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Ambiguity Makes for Better Horror in 1982’s ‘The Thing’

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When I was young my imagination elicited more true horror than any movie or TV show could possibly ever hope to. I was positive my stuffed animals inched closer in the darkness, and sometimes I could swear the closet door would open just a little wider…

Good scary movies can serve as inspiration for this nocturnal creativity, not by what they show, but by what they don’t. More and more I realize that pervasive ambiguity is at the center of why I absolutely adore John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing, and why over 30 years after its release I’m still debating with other fans what really happened at Antarctica’s Outpost 31 Research Station.

For those of you that haven’t seen The Thing (and there are many, as it was a box-office flop competing against the E.T. juggernaut), imagine Invasion of the Body Snatchers mixed with Alien and you’ve got the basic vibe. A healthy amount of paranoia by way of sci-fi/horror with an ensemble cast (led by the great Kurt Russell) that keeps you guessing at who’s really who, and who’s really goo. Lots and lots of goo. (Gore-phobes be wary; with an alien able to imitate any living organism it comes in contact with, metamorphoses get messy in a way only (re)birth could be).

the-thing1

So undefined it can only be described as a ‘thing”, the creature itself is an enigma. A brief prologue shows us how it got here, but not why or from where. Its original form is unknown, as are its intentions, and unknown they stay. Sure, it wants to live, like everything, but a species intelligent enough to fly a spaceship across the universe (even if it did crash) must have something in mind. Maybe it just wants to go home, or maybe take over the entire planet. If there’s another side to the story, we don’t hear it. The missing perspective leads to a lack of understanding, and mankind has always feared what it doesn’t understand.

All too often plots can seem like gifts. They’re neatly wrapped, tied together with the payoff of a perfect bow on top. Look, presents are can be great; it’s nice not to have to work for everything. True satisfaction, however, comes from earning your keep, and so The Thing leaves you to fill in the blanks, providing many opportunities to do so.

From the mysterious light on in Mac’s cabin to the identity of a shadowy figure who simply looks up as a suspicious sled dog walks into the room, loose ends run rampant. Characters focus on details that later seem completely insignificant (do the torn clothes matter?), reactions often seem bizarre, deaths occur (at least I assume they did) without any explanation as to how. A body is found burned to a crisp out in the snow, with only a pair of disfigured spectacles to identify him. The characters wonder: did the alien get him? Did he kill himself? They never find out.

Neither do we.

the-thing-fire

Primal fears are often exploited in the horror genre, and for good reason. Death is universally dreaded, but ever-present. We’re all aware of the dangers around us, be they natural or man-made, so the filmmakers don’t need to explain much in order to tap into our instincts. Create a villain with a tireless, single-minded urge to kill, throw in some jump scares to emphasize that evil can lurk around any corner, then spill some blood to remind us of our own mortality. At first glance, The Thing would seem to be just another of these life-or-death splatter fests, but science fiction can be different. It allows the writer to fashion unrealistic scenarios for the purpose of exploring less transparent truths.

The characters of this remote polar station exist at the end of the world, a snowy nether-realm. Where life does not exist, death is nothing to fear. The ultimate goal of the ragtag members of the Antarctic station isn’t so much survival, but the annihilation of that which would destroy them. A fine line perhaps, but an important distinction. This is a very curious stance for a horror movie, where much of the time living equates to victory. No, what’s ultimately at stake for Russell and his team is something not so black and white.

the-thing-dynamite

When anyone could be the enemy, how can we possibly work together? Not without great difficulty, and not without trust. In a situation where the enemy could be anyone, that can be hard to come by. Flaws are exposed, misunderstandings emerge, doubt arises… Luckily we, the audience, know exactly who is good and who is bad, right?

