This past weekend I set out to watch my three personal favorites of the creature feature sub-genre. Considering it was also my twenty-ninth birthday, these viewings made for good celebration (red flag: this guy is a little off, methinks). My selections may show my “chronological snobbery” (C.S. Lewis), but rest assured, I am in no way deriding the creature features of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. I wouldn’t dare do so on Mockingbird! However, the three films that will drive the discussion of this post are ones I grew up with: The Mist (2007), The Thing (1982) and Alien (1979).

If you have any inkling towards horror films, especially creature features, then The Mist should be on your Netflix queue. It is the film adaptation of a Stephen King novella of the same name directed by Frank Darabont, who many would say has been responsible for the two best King adaptations (The Shawshank Redemption [1994] & The Green Mile [1999]). Unlike Shawshank and Green Mile, this film eschews the redemption-heavy themes for the starkness of complete loss of hope in the face of a truly cosmic horror. The story concerns a large and diverse collection of townspeople who have been trapped in a supermarket by an unexplained mist which has rolled in off of the hills and is reported to have hideous and violent creatures within its opaque cover.

The brilliance of this film is that Darabont is not only concerned with the evil that is “out there,” but, also, the evil that presents itself “in here”; as those in the supermarket scramble to figure out what is going one, a sect emerges with an apocalyptic and sacrificial overtone (of a very distorted Christian bent) led by Miss Carmody (played by the excellent Marcia Gay Harden). Our central protagonist, David Drayton (played by Thomas Jane), and his son fight off evils on both fronts as they and a small group of outsiders in the store begin to make plans to escape and drive as far as they can to see if they can reach the limits of the mist. The ending is chilling; central characters are forced to make impossible decisions in the face of a hopeless void. Once again showing that in the wake of cosmic horror, survival is hardly ever achieved without some form of hope.

The other two films, Alien and The Thing, deal with alien lifeforms that are wanting, at best,the destruction of humanity; not necessarily out of premeditation, but out of predation. The Thing recounts the story of a spacecraft striking down on the earth in the cold climates of the Antarctic where American researchers, led by Kurt Russell’s MacReady, are forced to fend off a creature that invades and reanimates the bodies of those it kills in order to hide its identity. The Americans are then turned on each other for fear that any one of them could be the creature.

Alien has a space crew, with Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley on board, intercepting a signal from a nearby planet and touching down to see where the signal originated from. While on the planet, the executive officer, Kane (John Hurt), rather unfortunately gets attacked by a “face-hugger,” an alien lifeform that pops out of an extraterrestrial egg. The crew brings Kane back on board against the orders of Ripley in order to remove the “face-hugger” from his face and save his life. What the crew doesn’t know, but comes to find out, is that Kane has become, in a very gender-bending plot device, the womb in which the main alien villain will be birthed and wreak havoc on the spacecraft and crew.

All of these films speak of an unknown and hidden world that is not known by us until one day, it decides to show itself, as Thacker illuminates:

This second type of hiddenness—which may be cataclysmic or everyday—is the hiddenness of the world that we find ourselves thrown into, a hidden world which, regardless of how much we produce about it, always retains some remainder that lies beyond the scope of our capacity to reveal its hiddenness. In some cases the hidden world is simply the world that does not bend to our will or to our desires, the differential between the world as the world-for-us and the world as the world-in-itself.…If this is the case—that the world-in-itself paradoxically presents itself to us—then what is it exactly that is presented, what is revealed?. . .Quite simply, what is revealed is the “hiddenness” of the world, in itself (and not, I stress, the world-in-itself). This hiddenness is also, in a way, hideous. The hidden world, which reveals nothing other than its hiddenness, is a blank, anonymous world that is indifferent to human knowledge, much less to our all-too-human wants and desires. (p. 53-4)

Last time, we dealt with a hiddenness that was spiritual, or supernatural, appearing in nature. Thacker, here, is speaking about a hiddenness in the very world we find ourselves in, or what we would call the natural world. All of these creatures are (theoretically) a part of the natural world, whether on earth or in space. This plays against humanity’s complete inability to have a full comprehension of nature in itself. In most creature features, the natural world keeps all of its cards close to its chest and only reveals what is hidden from us when it so chooses. And what is usually found in these films and in the hiddenness of the world-in-itself, is hideous. They are creatures, not unlike things we do know about, but still not like anything we have ever seen before.

It is interesting to note that in each of these films (though by no means in every creature flick), the creatures are revealed in circumstances that are isolated, obscured from public witness and utterly out of the control of those who are in the thick of it. As these creature emanate from their hidden voids, they show exactly the indifference for their human witnesses that Thacker intimated. In The Thing and Alien, humans become nothing more than a violent means to an end, usually survival of their own species. In The Mist, the creatures (though we find out that they come from another dimension later on) seem largely indifferent to the inhabitants of the small seaside town until they present themselves as food, once again for survival.

Humans live as if we have all knowledge, all power, and are invincible. This is what we call hubris. We don’t like to be knocked off our perch as primary beings on this earth. Matter of fact, the one thing that always happens to beings that think they are at the top of the world: they fear being knocked off. These creature features present a cosmic “survival of the fittest” which checks human superiority and unabashedly displays human fragility. Going back to the elementary principles that we were enslaved to according to Paul, in Galatians, outside the mercy and salvation of God, we succumb to the wiles of those principles which are obscured by the hiddenness of the world.