This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
There’s trouble in the ice on day fifteen in The Thing.
This isn’t just The Thing, this is John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s a curiously possessive title for a film that knowingly remakes Christian Nyby’s The Thing From Another World, itself an adaption of the 1938 novella ‘Who Goes There?’ by John W. Campbell. But Carpenter works his own brand identity – tracking shots, wide angles and escalating tension – into the sci-fi horror story and hits hard with a ‘has budget, will use it’ mentality.
Kurt Russell, in his second collaboration with Carpenter, is effortlessly effective as US pilot R. J. MacReady, bringing cool to a frozen horizon. With his shades and halo of hair, MacReady is by far the most memorable in a largely indistinguishable crew of US researchers based in Antarctica. They’re ‘a thousand miles from nowhere’ and a monster is on the loose. It’s a brilliant set up for a tremendously atmospheric feature that slow builds from its intriguing premise to all out gory fun. Think Alien and add a shed load of snow.
The film’s opening stretch is arguably its most effective. We witness a Norwegian expedition desperately attempt to wipe out a seemingly innocent sled dog and soon discover, via the eyes of MacReady and co, that something went badly wrong at their base camp. Having excavated a a crash-landed UFO from within the Antarctic ice, the Scandi team have unleashed an alien entity on the world so horrifically unique that none who see it can ever come up with a more fitting title than ‘the Thing’.
Prior to said Thing’s full reveal, Carpenter puts his talent for suspense to work with a rising tide of excruciating anticipation. As a brilliantly cast wolf dog called Jed – who would later star in Disney’s White Fang films – pads his way around the US base, there can be no doubt that trouble is afoot and that something is very wrong the the team’s new canine recruit. In the meantime, Blair (Anthony Wilford Brimley) examines the remains of a malformed human recovered from the Norwegian camp and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) studies their records.
Prosthetic artist Rob Bottin was just twenty-two when he crafted The Thing’s visceral visuals, demonstrating a precious and demented early promise. Here, Bottin mixed effective model work with real animal organs – which themselves gifted a vile squelching audio – to enable the construction of consistently surprising special effects. Just when you think an early mutated corpse will be the definitive sight to be taken away from the film, an Alaskan Malamute explodes. In terms of subtlety, Halloween this aint.
Ironically, if unsurprisingly, it is the film’s psychological unravelling rather than blood and bonfires that really work here. Carpenter directs solidly but it is Ennio Morricone’s high-strung score, often reminiscent of nails on a blackboard, that gets the spine tingling. A script by Bill Lancaster revels in themes of isolation, paranoia and charged masculinity; by the final act, there is so little trust within the confines of the station that it is no wonder the film has found itself named a Cold War allegory. When your friend could be your enemy in disguise, is mutually assured destruction the only viable solution?
Critics struggled with John Carpenter’s The Thing on its original release, with the breathtaking effects both acclaimed and critiqued for being one part sensational, the other repulsive. Today, it’s a beloved cult classic but that’s certainly not to say this sort of violent-heavy Thing’s for everyone.