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'The Thing' Takes a Look at the Action Behind the Film and the Effects

October 29, 1998|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you have some serious time on your hands and the most morbid aspects of horror film don't necessarily turn you off, then Pioneer's newly released laserdisc special edition of 1982's "The Thing" will help you celebrate Halloween in style.

The movie, a remake of the 1950 Howard Hawks-produced sci-fi classic, is actually closer to the short story by John W. Campbell Jr. on which the original film was based, and it occupies a very interesting place in the hit- and-miss career of horror guru John Carpenter. The combination of a somber, claustrophobic decor (a desolate scientific base in Antarctica) with the most gruesome effects imaginable makes for a one-of-a-kind entry in the history of scary movies.

And this special edition presents a wonderful array of additional materials that somehow correct the misunderstood perception of the film that many critics had at the time of its release.

First, there's an amiable audio commentary with Carpenter and actor Kurt Russell, the kind of cozy chat that makes you feel as if you were in the same room with these people; you hear the director light cigarettes and Russell laugh maniacally when the delirious effects get particularly repulsive.

Disc 2 features an 80-minute original documentary. At times the effect is unintentionally hilarious, as in the segment where a bunch of middle-aged crew members explain how they all met one another, while the ominous background music forces you to find sinister undertones in everything they say.

Far more interesting is a supplemental archive with frame-by-frame text, photos and some video. Here you'll find stop-motion footage deleted from the film, as well as a scrapbook of nostalgic-looking photos taken during location scouting and the actual shooting.

CURRENT RELEASES

Laserdisc

"Dracula Has Risen From the Grave" (1968, Image). Campy horror at its very best, courtesy of Hammer Films, director Freddie Francis and the incomparable Christopher Lee in his third outing as the bloody Count. Sexy, baroque and completely inconsequential. First time on laserdisc.

DVD

"Carrie" (1976, MGM). Back when Stephen King and director Brian De Palma were at the peak of their powers, their careers met in this wonderfully calculated journey into the nightmares of middle America. Includes the original theatrical trailer and an interesting booklet with production notes.

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Ernesto Lechner's Digital Media column appears every Thursday in Calendar Weekend. You can reach him at LechnerE@aol.com

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