Because The Thing rarely cuts away from the group (the aforementioned sled dog moment), our focus is narrowed and information about this world stays limited. We’ve become accustomed to knowing more than those we watch. We see Michael Myers stalking his prey and know the characters shouldn’t go outside. We know Clarice is talking to Buffalo Bill before she does, and we feel anxious for her. But by denying us the big picture, we are left with the same incomplete puzzle as the men onscreen, forced to play detective with a dearth of clues. One result of this is a simultaneous empathetic bonding yet gradual mistrust of everyone and everything we see. Their confidence in each other is shaken; why shouldn’t ours be? Everyone seems to be telling the truth until their head separates from their dead body and crawls away on spider legs.

the-thing-spiderhead

This conscious effort on the part of the filmmakers to exploit confusion is what makes The Thing stick in the mind long after the credits roll. Right up through the brilliantly vague ending, audiences can never feel safe, never superior to those onscreen. The tension derived is not merely from anticipation. but a sense of uneasiness formed by keeping us always a step behind, running to catch up, confused as to which new piece of information is useful and which is pointless. This is life itself. The world exists in places we can’t see, can’t control. Frustrating, terrifying? Yes, perhaps. But also full of surprise and fascination.

I can’t watch The Thing without spotting something new, some vital tidbit that may hold the key to the whole horrifying mystery. Of course, more likely it’s a false lead, and I’m no closer to discovering the monster among us than anyone else in the group. The thing is, like them I have my suspicions, but in the end, I just don’t know, and that scares me in the best way possible.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Antlers’ Gets a Mysterious Trailer

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Fox Searchlight has released the first trailer and poster for Antlers, a rural horror film about a small-town Oregon teacher (Keri Russell) and her brother (Jesse Plemons), the local sheriff, who discover that a young student (Jeremy T. Thomas) is harboring a dangerous secret that places the entire town in danger.

Director Scott Cooper and producer Guillermo del Toro have teamed to adapt a short story from Nick Antosca, the creator of the criminally underrated horror anthology series Channel Zero. Not much is yet known about Antlers other than Fox Searchlight, now owned by Disney, has scheduled the film for a 2020 release. Rounding up the main cast is Graham Green, Amy Madigan, Scott Haze and Rory Cochrane. Watch the trailer below.

Antlers Movie
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Be Excellent to Each Other with these Awesome ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ Figures

“History is about to be rewritten by two guys who can’t spell.”

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Since its release in 1989, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure inspired a sequel (Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey), a Saturday morning cartoon, a comic book series, and launched actor Keanu Reeves into movie stardom. And now, three-plus decades later, Bill and Ted are getting their own scale collectible set courtesy Sideshow and Blitzway.

This is your chance to own the friendly duo in one go! The work put into creating these high-end figures is truly astounding as the figures capture the look of a young Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves just as we remember them. If you have $399 to spend, they can be all yours.

Check out the photos below along with the official press release.

Bill and Ted are two high school buddies who dream of becoming international rock stars. Their hilarious time travel adventure is depicted in the amazingly audacious comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

It’s like having them pop up right in front of you, with their iconic fashion and elaborate accessories. Besides, the iconic props are designed to let you reproduce a variety of wonderful scenes from the movie.

Be excellent to each other and travel to the past through the exciting story of Bill and Ted!

The Bill & Ted Sixth Scale Collectible Set specially features:

Highly detailed likeness of Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston Esq.
Highly detailed likeness of Keanu Reeves as Ted “Theodore” Logan
Newly designed and developed male body with over 30 points of articulations and flexible soft arms
Two (2) Newly designed and developed figure stands
Twelve (12) interchangeable hands (total for both) including:
Two (2) pairs of guitar hands
Two (2) right blow fist hands
Two (2) pairs of open hands
Two (2) right good fortune hands

Costume for Bill:

One (1) purple pattern shirt
One (1) graphic t-shirts
One (1) pair of blue jeans
One (1) pair of pattern underpants
One (1) pair of striped socks
One (1) pair of canvas shoes

Costume for Ted:

One (1) blue jacket
One (1) black vest
One (1) graphic t-shirt
One (1) pair of graphic shorts
One (1) pair of inner training pants
One (1) pair of striped socks
One (1) pair of canvas shoes

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Watch the Creepy Trailer for ‘Little Nightmares 2’: Six is Back and She has Help.

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One of the biggest surprises to come out of Gamescom 2019 so far is the announcement of Little Nightmares 2, the sequel to the puzzle-platformer hit horror game developed by Tarsier Studios.

