Sometimes films at this time of year shock us with a clever twist on the tired Yuletide formula. In the fifth of our Advent Calender’s selection of Christmas crackers Alex Francis reviews his favourite of these films, John Carpenter’s The Thing (Comes For Christmas).
I can still remember the first time I set down to watch it. It was the nineties, and, amongst discarded wrapping paper and boozy snoozing family members sat an enraptured little Franco boy, eyes wide with Christmas glee. While other girls and boys were watching Tim Allen grow a beard or the barely disguised burglary tutorial that is Home Alone, I was enjoying a very different kind of Xmas film.
The Thing is an obvious choice for Christmas viewing. It has snow. And, more than that, it encapsulates the feel of the festive season better than any other film you can care to mention. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the affable alien Thing is taking his centennial vacation to Planet Earth to celebrate the merry season with his favourite fleshy mancreatures. Distracted by the preparation of his noggy egg drink, he crash-lands in the Antarctic, missing Christmas altogether! Upon awaking, he encounters a curmudgeonly fellowship of downright Krimbo crappers, who’d rather eat a big brown snowcone than embrace the magic of St Nick. The Thing attempts to persuade the frosty gang out of their misanthropic ways, resorting to more and more desperate measures to keep the yuletide gay.
It’s unfortunate that the heavily edited international release has become ubiquitous since the film first hit cinemas in 1982. Tragically, many of the Christmas themes were removed to appeal to a lucrative Far Eastern market. The subtitle ‘Comes for Christmas’ was cut along with many classic scenes, greatly reducing the festive focus of the piece. The original version I saw as a child now exists only in the dusty depths of the most committed collectors’ shelves.
The most egregious example is the modification to Kurt Russell’s final line. After an escalation of comically timed events leads to the accidental explosion of the camp, Russell’s character suggests to Keith David: “Why don’t we just… wait here for a little while… see what happens?”. The line should of course continue into: “…see what happens to this mince pie and carrots I’ve left out when we wake up tomorrow”. The line completes Russell’s character’s arc perfectly from grumpy old grimble snatcher to a jovial jelly belly to rival St Nick himself. Alas, once again Hollywood tries to improve the unimprovable.
Of course we should not forget John Candy’s under-recognised performance as Mr Thing himself. Few actors could top his globular, many-limbed performance. It is no coincidence that Hollywood has borrowed greatly from Carpenter’s Christmas caper. 1989’s Uncle Buck, in which Candy teaches an uptight wealthy cracker family the value of not being a massive prick, is an unacknowledged remake of The Thing.
So as you sit down to a cheeky mince pie and inhale heavily from your mulled wine by the telly this year, I heartily recommend you stay away from the usual, well-worn Christmas movies that adorn the TV listings like an array of shitty baubles. Instead, give a thought to a lonely interstellar traveller with enough Christmas cheer to absorb the whole world. (You’ll probably have to torrent the film or something, but to be fair John Carpenter is like obscenely rich now.)
If not, you never know when the Thing may come sneaking down your chimney to teach you a festive lesson you’ll not soon forget.