In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor (Richard Dysart) lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one.
John Carpenter’s The Thing was underappreciated on its release back in 1982, in fact it opened to very negative responses from audiences and critics alike (not helped that it came out around the same time as E.T.). However it found an audience when it released on home video and television, and today it is considered a horror classic, and for very good reason. It remains an incredibly effective and influential horror movie that holds up decades later.
The Thing is a great mix of sci-fi, mystery and horror. It is gripping from beginning to end and I appreciate and notice new details every time I watch. Essentially it is an intriguing whodunnit mystery, that just happens to have a lot of thrills and gore in it. It has a feeling of claustrophobia and isolation throughout, which is on point and well tuned with John Carpenter’s classic minimalist aesthetics and atmosphere that are present in some of his other movies. It does so well at selling us on how hopeless it is trying to escape from this alien, you feel that sense of chilling paranoia around every corner, much like the characters do. Carpenter’s deliberate pacing and emphasis on the lack of escape also steadily increases the tension. Something which also increases the suspense is the lack of knowledge of who The Thing is at any given time, not to mention the lack of knowledge of what it even is. We also only see it react when its actually being threatened or exposed, and we don’t see the alien and becoming the person. This movie might be known for its effects, but there’s a lot of suspenseful sequences, one involving a blood test especially is a great example of suspense and shock. The ending is also haunting and fitting for the overall movie.
There are some top-notch performances from the cast. The lead character is that of MacReady, who is brilliantly played by Kurt Russell, one of his best performances and roles. He is believable as a hardened but normal guy finding himself up against an all too real alien threat. The same goes for the rest of the cast, for what they lack in development, they still feel like real human beings stuck in a dangerous situation. Every character feels so lived in and shine with what they are given, really playing into the paranoia considerably well throughout. The script doesn’t delve into everyone’s backgrounds, but it does give each of these people their deserving moment.
John Carpenter directs this movie, and this is some of his finest work. He is great with atmosphere in his movies, and The Thing is no exception. His use of the cold arctic landscape in this setting further emphasises the crew’s helplessness and isolation from the outside world. All the cinematography and production design are immaculate. There aren’t many jumpscares, but the ones that are here are done well. The Thing contains some of the most mindblowing and gruesome practical effects and makeup in a horror movie, and they hold up after nearly 40 years. The sound design is great, really putting you in the moments. The scores of John Carpenter’s movies are usually done by himself, this time it’s composed by Ennio Morricone. Despite this, it sounds exactly the way he would’ve score it, with simple synthesised tracks that help enhance the sinister mood of the movie. Incredibly simple yet effective.
The Thing is fantastic and an absolute horror classic for so many reasons. Its script is finely tuned to near perfection, the characters are simple but given enough believability and are performed well, and John Carpenter’s direction is fantastic, making the film effectively suspenseful and unnerving from beginning to end. It is John Carpenter’s best film to date, and it has aged very well over the years. If you are a horror fan, definitely check out The Thing as soon as you can.