'The Thing:' A Look Back at Carpenter’s Masterpiece

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    It’s October, and you know what that means: the spooky season is upon us! Around this time each year, I like to revisit a few of my favorite horror films. Halloween and Scream are an annual tradition for me, but there’s another classic movie that I want to talk about today. My favorite horror movie of all time, in fact--John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing.
    For those unfamiliar, The Thing tells the story of a small arctic research base that is beset by a terrifying, shape-shifting alien creature. It’s a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World, which is itself an adaptation of the John W. Campbell story Who Goes There? It’s worth noting that Carpenter’s film hews much closer to the original novella than the 1951 film.
    From the opening scene to the final frame, this picture is a masterclass in suspense. The Thing is perhaps most famous for its frightening and gory special effects--as well it should be, a lot of it still looks pretty good even forty years later--but the body horror elements aren’t what attract me to the movie. No, the real draw is the insidious sense of claustrophobic paranoia that pervades the narrative.
    The cast: a mix of clashing personalities who are already developing cabin fever before the movie even starts. The setting: an isolated camp in the middle of the frozen tundra. That alone is a recipe for disaster; add in a terrifying, inhuman monster that can disguise itself as anyone and you’ve got one of the most effective thrillers ever made. The characters themselves are never quite sure who among them might be the thing, and as a result, neither is the viewer. What starts as a compelling mystery only intensifies as the group dwindles and trust deteriorates.
    Of course, to circle back around to the effects, the mounting terror is only reinforced by the occasional visceral monster attack. From the horrific ‘exploding dog’ sequence to a decapitated head growing spider legs, tense scenes are often punctuated by truly terrifying imagery. The Thing even delivers one of cinema’s best jump scares in the famous blood-testing scene!
    Don’t get me wrong--I’m not a gore-hound. I don’t, generally speaking, enjoy horror movies that rely on buckets of blood to scare the audience. But The Thing is a special case; the way it weaves its shocking grotesquery into a more cerebral narrative helps amplify the paranoia, rather than reducing the movie into cheap schlock.
    Plus, let’s talk about those performances. Kurt Russell was in his prime as R.J. “Mac” McReady--it’s still one of my favorite roles of his. One thing that helps is that his introductory scene (in which he destroys a computer that beat him at chess) is such a perfect encapsulation of his character and smartly foreshadows the end of the film.
    Then you’ve got the late, great Wilford Brimley as Blair. What a character! So understated, so sinister and yet at the same time tragic. I get chills thinking of the scene where Mac visits him in the locked shed and Blair calmly states, “I would like to come out now,” while the audience clearly sees a noose hanging behind him. The question of when exactly Blair became a Thing and what his motivations are in various scenes is one of the more interesting elements of the film to me.
    Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention one of my favorite actors, Keith David, in the role of the antagonistic Childs. If there was anyone in the cast who could convincingly clash with Russell, it was David. Such a great pair of actors--I love seeing them work off each other!
    There’s honestly more to love about The Thing than I could work into a single article. Suffice it to say, if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’re missing out. The good news is, the Halloween season is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with this classic flick!
More articles and reviews by Ethan McIntyre can be found at rollwithit.blog.