head.