How to make 'The Thing' scary.

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The Thing Nature Better Movies Observation Deck Mantis Shrimp Woodpecker Dragonfly Nom Movies Science

I love monster movies in general, and The Thing has always been one of my favorites. I liked the clever psychological horror, but what really drew me was the Thing itself. The way it could quickly change into all kinds of strange forms just added to the awesomeness. What sort of freaky weird chimera would it be this time?

Sometimes it was excellent, and those moments were glorious. It was occasionally like somebody thought like the monster and thought ‘okay, you’re in this situation and you’ve got parts from these animals in your inventory...what do you do?’

A lot of times, however, it seems like they fell back on ‘let’s have tentacles shoot out!’ or just kind of changed for the sake of being creepy. The same general thing applies to all of those shape-changing monsters. In fact, of the lot the Thing movies were probably the best. (at least the prequel got that bit right!)

So what happens if you really apply some rules? If you make sure whatever monstrosity you have has a reason for doing what it does?

It gets a whole lot freakier.

It’s basically a really disturbing Role Playing Game, and here’s the rules I arbitrarily made up as a starting point. :)

  • No intestine-tentacles. Just no.
  • Parts have to come from natural organisms on this planet.
  • You can’t change a ton all at once, weapons are best if largely pre-assembled but can be reconfigured between fight scenes. Skin-tearing effects are free. (see? It’s an RPG!)
  • It has to be useful.

And that’s it!

So, for example...

“Back away guys, that isn’t her. It’s that thing!” Marvin said, pointing at Janet with a sawed off shotgun.

Janet held up her hands and looked back and forth nervously between Dr. Evenson and Rachel, his suspiciously close lab assistant. “Ummm...guys? Marvin? Why are you...”

“Shut up! Don’t say a word!”

“Marvin, if you’d put your gun down and explain what you’re talking about we’d all really appreciate it. This isn’t the time to overreact”

Marvin relaxed slightly, then seemed to reconsider “No, it’s easier to explain this way. You’ll understand in a moment.” and he leveled the gun at Janet’s head.

Before he could pull the trigger, Janet’s lower jaw split along a seam and shot out, grabbing Marvin by the neck and yanking him towards her with a startled yelp that quickly turned into an agonized scream.

Rachel froze in place, horrified and strangely fascinated by what had become of the rest of Janet’s face...with mandibles emerging and crunching into his firmly held skull... that she didn’t even notice Janet had taken Marvin’s shotgun until she shot Dr. Evenson with it.

Janet tilted her head slightly and looked Rachel’s way, raising her eyebrow. Her lower jaw let Marvin’s corpse drop to the floor. She could still see Janet’s teeth in the jaw as it moved up and together, beginning to reform...

...and then she was pulled off of her feet.

She managed to briefly acknowledge that Marvin was right and she understood what he was getting at now, even if this probably wasn’t how he meant to explain it... and then the pain began in earnest and strange memories and feelings flashed through her mind as Janet started to feed.

Aren’t dragonfly nymphs awesome? You’ve got to admit that’s better than ‘tentacles shoot out and people scream’, right? That’s the sort of ability I’d keep on tap if I were a Thing-type-thing in a horror movie.


So what other gifts does nature have for us?

Steve scrambled up the side of the Cat and managed to close the door just in time. He saw it climb up and approach outside the window. Or, more accurately, he saw the guy from down the hall who very obviously had a thing for Star Wars.

It punched the window... harder than he’d have thought a human could, but the glass held. The stuff was designed to hold up to rockslides, that thing would never get through that way.

Then Star Wars guy detached his shoulder and hunched forward. His arm shot forward at amazing speed and there was a loud crack. Then another. Then another.

Steve was right. The glass didn’t give way. The entire door did.

Of course I wouldn’t forget the mantis shrimp!

But what if we were talking more serious fortifications?

“We’ll be safe in here, the walls are like... three feet of concrete. It’d need a drill to get through”, Matt said, hastily adding “not one of the lame ones we have here, like a huge industrial one.” when he saw Janet (yes, this is from earlier) suddenly get more nervous.

Janet, looking at the monitor, wasn’t so sure “What’s it think it’s doing then?”

Matt hurried over and watched as the body slowly elongated and formed insectile shape, an impression the creature quickly supported when it went and sprouted two more legs midway. The head of the formerly very attractive Rachel enlarged and grew a birdlike beak and a strangely muscular neck.

And then the hammering started.

“I don’t think the force is with us” Matt said, slumping to the ground. “I’ve got nothing.”

“We can attack it. We know exactly where it’s coming in and we can hit it with all we’ve got!”

Matt grinned in sudden realization “Yeah! That could actually work! Get those canisters, I have a plan!”

The things you could do if you could harness the power of woodpeckers for something more productive than bugs!


But what if it’s being hunted?

“Keep your eyes open, men. Whatever got Steve from accounting is out here somewhere. Jones, Gordon, Other Jones, you three check left. Andrews, Guy-who’s-name-I-can-never-pronounce, with me.” called out the properly badass military type (because he was being played by Ron Perlman.)

“Stevenses, sir.” Said Stevenses.

“Yeah, you. With me”

Silently they marched out in tight formation across the sandy soil towards the half-track.

The silence was broken by a strange gurgling sound, followed by ‘Jones!’ and gunfire. The gunfire continued for a moment then halted abruptly with a shriek of pain.

Sgt. Perlman ran forward with his men and found...just blood and churned up dirt.

“There’s nothing here,” Andrews said, standing in the middle of the carnage. “But this is where their trackers are”

Something chose that moment to reach out of the ground and slice Andrews in half.

“I saw it!” yelled Stevenses as he charged forward even before Andrews had managed to properly settle into his new formation.

His heroic charge was ended abruptly when something grabbed him and began to yank him underground.

Before the Sergeant could react Stevenses pulled the pin on his grenade and weakly cried “Tell Janet I love her” before vanishing beneath the soil.

There was a muffled thump, and Sgt. Perlman said something gruff and witty and began the long trek to camp.

[Later, with the base camp in sight]

“Seventeen? No, that’s stupid. Slytherin? Snorlax? Stabberman?”, he sighs, “I hope Janet knows this kid’s name.”

Meet the bobbit worm.

See? It gets more disturbing when you’re not just throwing in effects to look scary. Nature’s tricks really ARE scary.

I don’t know about you, but I’m terrified of Janet right now.

So what other nice features does nature have to offer us and how horrible can you make it?


About your host (he’s mostly harmless.)

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