Movie Review: The Vagina Dentata Monster Movie (aka “The Thing”)

Now, I will say this right off the bat: I have not ever seen John Carpenter’s The Thing all the way through and, yes, I do realize what a sin that is as a horror and sci-fi fan. I’ve seen bits and pieces of it but I’ve either A) never had the time to watch all of it when I had access to it or B) never had it when I had the desire to watch it. That being said, I do know the content of the movie, about what happens generally when, etc.

And when they announced they were doing a prequel, also titled The Thing, I was just as skeptical as the rest of you fans are/were.

Let me just say this: your skepticism, while warranted based on the success rate of prequel/sequel/remakes from Hollywood lately, will probably be defeated. This was a very, very well done prequel.

Now, is it a perfect movie? No. There are definitely some flaws which I will discuss below but was it a well done prequel? Yes, to the point where it ends just like it should if you’ve seen the first (or second, depending on how you look at it) movie, with two Norwegians in a helicopter flying across the ice doing their best to shoot a dog.

The movie stars out in Antarctica with three Norwegians in a snow cat (one of those tred-based, fully enclosed vehicles you always see in cold-weather locations). They’re out in the middle of nowhere, which is pretty much everywhere when you consider it’s Antarctica, chasing down a mysterious radio signal. They get to the site where they can hear the signal the strongest and determine that the signal is coming from below just in time for the ice to fall out from beneath them, sending their snow cat plummeting into the frozen depths where it becomes wedged in a fissure, the headlights illuminating an alien craft below. Thus begins the movie and the tension of those three men, hanging in space in a chasm whose bottom they can’t initially make out, is kept pretty well throughout the movie.

The movie, unfortunately, doesn’t really have a lot of depth to it but I don’t think that is necessarily a flaw. You know enough about certain individuals to get some empathy from them. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, a researcher specializing in cold-weather digs and removing biological specimens from ice (her introduction involves her doing an investigation of the guts of a saber-tooth tiger corpse). The jumps in logic she makes about the creature, her ways of figuring out who is and isn’t human, all make sense. She’s an empathetic character for the most part although you don’t get into her back story very much.

The monster was, and wasn’t, well done in some ways. The effects of the movie were both good and bad IMO and, unfortunately, the CGI was noticeable enough to be unconvincing in certain parts. However, in some places they did a nice mix of practical effects AND CGI to nullify this and pass over the Uncertain Valley to “holy crap that could be real” rather than “Eh, that’s just a CGI monster”. Also, I’m not certain about the first movie, because it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but there was a lot of chests tearing open to reveal a giant vertical, fang-filled mouth that looked disturbingly like vaginal dentata (or something out of Urotsukidōji). Was that how it was in the first movie?

Anyway, the last thing I want to say on the monster was that, in some ways, it’s not very clear when some people get eaten and taken over. There’s one scene near the beginning of the movie (which is ruined by the trailer so I have no problem talking about something already spoiled) where Griggs the American is revealed to be a part of the creature. His death takes place off camera and, considering that another chunk of the monster is busy eating the dog as well as another Norwegian, I’m wondering just how many parts the creature can initially split itself into. There were other deaths (possessions might be another, better word?) that are never really explained as to when they happen and so I’m wondering if their explanations may have been cut from the movie. While the “The monster could be anyone” did add a lot of tension, I would’ve at least liked a little bit of more tension-building material, maybe have a character go off alone or show up some place unexpectedly. The fate of the two Americans, which will make sense when you see this film, is an excellent example of what I’m talking about in regards to having a situation build tension over the true nature of the characters.

The last thing I want to talk about is the movie’s role as a prequel. I read an interview with the director where he was talking about this movie’s relation to the original and I was pleased with how he did it. Basically, he used the first movie as a blue print for the ending of the prequel, that certain things needed to happen to the Norweigan camp so that it would look like it should when MacReady and company show up to investigate in the original. So they looked over the ruins and then built their sets to include the items necessary to eventually become the burned-out shell that’s discovered, right down to the inexplicable axe-in-the-door that MacReady stumbles across, the burned, two-faced monster corpse they discover in the snow, and the guy in the chart room who has both his neck and his wrists slit with a straight razor. The end of the movie is also pretty much perfect, right down to the snow in the Norweigan’s beard as they chase down the dog. It is in the role of a prequel that this movie shines, pretty much right up to the point where you could finish this movie and then pop in the original and I think they’d flow together well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Thing box-set come out in the next year or two with the original re-mastered and with a director’s cut. I certainly hope so because I’d buy that in a hot second.

I’d say that if you want to see a monster movie, go watch this flick. I saw it at matinee prices but I wouldn’t have been disappointed had I paid full price for it.

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