#94 The Thing
(1982, John Carpenter)
“This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation”
Not exactly the most descriptive title for a horror movie, really. It’s a film about a…thing. Wait, not just any old thing, but THE thing. What is it? Why couldn’t they be more descriptive about it?
Because, quite simply, describing what it is would be problematic for the entire movie. Instead, here’s what happens. Kurt Russell is part of a team of scientists holed up in the Antarctic, on the verge of an arctic winter, when a couple of Norwegian scientists from another camp turn up, chasing after a dog. After much shouting and gunfire, the Norwegians end up dead, and the dog is taken into the American base.
But OH NO! The dog was hiding a secret. It’s actually part of some amorphous alien lifeform that can take on the shapes of anything it attacks. And soon it begins to infect the team, although it’s not clear who is infected and who isn’t, causing a wave of paranoia and fear.
And this is why it makes sense that it’s called The Thing. There is no other way to describe the attacking creature in this. Unlike other alien monster movies, we can’t immediately see this one until it’s too late. Sure, we see it when the infiltrating dog splits open, and we see its attempts to eat the doctor by morphing an infected team member’s stomach into a giant horrible mouth, but other than that, it’s everywhere and nowhere at once.
Even trying to even define the alien menace in a simple manner is difficult. It’s essentially a part-virus, part-biological entity that shape-shifts…or maybe it merely possesses…it’s not entirely clear. And therein lies the horror of the movie. How do you fight back against an attacking force you can’t even fathom?
Of course, its ability to disguise itself as infected members of the team leads to extreme paranoia, both in the team on screen and in the audience, who are kept constantly in the dark about who The Thing has assimilated/possessed/eaten, and as such, we feel the same fear the team faces. Who is the monster? As a result, The Thing is genuinely edge-of-your-seat stuff.
As always, I must highlight the faults. While a lot of the effects are good, some are ropier than others, with some rather obvious puppetry going on, particularly in the climax. Also, that aforementioned mouth-belly scene, while shocking, is actually kind of silly in the grand scheme of things. There’s also a slight plot hole in the fact that The Thing is deliberately hiding, picking off team members secretly one by one, but then makes several rather public attacks on the team, betraying the whole “hiding” idea.
Also, Kurt Russell seems to be playing his part as if this is some kind of explosive action movie, rolling around and tossing out one-liners like Schwarzenegger, but really, this isn’t that kind of movie, so I have no idea what he’s doing. This should be a tense, paranoid horror movie, not “Kurt Russell blows stuff up”.
But hey, The Thing is a classic horror movie, particularly in its effectiveness at having an indescribable monster. It does feel very much like a product of the 80s at times but it’s very entertaining, and very creepy, and for that I applaud it.
Starring Kurt Russell
Written by John W. Campbell (story – Who Goes There) & Bill Lancaster
Produced by David Foster & Lawrence Turman
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography by Dean Cundey
Edited by Todd C. Ramsay
Favourite Scene: There’s something uncomfortably tense about the blood test scene. Uncomfortably tense in a good way though.
Scene That Bugged Me: As stated, while that giant mouth was pretty shocking, in retrospect it is kind of silly.
Watch it if: You want to know who’s been infected by The Thing
Avoid it if: You’re easily paranoid