If you love movies at all (and if you don't why are you reading Cinematical in the first place?) then you probably have a strong opinion on remakes. Survey says most people don't dig remakes and it's easy to understand why -- what's the point in recreating something that already works perfectly well in the first place? I still worry, however, that a lot of people have knee-jerk reactions to these projects -- automatically assuming they're awful just because the dreaded "R" word is involved. It hasn't always been this way, as there have been some great remakes over the years. Case in point: John Carpenter's The Thing.
An updating of Christian Nyby's The Thing from Another World, Carpenter's version takes the source material (John W. Campbell's Who Goes There?) and updates it in a way that makes it both a retelling and a unique viewing experience. The film's story is set in an Antarctic research base where an alien life form that can mimic any living organism is spreading throughout the group. Kurt Russell leads an excellent ensemble cast that includes Keith David, Wilford Brimley, and Richard Dysart.
In one of my favorite scenes, paranoia is running rampant amongst the survivors. No one trusts anyone, but Russell's MacReady is still in charge -- if only because he has a pistol and a flamethrower at his disposal. Mac's come up with an idea to determine once and for all who is human and who has been taken over by the extra-terrestrial organism: a blood test. MacReady insists that everyone be tied to chairs and then submit a blood sample. He then heats a wire and sticks it into the sample -- if nothing happens, the person is human. If there's a reaction ... [spoilerville after the jump]
The sequence is incredibly tense, mostly because of the script, which builds the tension in layers and adds little subplots (one character's looking to take MacReady out of power once and for all) -- but also in the way Carpenter films it. The scene takes place in the cramped confines of one of the base's recreational rooms. The characters are tied together on couches and chairs, practically on top of each other. It's even more stressful because we know at least one of them isn't human.
Carpenter intensifies the suspense by stopping at certain points for dialogue between the characters, by inserting shots of characters the audience has suspicions about and so on. Then, in his most brilliant move, he manages to fool us when MacReady does find the tainted blood -- it's not what we were expecting at all.
From there, the film deftly switches gears, changing from a suspenseful moment to a much more visceral sequence. Rob Bottin's special FX work on The Thing is incredible. Once the alien is revealed in the blood, it totally morphs the host body into a nearly indescribable creature full of blood and fluid and, eventually, a wicked venus flytrap-esque head. While everyone tied to the monster is screaming in terror, MacReady is trying desperately to get his flamethrower to work so he can kill the creature once and for all. In his panic, he fails to get it to fire -- something that costs radio operator Windows his life. Once order is restored, the scene ends with a great line of dialogue from Donald Moffat's character, Garry. The actor, still tied to the couch but shown to be human, looks at MacReady and the rest of the men who were under his command and says, "I know you gentlemen have been through a lot but, when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this f*cking couch!" It would probably be the greatest line in the whole film, if not for David Clennon's classic reaction to a severed head sprouting spider legs and attempting to walk out of an operating room in another iconic sequence from the film.
Check out the blood test scene from John Carpenter's beloved cult flick, The Thing, below.