Now that we’re down to the final four, things are getting tough. I’ve oscillated between two scenes for this spot for the better part of two weeks, and I’m sure once I hit “publish” I’ll second-guess myself once again. But we’re in the final weeks here and no pick is a bad pick.
So, without further adieu, #4 on the list comes courtesy of John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror remake, The Thing.
Prior to writing this entry I did a soft recap of the list thus far and I noticed one important aspect; a through-line, if you will, inherent in each kill: practical effects. It goes without saying that the more tangible the effect is, the more affecting it will be. It has what’s known as an indexicle relationship to the physical world, which is to say the effect was captured at the time of filming and not months later in a digital effects lab.
Practical effects hold a certain amount of charm and showcase ingenuity and creativity
that simply can’t be replicated through computer software proficiency. This is not to detract from what digital effects artists are capable of rendering. We live in a cinematic time unlike any other, where literally anything is possible. But it all owes a debt to those first visionaries who tried to create the extraordinary by using ordinary means to fool an audience. The Lumiere Brothers and the Thomas Edison’s of the world started it all, and in the process invented what would become known as practical effects. They held a captive audience at
gunpoint in The Great Train Robbery (1903), and launched a bomb right into the face of the moon in A Trip to the Moon (1902), all to thrill a crowd of enthralled spectators. In short, they figured out the illusion that cinema could be.
Because that’s exactly what film is in the first place: it’s a trick, an optical illusion. It’s static images recorded and then projected at 24 frames per second to create the illusion of movement.
I suppose this is my long-winded way of saying I’m a traditionalist and the unique feeling a practical effect causes means so much more to me than an image created using dots, green screens, and tennis balls.
And this is precisely what John Carpenter understood when he remade his hero’s, Howard Hawks, film The Thing From Another World (1951).
The scene has essentially become ensconced in the lexicon of sci-fi horror, so I’ll spare the details. An alien life-form with the ability to copy any being it comes in contact with has made its way to an Antarctic outpost manned by an American research team. What ensues is a science fiction tale brimming with horror and paranoia with subtext extending back to McCarthyism and the Cold War.
The scene I’ve selected (and there’s more than one I could have justifiably chosen) occurs after our hero and audience avatar, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), has narrowly avoided death after his own team has accused him of being “one of those things”.
In a scuffle, one of the men goes into cardiac arrest and the on-site physician attempts to save the man’s life.
It would be a disservice to continue any further than this, but I would ask that you marvel at the insanity that comes from this simple set-up and how it was all completed, as they say, “in camera”. It’s a bone fide classic.
Ok, that’s all for this week! Enjoy the video and when I see you next week we’ll be enter the top 3 on my list the The Best Horror Movie Kills of All-Time!