A man stumbles through snow in a desperate attempt to hide in the cold Antarctic night as men follow shortly behind. This is very much the case for Matthijs van Heijningen’s prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. Carpenter’s film worked because it relied on the strength of its characters to create a realistic and believable environment (taking a cue from the truckers in space character dynamic evident in Ridley Scott’s Alien).
With believable characters, Carpenter was able to intensify tension, drawing on paranoia as the men of Outpost #31 turned suspicious eyes on each other. Perhaps the greatest difference between the two rests with the filmmakers approach to the creature effects. Their turbulent experience with Universal motivated Woodruff and Gillis to explore options beyond studio based genre pictures, instead turning to the same horror fans that rediscovered Carpenter’s film.
Looking beyond how the prequel compares to Carpenter’s horror classic, the filmmakers still fail to establish a consistent character for the title creature.
But for all its faults, of which there are many, it is the prequel’s inability to shake off an inherent redundancy that cripples it most. The Thing proved to be a counter-programming failure, and an incredibly negative critical response indicated a reevaluation was not immediately forthcoming. As a result it is impossible to critique The Thing prequel without making reference to it’s superior predecessor as rather than explore new territory or extend the current mythology, the prequel instead rushes through the salient plot points from Carpenter’s film, with little of the same tension and a heavy reliance on action-orientated set pieces. The inhabitants of Outpost 31 appear authentic and the idea that any one of them could be the creature simply waiting for its moment to attack is a terrifying notion that hits the same notes of paranoia sci-fi horror films of the 50’s did during the McCarthy witch-hunt. Each inevitable revelation of the monster serves as a punch line to a slow and careful build of tense anticipation. Rob Bottin stretched the limits of his being to deliver the genre defining practical effects in John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Harbinger Down amassed the necessary $350,000 budget via a crowd sourcing campaign in which the pair cited their lost work on The Thing and horror fans responses to the computer-generated creature effects on display as a direct motivation for their move into independent filmmaking.

The majority of questions posed about the Norwegian crew had already been answered in Carpenter’s film as the very same fate befalls their American counter parts. With escape impossible, the desperate man tumbles to the ground as his one time colleagues surround him, their faces twisted in horror within their hoods. The prequel quickly faded, amassing barely half its low budget the American box-office and thus solidifying its status as a horror flop. With the subsequent birth of the home video market, word of the film’s quality spread like a virus within the horror community, ultimately leading it to its current status as classic of the genre.
In contrast Heijningen’s crew are a Hollywood bastardisation of the original, with little of the chemistry and no believability. The brief glimpses of this morphing beast would have had little effect without that steady growth of momentum. From the tentacle nightmare that was once a snow dog to the chest that opens up to reveal a gaping maw lined with razor sharp teeth, Bottin provided the film with its most horrific imagery (with a degree of help from the late Stan Winston).
The success of their crowd sourcing campaign speaks volumes in regards to genre fans appreciation for and desire to see old-school creature effects on screen once more.
Although it assimilates side characters with ease, displaying many efficient abilities to capture a victim (such as detaching it’s limbs to attack more people or ensure escape), the filmmakers then continually have the creature trip over itself to excuse the heroine from becoming host (climaxing with a final scene that fails to capture a modicum of the atmosphere that made the McReady and Childs finale an unforgettable masterpiece). This is further amplified as beyond an underwhelming glimpse inside the alien spacecrafts interior, the prequel refuses to offer an extension of the mythology to warrant its own existence. The remarkable similarities between the cinematic performances of both films are undeniable, and considering that the home video market is in the process of finding a new life on a digital platform is a reevaluation of Heijningen’s prequel also imminent? However the prequel simply thrusts forward into scenes of monster mayhem with little thought to pace. The surrounding actors required little of their imagination to react with genuine terror, as the alien threat was crucially real, further solidifying the authenticity of the overall film.
At the director’s instruction Amalgamated Dynamics (ADI) provided an immense wealth of practical special effects to the prequel.

And though practical effects would have aesthetically improved the prequel the threat of the titular antagonist would have remained compromised by a tactless script. Which begs the question of why an audience would fear the capture of the protagonist when the filmmakers continue to make illogical allowances to ensure her survival? In offering the same situation, in the same place, with similar people at around the same time, it’s apparent that Heijningen had simply forgot to offer something new. The greatest advantage of the layered cuts is that they are suitable for each kind of face shapes.
The addition of a typical ‘Ripley’ character serves to only further the distance between the audience and the screen. The few characters suspected of being the creature are quickly revealed so and all paranoia is shrugged off in favour of rushing the audience to the next poorly executed monster scare. It’s reported that after a several screenings Universal lost faith in their work and the decision was made to replace or heavily augment creature scenes with rushed digital effects, much to the dismay of ADI heads, Tom Woodruff Jr. And ultimately it’s for that very redundancy that this horror prequel is destined to be forgotten whilst Carpenter’s film remains a reevaluated classic of the genre. As a result authenticity and tension is sacrificed in an attempt to sell the film on the back of popular horror conventions, negatively impacting the quality of the final product. By the way, you can develop the layers with, adding hues of different colors for more special effects.

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