OPINION: Practical Magic


Cameron Gorman headshot

Cameron Gorman

If you, like me, are an avid watcher of horror movies, then you’ve probably seen “The Thing.” Made in 1982, John Carpenter’s classic follows a group of doomed researchers as their discovery of a frozen life-form proves to be more dangerous once thawed out. It can take the form of other living beings, and, one by one, the crew members are weeded out.

The real horror, of course, isn’t the monster. It’s the paranoia that develops among the people as they grow more and more uncertain that anyone around them is real. After all, one of them must be… the thing. And while I believe wholeheartedly that the real horror there is human, one can’t deny that the special effects in the movie enhance it manyfold.

What would “The Thing” be, after all, without that classic quasi-chestburster scene? Ropes of gore shooting out of one of the scientists as he transforms into some twisted flesh monster? It’s horrible, visceral, terrible and it feels real. Much like some of my other favorite 80’s movies, “The Fly” (I don’t just like this movie for Jeff Goldblum, thank you) and “Hellraiser,” the effects feel so effective because they exist on the same level as the actors. They’re happening right there, filmed just like the people are, on our plane of existence.

The 2011 remake of “The Thing,” for example, has pretty good computer-generated special effects. You get some pretty spooky imagery in the film, and the dark tone is nice. But though those graphics may have been cutting-edge in 2011, they don’t hold up so great now. The monster just doesn’t feel real, and that’s because it isn’t. It was added in afterward, a pixel-based ghost that the actors didn’t have to share space with. Now, I know that there are things that could never have been filmed without CGI. I am aware that some of the fantastical scenes we’ve been lucky to see put to film (Lord of the Rings, anyone?) could not have been made otherwise. But, at least for me, there is still something so wonderful about moments where practical effects are used in film. They feel so organic, so intentional, so alive.

With all the morals that can be gleaned from film, it’s easy to get to work drawing conclusions from the underlying messages, the subtle performances, the life lessons written into the scripts. Why not the effects themselves?

Technology has come so far. It’s really wonderful. We have the ability to express ourselves in so many new ways. We’re safer, but we can be more ambitious. We’re creative, but there are ways to produce our work faster. After all, I didn’t write this on a typewriter, and odds are you’re not reading this on paper, either. But there are moments to do things the old-fashioned way. Relationships, for example, can’t be built only through texts. Conversations can’t always be had on the phone. Feelings can’t always be turned into self-deprecating memes. Well, you can try, but I don’t advise it. There are moments in life that have to be worked through without shortcuts. It’s time consuming, and often messy, and it doesn’t always look so slick. But one thing can be certain it will have felt real and necessary. And, if you’re lucky, it’ll build a foundation that’ll really hold up over the years, just like Jeff Goldblum.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her ay [email protected].