While the first Little Nightmares has you take control a character named Six while avoiding instant death as she traverses alone amongst the depths of a dungeon, the sequel will give her a companion named Mono, who must accompany Six throughout her terrifying new journey.  

Little Nightmares was one of our favorite games of 2017 and so we can’t wait to get our hands on the sequel. In our review, James Baker wrote, “Tarsier Studios have created a wholly original concept to a horror genre that has leaned more towards thriller before anything else, bringing its roots back without relying on jump-scares and needlessly-gory shocks. Just like hide-and-seek, Little Nightmares captures the fear of being caught, albeit in a creepy, macabre style.”

Little Nightmares 2 will be released sometime in 2020 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

Watch the trailer below and if you are a fan of the first game, we recommend reading this article that dives deep into the meaning behind Little Nightmares.

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NBA 2K20’s Story Mode Gets a Stunning Trailer

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NBA 2K19 features to date, its strongest MyCareer mode with the aptly titled, “The Way Back”, a fascinating look at the culture behind college basketball recruiting. The story mode was well received by critics and fans everywhere and in our review, we called it, “an incredible achievement that conveys the fabric of modern American life, aspirations and incidentally, sports, in close-up and at length”.

NBA 2K20 which will be released in less than a month, promises to include an even better story mode, and while we haven’t played the game yet, we have plenty of reasons to think it might be. Not only does it feature an all-star cast with top-tier talents such as Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson, but the story mode – entitled “When the Lights Are Brightest” – is being produced by LeBron James’ Springhill Productions, the same company behind the upcoming Space Jam 2.

NBA 2K20’s latest trailer, which debuted Monday during Microsoft’s Inside Xbox show live from Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, give us a good idea of what to expect. We get a glimpse at Idris Elba and Rosario Dawson in action as well as the rest of the supporting cast which includes Thomas Middleditch, Mark Cuban, Ernie Hudson, Lamorne Morris, Scottie Pippen, and Jaleel White!

The NBA 2K20 demo will go live on Wednesday, Aug. 21 and will allow players to create a character and get a head start on MyCareer. Any progress made will carry over to the full game, which will be released Sept. 6 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One.

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The Transformers: Lessons in Warfare, Scale, and Childhood

Toys We Love Spotlight

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The Transformers are an enduring part of American pop culture. Starting with the introduction of the first toy lines in the early 1980s, the animated series went on to define a large part of ‘80s culture, reaching its apex with the release of The Transformers: The Movie in 1986. After a disappointing performance in theaters, however, the brand reached a nadir in the post-movie era, receding from the front of American pop culture until the late 1990s, when Transformers: Beast Wars brought the franchise to the forefront again.

It was into this climate that I was born. By the time I was old enough to watch TV and get toys courtesy of the North Pole and my parents, I began to take an interest in the series. After all, what five-year-old boy doesn’t like the idea of giant robots fighting each other for control of the earth and the universe?

My local video store (yes, those used to exist) had a copy of the first three episodes of the original Transformers series, Generation 1, on VHS. I remember renting this one particular copy from the store and watching it at least three times, sun-faded front cover and all. Even then, I loved the series, though I only had a few generic dollar-store “transformers,” an Armada Megatron that I had received for my fifth birthday, and a couple of hand-me-down G1 figures from my Dad.

Some of my earliest memories of Transformers came from a trip my parents and I took to visit my Dad’s former college roommate, a professed 80s culture geek. I remember watching a ton of G1 episodes, like “Dinobot Island,” as well as The Transformers: The Movie on his large projection-screen TV, an experience which inculcated within me an intense love of the series.

Optimus Prime The Transformers The Movie

Optimus Prime, bastion of bravery and an excellent role model for a maturing boy.

The first real episodic Transformers show that I watched with any sort of consistency, however, was Transformers: Armada. Now, I don’t remember much about this show — for good reason, as it’s derided by many Transformers fans for its poor animation, bad dubbing, and terrible story — but what I do remember is one particular toy that I really enjoyed: Armada Unicron.

