I’ve had John Carpenter on my mind a lot lately, maybe because he’s returning to the Halloween universe he created nearly 30 year ago to produce another Halloween film that will star Jamie Lee Curtis and ignore all of the sequels that followed the original film. It will be just Jamie and Michael, reunited at last, no bizarre stories about Michael Myers’ bloodline, or his cult, or those awful Rob Zombie remakes that tried to give a backstory that we didn’t need.
Michael Myers is so effective in that first film because he literally could be anyone, and Haddonfield could be any tree-lined suburbia. There is one brief scene in the original film where Michael takes off his mask, after Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee) stabs him with a clothes hanger. When he unmasks, he looks rather…normal. The boogeyman isn’t some supernatural entity, and the only thing thing that’s uncanny about him is the fact he gets up after Laurie Strode thinks she’s defeated him, and he gets up a second time after Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) shoots him off a balcony.
As much as I love Halloween and will always have a soft spot for Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, I’ve been more intrigued lately by Carpenter’s 1982 film The Thing. On a few levels, I find it to be a more interesting film. It has stunning, guttural visual effects that still hold up, for one, but lately, I’ve been more intrigued by the idea of body horror. Few films represent that better than The Thing and the idea that the monster could be inside everyone and will spread from person to person, host to host. On a deeper level, the film was a perfect metaphor for the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s, and today, in a very divided America, the sweeping paranoia/don’t trust thy neighbor arc feel even more relevant. For anyone that ever felt different, off, or an outsider, The Thing is the perfect body horror film. Anyone that appears slightly unusual is tied to the chair, blood tested, and blowtorched if the monster is inside of them.
A few years ago, there was remake of The Thing that I didn’t bother to see. For me, Carpenter’s remake of the 1950s The Thing from Outerspace holds up too well, especially the non-CGI effects, the pulsating soundtrack, and the acting. If the new Halloween is indeed going to follow the original film and no sequels, then there is more story to tell. I don’t think that is true about The Thing, despite its ambiguous ending.
In a tribute to the film, here is a poem I wrote about the body horror idea that Rockvale Review recently published. I also have an essay coming out about the film in 2018 in the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing). Not all of Carpenter’s films have aged well, but The Thing certainly has.