I love podcasts. More often than not, I hear about something I otherwise may not have.
Something like Black Mountain Side.
Back in January, the guys at The What Cast (Mateo, Mike, and Aldo) interviewed Michael Dickson. An interesting discussion ensued. Dickson, it turns out, knows his Lovecraft, and it was his description of the movie in that context that got me really curious.
Right up front, I gotta warn you. First, spoilers.
Second, don’t expect the plowing of virgin soil. Some archaeological/scholarly types find something better left unfound and are driven insane. In this case, that something is part of a possible altar or temple.
Pretty standardly Lovecraftian premise.
There does exist an element of infection/contamination, ideas we’ve seen before not only in The Thing, but in X Files, 28 Days Later, hell even Planet Of The Vampires.
Also any film like this set in a frozen outpost hearkens back obviously to The Thing. That’s not necessarily problematic. Carpenter casts a heavy shadow. Trying to deny and avoid that would just be stupid. On one level, Black Mountain Side might be called The Thing without The Thing.
That would be unfair and inaccurate.
For one thing, Black Mountain Side is a fine study of group dysfunction and disintegration in its own right. The team is isolated, sleep deprived, under stress. All they have to go on is a theory. Near the end of the ice age, rising temperatures thaw an ancient bacteria. People die. The results are depicted on a piece of pottery discovered near the site.
Professor Olsen (Dickson) explains: “These resemble people, but what’s strange is that they’re disfigured. In all the other pieces, their portrayal of people is fairly accurate. They’re standing up. Arms, legs, heads. But that’s not the case in this piece. People are missing appendages. They’re slouched over. I believe this depicts an illness, a plague.”
The cold, it turns out, kept the bacteria at bay. I have to wonder if this isn’t a possible gesture by writer/director Nick Szostakiwskyj toward the perils of global warming. It also explains why the indigenous workers leave under cover of darkness and head further north into the cold versus south away from it.
The “smart” people find this baffling and, as usual, ignore the locals.
Usher in The Deer God (a clever hat-tip to Trois-Frères), the deity the structure is associated with. Whether or not The Deer God is actually there is anyone’s guess.
It’s Hitchcock’s MacGuffin. Something (ancient bacteria, The Deer God, both) renders the team insane. What causes the insanity isn’t nearly as important as the result. The reliability of anything these men see or hear is now suspect.
This vicious circle is never resolved and is one of the things that makes Black Mountain Side so very cool while distinguishing it from The Thing.
I’ve also seen a fair amount of faint praise for Black Mountain Side: terms like “homage” and “love letter to Carpenter’s The Thing.” To make such generalizations is to miss the point.
Gods, insanity, mass hallucination, these just don’t figure heavily in The Thing.
This is not to suggest there are no parallels. There are, not the least of which is the fact that, like The Thing, Black Mountain Side hinges on paranoia and isolation. Both are speculative fiction of the first order. Not “Hey, here’s what’s going to happen,” so much as, “Hey, what if this happens?”
What if indeed.