As director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. prepared to make alien monster movie The Thing, he kept a key concept firmly in mind for the audio.
“I gave the sound people the same brief as I gave composer Marco Beltrami,” he said. “Can you come up with deep-down, guttural sound effects that will scare the shit out of people?”
To be more specific, van Heijningen cites Unheimliche as a guiding principle. “It’s a German word that means not homelike, not of this world,” he told Wired.com by phone. “It’s easy to do something scary but we wanted to create this uneasy feeling that ‘whatever is near to me is not from here.’”
The Thing, opening Friday, is an R-rated prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic of the same name. It uses the earlier movie as a point of departure for a showdown between an ice-packed critter and a group of stranded scientists who are trying to make sense of their frozen discovery. Tense group discussions get disrupted by spasmodic jabs of action as the shrieking, roaring, belching catastrophe from another planet starts to unthaw.
Shot by cinematographer Michel Ambrowicz (Taken), who captures epic South Pole vistas, The Thing gets down to business during a third-act chase. The nightmare-inducing alien, concocted by effects outfits ADI and Image Engine, proves simultaneously disgusting and mesmerizing, and — per van Heijningen’s agenda — the monster sounds as horrific as it looks. (Check the gallery above for a sampling of ADI’s concept art and models along with The Thing stills.)
Supervising sound editors Scott Hecker and Elliott Koretz told Wired.com they used heavy-metal singers, various animals and a hyperventilating actress to invest The Thing’s creature with the creepy vibe.
“The two basic modes for the monster is that it was either attacking or it was in pain,” said Hecker. “We used everything from lions, tigers, bears and cows to horses, monkeys and a lot of seals which, believe it or not, make really cool guttural throat sounds. All the stuff then has to be manipulated. Otherwise, it would stand out as a barnyard special.”
LISTEN: Hear The Thing’s Alien
To distort earthly utterances into unidentifiable alien noises, Hecker and Koretz put technology to work. “Mostly it’s about stretching sound, changing pitch or exaggerating certain frequencies, which we can do with different types of software,” said Koretz. “You elongate the sound and either go up in pitch or go down in pitch depending on whether you want high, shrieky stuff or low, growly, roaring stuff.”
“Death-metal bands are gnarly,” laughed Scott. “These singers really do sound like the devil.”
(Spoiler alert: Major plot point follows.)