by Brek the David
The Thing (1982) – Director: John Carpenter Screenplay: Bill Lancaster Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David OSCAR COUNT (0)
MacReady: I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.
As pure horror goes, nothing beats John Carpenter’s The Thing. It might not be the best horror film ever made (if it’s not it’s top 3-5), but the situation is the stuff of nightmares, a lethal Catch-22 where it seems impossible that anyone will get out alive. Not only is there a strange “Thing” duplicating people, but there is also the Antartic to contend with. YOu can’t flee from The Thing because you can’t leave the shelter. You can’t kill The Thing because it multiplies. Fighting The Thing only makes it stronger. Freezing The Thing seems to be the only way to contend with it. At that point, if you force everyone outside, you might be committing murder, as is it likely that not everyone has been “infected”. This is what is great about this film. There are terrifying themes bubbling beneath the surface of what is an odd, frightening thrill ride as a handful of men deal with situations we all hope would never happen to us.
Probably the biggest strength of The Thing is the unknown. Like the men going through this bizarre ordeal on the screen, we have no clue what the hell is going on. We know The Thing is from outer space, but that’s all we know. The characters don’t even get this information. The film basically opens to one group of men chasing a dog through the snow. They clearly want this animal dead. The chasing group comes upon the group of main characters guns blazing. Our main characters think they’re under attack. Who chases a dog, shooting at in the Antarctic? So our main characters wind up killing the men chasing the dog. And, of course, the dog is really The Thing. It also didn’t help that the men in pursuit were Norwegian so they couldn’t communicate with the English speaking Americans.
Naturally this new dog is put in the kennels with the rest of the dogs kept by the Americans. This leads to the first disturbing scene that opens an incredible string of disturbing scenes. We watch, not really knowing what’s going on, as the Thing dog moves cautiously into the kennel. What follows really just needs to be seen to be believed. No description will do it justice. It’s that well done. Suffice to say chaos erupts and it’s now only a matter of time before The Thing kills and replicates everything around it. We have little clue how The Thing does what it does as well. We just know that these men think it happens on the cellular level. It’s like some conscious virus that may or may not need to replicate matter to survive. It’s entirely possible that The Thing is just trying to survive. Since it’s met with hostility, it fights back. But how can one reason with what could be a virus?
While Carpenter is a master of suspense and horror, The Thing being his masterpiece, he often used music of his own. In the The Thing, he used music composed by the great Ennio Morricone. What we get is an absolute perfect synthesis of music and images. The Thing would be a lesser film without Morricone. His score is subdued, perhaps even minimalistic, yet haunting, especially as it plays over the final images of the film. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing for The Thing is that it was released the same year as ET. ET was far more successful, and these two films could not be more different. It’s taken this long for people to realize the greatness of The Thing, and some still don’t realize its greatness. As a horror film, it’s among the greatest ever made, but even compared to all films ever made, it stands up to any of them.