Thing, The (1982)

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 12/13/99 08:31:25

"A deep, dark creepy experience. A modern classic of horror."
5 stars (Awesome)

Once in a while, the creators of a horor movie will just nail it. Everything in John Carpenter's The Thing works: the performances, the music, the monster(s), and especially the direction. This movie will be remembered fondly as one of the most underrated horror movies of the 80s. It's certainly one of the most enjoyably gross.

Let's check our handy checklist to see exactly what components are used to make The Thing one of the most grisly, intense and just plain effective horror movies of the past 25 years:

A-John Carpenter. Yeah, Halloween is his masterpiece. Then he did The Fog and Escape from New York. (Two more damn fine movies as well.) He hit his stride perfectly in The Thing. There is almost NO comic relief here. A sense of dread and uncertainty begins to envelop the viewer, since the monster can imitate humans perfectly. Where the creature hides is always unknown. It could easily be any of the characters. He shows an increasingly steady hand directing actors. That's the tricky part here, as we basically have 12 actors on a single set; a director's nightmare. Usually, John Carpenter does his own music. This time, he hired Ennio Morricone to do the score and the result could not fit the film better. (If you're a Carpenter expert, you may suspect that he had something to do with the music, because it sounds similar to his other scores. That's a compliment.)

B-Bill Lancaster's screenplay-Although most people think it's a remake of 1951's The Thing (from Another World), it isn't. It's actually a quite faithful adaptation of Joseph Campbell's short story "Who Goes There". (The original film claims the same, but the remake is easily more faithful to the source material.) He slowly sets up the relationships between these men, who are all employed in an arctic weather station. We begin to get a sense of the loneliness and desolation prevalent here. We get a good sense of their group dynamic and pecking order before we get into the good sci-fi stuff.

C-Rob Bottin's makeup and creature effects-In a word, staggering. The Thing could be released today and people would still be blown away by the gooey, slimy, shocking creature effects. Every detail of a severed head or open chest cavity is lovingly depicted. The explicitness of the gore is so matter-of-fact, and that strengthens the movie even more. Human heads twist off and grow spider-like legs, a dog's head splits open like a banana, and a lot more good slime and blood, and we haven't even seen the creature in all its glory yet. Simply put, the special effects on display here are nothing short of awesome.

D-The cast-Kurt Russell employs a soft-spoken reluctance here, as his MacReady is not really sure he is the one to be in charge. He eschews his normal bravado and the character seems all the more real. Other notable performances come from Wilford Brimley (before he became a cliché), Richard Dysart and Keith David. The ensemble of character actors (also including Richard Masur and T.K. Carter) is strong from top to bottom. Each actor brings a normal authenticity to his character, which helps the audience believe the story all the more.

E-Sincerity-It's obvious that all involved here were interested in making a shocking and claustrophobic horror movie. It may seem a little reminiscient of Alien (1979) in its themes of isolation, infection and fear of the unknown. These are primal fears, and when exposed effectively, the result can be a real jolt. Vague inferences that the creature itself acts as an AIDS metaphor seem obvious, yet they're not spelled out: As an attempt to discern who may be the creature in disguise, the men are tied down while they are forced to give blood tests. The scenes of the men awaiting the test results are simply intense, and the subtext is pretty clear. The script's ideas of trust and paranoia simply heighten the intensity of the climax.

The Thing was criminally underappreciated upon its release in 1982. Perhaps it had something to do with a more benevolent alien (E.T.) hitting the screens two weeks earlier. Or perhaps a dark and intense horror film with such graphic violence was a turn-off to large audiences. Regardless of its original critical and box-office mediocrity, The Thing has found a loyal and rabid fanbase thanks to video.

This one is a true classic. I've argued with people for hours on its merits. Underrated, underappreciated and unjustifiably dismissed. I challenge people to see it and not have a good scare. It may well be one of the best pure horror movies ever made.

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