Consider this my 2016 Halloween Special! John Carpenter’s The Thing is my favorite movie of all time. I even rewatched it (for about the billionth time) so that I could do this review. Mainly because talking about your favorite things can result in a lot of fangirling and hyperbole, and I wanted to articulate myself as well as possible.
To start us off, The Thing is a remake of a film made in 1951 called The Thing From Another World. It’s also based on a short story by John W. Campbell, Jr. entitled “Who Goes There?” The premise is that a group of men are working at an outpost in Antarctica when a man in a helicopter comes swooping in, meaning we start right in on the action. He’s chasing a sled dog, trying shoot it from above. Once the situation is diffused, with the gunman and his pilot dead, they take the dog in. What ensues is an unfolding mystery and lots of paranoia fuel.
There are some elements to this film that are easy to praise right out of the gate. Like the super famous special effects. Rob Bottin did the majority of them, with the dog creature being provided by Stan Winston. I recall the first time I watched The Thing and the incredible impact the effects had on me. Not only was the creature design unique and intense, but the majority of the effects continue to hold up, even through multiple viewings. That’s amazing considering it came out in 1982.
The setting and atmosphere are second to none. Antarctica is one of the most desolate places on earth. Nothing for miles around with freezing cold temperatures that can injure and kill if you’re exposed to them for too long. It’s established that they can’t raise anyone on their radio, and eventually even their transportation is destroyed. It leaves our cast of characters completely isolated, making their spiral into total paranoia and distrust even more swift. It must be said that the music (composed by Ennio Morricone) and the beautiful cinematography add immeasurably to this uneasy feeling the whole experience gives you.
But it doesn’t stop there. The cast is full of strong acting all over. No one is a weak link, and everyone goes that extra mile to give their character life and personality, so that despite the size of the ensemble cast, each man stands out. Though it’s clear MacReady, played by Kurt Russell, is our hero (well, he’s my hero anyway). He’s fantastic as an every man that you can sink your teeth into, but he has something extra. Something that makes him a good opponent for this Thing. If he sees he’s about to lose, he’ll flip the damn game table, which is established in a scene early on. Some might call that being a sore loser, but in the case of fighting off a creature like this, it’s the best character trait a person can have.
Lastly, it’s a film that can be analyzed to death. As someone who enjoys picking things apart and talking about theme and symbolism and twists and turns, that’s a huge plus. Going back through and trying to figure out when someone might’ve been assimilated into the Thing’s army of one will break your brain. There are so many possibilities. So many variables. I’ve seen people track the Thing’s movement in the film, and it’s very fun to think about. Especially when you realize there were moments where characters were acting entirely as themselves but were already infected.
I can’t talk about this movie without talking about my experience with it that makes it my favorite. For starters, my favorite genre is horror, so it stands to reason that a dark, scary movie would be my number one. I first saw this in my teens. I was just getting into the genre, and I was watching everything. Good, bad, indifferent, I was trying to absorb it all and discover what I loved so much about horror. This movie was a huge step in answering those personal questions for me. It made me realize that I love body horror, survival horror, and stories with strongly written characters in tense situations. It became one of my major guiding points as I went forward. If it was compared to The Thing, I knew I wanted it in my life. And that still holds true.
Not to mention that it blew me away. It stuck in my head and wouldn’t leave. I had to watch it again to take it all in. The bizarre transformations, the intricate plot, every character and the nuances with which they were played. More than all that even, I’d never been scared like that. When the dog creature transformed, that was shocking enough. But when Norris’s stomach unexpectedly becomes a gaping maw… Not coincidentally, the Norris Monster is my favorite one in the film.
If you haven’t seen this yet, please do it. It’s a smart movie, a fun movie, a well-made movie, and a pants-peeingly scary movie. Ten outta ten!
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