From Old Horror: You’ve got another ‘Thing’ coming
In 1979 and 1982, two horror films came out that would come to define the modern monster film as we know it. The first one is Ridley Scott’s original “Alien,” a claustrophobic, tense, and anxious film that combined science fiction and horror in a way that hadn’t been seen before. But in 1982, John Carpenter decided to take a crack at remaking one of his favorite movies from when he was a child: “The Thing From Another World.” In fact, you can see the kids preparing to watch the original “Thing From Another World” in the original “Halloween” film.
“The Thing” is an oft misunderstood film, which is hardly a surprise since it was initially trashed when it first came out. It also had the misfortune of competing with one of the greatest science fiction coming of age films of all time in “ET”, but I digress. Many people often laud “The Thing” for its incredible practical effects (and rightly so), but I find that isn’t what makes “The Thing” terrifying. The ultimate fear is paranoia.
“The Thing” isn’t just terrifying because it takes over your body and makes itself into a perfect imitation of you, it’s the fear of who the monster might be imitating which makes it utterly terrifying. The film slowly builds tension as the men begin to distrust each other and it holds its cards closely to its chest. Much of the tension that comes from this film comes from the paranoia and sheer terror everyone feels when it comes to who could be the monster. Anybody could be The Thing, and as the characters are constantly kept on their toes, so are you.
The performances are also underrated. Kurt Russell is exquisite as main character RJ MacReady, and also sports the sexiest beard and hair this side of the Arctic. Russell exudes confidence and cool, even as he’s forced to contend with this eldritch abomination. We even see great performances from noted character actors such as Keith David and Wilford Brimley.
I’ve heard interpretations that MacReady becomes the leader of the group because he’s the most scared and paranoid out of all of them. While I can see where that argument is coming from, I find the answer is much simpler: he’s simply the best man for the job. He’s the only one who keeps his head while the other guys are succumbing to panic and fear. All the characters in this film are smart people, attempting to act rationally during this intense situation. But they aren’t perfect, and make mistakes that often prove fatal.
What makes this film so effective are the practical effects and the sound design. There are so many cracks, moans, and groans that are nightmare inducing and still give me the shivers. Also adding to the horror are the practical effects from the mind of Rob Bottin, some of the most impressive effects ever put to film. Bottin showcases how practical effects can add to the realism of a film. Nothing feels too unrealistic in “The Thing,” even as it becomes more strange. The legendary Ennio Morricone’s understated electronic score also adds to the dread and atmosphere of the film, creating this sinister overtone that envelops the film and makes the audience feel even more unnerved.
But I think what makes this my favorite horror movie is the fact that it still scares me, even after all these years. I feel constant unease even though I’ve seen this movie many times. Like the best horror films, it creeps into your soul and it stays there long after you’re done watching.
“The Thing” is still one of the best horror films of all time.