I think it was the Christmas of 2002 when I first got Unicron. I remember having seen him in the store and (probably) telling my parents something or another about it, but I was utterly shocked when Santa brought it to me as a present. As a kid, Unicron was an impressive toy that towered over all of my other Transformers. He was such a hefty toy that I had trouble just picking him up from the ground. After having seen The Transformers: The Movie, I was just impressed by having the planet-eating destroyer of worlds himself in toy form. It was good to be a kid.

My consumption of Transformers-related content stayed relatively the same for a couple of years. Since my family didn’t get any of the channels that the shows came on, I was often left to make up what stories I could from my own memory, but we had Netflix (back when it was a DVD mail-in service), so I was able to watch some of the old series, including Beast Wars, Beast Machines, and Transformers: Energon on DVD. As usual, however, I spent most of my time in school or playing on my GameCube.  

When Michael Bay’s Transformers released in theaters in 2007, it ushered in an entirely new era of Transformers fandom across the world. With the return of G1 originals Peter Cullen and Frank Welker as the voices of Optimus Prime and Megatron, respectively, the ‘80s were alive and well again. This transformation (pun fully intended), brought about the introduction of an entirely new show, Transformers Animated, which aired on Cartoon Network. Before the days of DVR, it was nearly impossible for someone like myself, who was usually involved in any myriad of school activities on any given day, to find the time to watch a show at its air time. 

Unicron Armada Transformers Toy

Just look at this toy! Even today, it’s impressive.

However, luckily enough for me, Cartoon Network aired reruns of two episodes of Animated every day at 6:30 AM. As someone who lived literally two minutes away from school, I usually didn’t leave my house until around 7:45 or 8:00, so I had plenty of time to watch the show. I remember getting up every morning, fixing myself a big bowl of cereal, and sitting down to watch Animated before anyone in the house was up. Just me, Transformers, cereal, and a lot of fun. 

Soon, as I aged and Animated was replaced by Transformers Prime, I grew into a more nuanced appreciation for the shows’ storytelling. Prime, a dark tonal contrast with Animated, found me at the perfect time in my life. I appreciated its reverence for Optimus Prime and its overarching themes of sacrifice and leadership. While some would say it was boring or over-wrought, for a burgeoning pre-teen it was an engaging combination of cool and edgy that I thoroughly enjoyed.

When I sit down to think about the impact the Transformers series has had on my life, there’s one point in particular that sticks out to me: the imagination that playing with Transformers encouraged. While the brand was doubtlessly born of a commercial desire to sell as many pieces of plastic as possible, it nonetheless developed into a series capable of some interesting, if not always deep, storytelling. 

I copied this sense of storytelling when it came time to play with my toys. I remember incorporating various weather machines, weapons of ultimate power, and energy crystals into overarching narratives that could last a whole afternoon. Narratives in which Autobots died, lost limbs, or were otherwise in peril before the power of the Matrix of Leadership or Primus himself showed up to save them in the end. While this may not seem all that unique, I credit the series with instilling in me a sense of narrative detail. In fact, I remember not mixing my G.I. Joes and Transformers together, because in my internal head canon, they weren’t to scale (everyone knows that Transformers are at least three to four times taller than humans.) 

Megatron vs. Dinosaur G1 Transformers

I can safely say that I probably played out this exact scenario at least four or five times in my childhood.

However, Unicron himself created all sorts of problems for an internal narrative. For a being the size of a planet, he was rather puny in scale when compared to the other figures. So, I would always put Unicron to the side and pretend that the smaller Transformers were mere dots on him, tiny little specks that could barely be seen, the same as they had been in The Transformers: The Movie. I feel like the toys gave me an appreciation of the tropes of narrative fiction that I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed or appreciated. 

Today, I still love the series and try to watch The Transformers: The Movie at least once a year. Newer entries, like Transformers: Rescue Bots and Rescue Bots Academy allow me to share my love of the series with my younger siblings without encountering the darker elements of some of the classic shows. It allows me to teach them all about the Cybertronians that I grew up with, and perhaps encourage them to craft stories of their own. Now, excuse me while I help the Rescue Bots put out a fire on Wayward Island…

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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