The Thing

"I don't know what the hell's in there, but it's weird and pissed off whatever it is."

I've always considered The Thing to be John Carpenter's best horror film. I know Halloween is the one that usually gets all the acclaim, but I've never found Michael Myers' killing spree to be scary in any way. It's just hard to take someone seriously as a killing machine when you know they're walking around in a lousy William Shatner mask. The alien of this film, however, is a far more terrifying creature.

While the 1951 version, The Thing From Another World, featured a lumbering Frankenstein wannabe that feeds off blood, Carpenter’s film went back to John W. Campbell Jr.'s original novella, Who Goes There?, and made his alien a shape-shifter. Brought to life thanks to the brilliant effects work of Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, Carpenter’s Thing is a memorably grotesque creation. The scene where it first reveals itself, peeling back its canine face like a banana so it can assimilate the base’s huskies, is a real jaw dropper.

Carpenter takes full advantage of the creature’s shape-shifting ability to ramp up the paranoia. With the likes of Michael Myers, Jason and Freddie you know who the killer is, who you should run from and who you can trust. You don't have none of that with the Thing. It could become anyone: your family, or your friends, or your faithful pet or, if it ever got loose at a Star Trek convention, actual William Shatner.

Its imitations are perfect. This is not some emotionless pod person, there is nothing to ever give it away. Worse still, it multiplies as well as imitates, so even if you think you’ve killed it, there still no assurance that someone else hasn’t been taken over. Everyone around you is a potential enemy waiting for the right moment to strike. Everyone is suspect and no one can be trusted.

Scratch that, there is one man we can trust and that man is Kurt Russell. The Thing was the third collaboration between Carpenter and Kurt Russell, one of cinema's great actor/director partnerships. Every time these two have worked together they have struck gold. What's that? Escape from L.A.? I thought that was just a really bad nightmare we all had back in 1996. Oh well, four times out of five they struck gold, which is still pretty impressive.

With Russell around we know we will be safe. No alien is going to be a match for him. He’s Snake Plissken, Jack Burton, one half of Tango and Cash (although I can never remember if he was Cash or Tango). No way he could be taken out (or taken over) by some stinking alien. Carpenter may plant doubt in our minds (as well as the other characters) that he may not be who he claims to be, but that's what that incredibly tense testing scene was about. To prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that MacReady is 100% human. I mean, sure, he could've somehow rigged it in his favour, but that's unlikely, right?


Four out of four reasons to always have a flamethrower nearby.
Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.


Patrick said...

I'm conflicted about Carpenter's "The Thing". It's not a bad movie by any stretch, and I understand why a lot of people love it. But it's never really done it for me, and I say that as a Carpenter fan. But there are other movies of his that I like far more. Halloween, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China to name a few.

Plus, the 1951 version, "The Thing From Another World" has a special place in my heart, it's one of the movies I grew up watching with my dad when it was on tv Saturday mornings. :)

Ben P. Duck said...

I once declared this movie the 9th manliest sci fi movie of all time. I wrote:

"9. The Thing (1982) – This is another immensely manly movie built around camping, only this time in the Antarctic and starring Kurt Russell. Tough guy things include playing with dogs, blowing things up and dressing in a variety of winter clothing. Unfortunately, it is really more a horror than Science fiction movie (see the Campbell Exclusion above) or it would be number 1 or 2. There is no manlier final scene in all of movie history than Russell sitting across from another man (possibly an alien) with a bottle of booze in one hand and a flamethrower across his lap waiting to see what will happen next (which is also an adequate description of the barbecuing that I am planning for this weekend)."

Thought I would share.

Billie Doux said...

I've always been a bit unsure whether I've seen this movie or not. Which means, probably not. So I should. Terrific review, Mark.

The essay Ben P. Duck is referring to is one of the earliest guest posts on this site, and one of my favorites. Since he modestly didn't give the link, I will.