Released in 1982, the John Carpenter directed classic The Thing has long been a premier example of high quality science fiction horror. Starring Kurt Russell alongside a fantastic ensemble cast, this tale of dread positions a group of American researchers in the middle of desolate Antarctica, invaded by an extraterrestrial foe. 36 years later and this picture is as effective as ever. Offering a horrific experience that is wrapped in drama and mystery, elevated by its truly terrifying titular creature.
As with most horror films, your villain is very important. Having an antagonist with the ability to scare us is deeply important for the horror experience. The Thing presents to us an alien monster with the need of survival. Crash landed thousands of years ago, it does this by absorbing its host and imitating it. Starting out portraying a dog, this life form goes on to assimilate with several human members of the Antarctica research team. Grotesque when it presents its true self, it is even more haunting when it is hidden. Hiding in plain sight, it could be any of the researchers at any point.
Imagine you are in this situation yourself. You are with a team that you have known for years and any one of them could be an imposter out to kill you. It is no wonder that some of the characters in the film are endlessly paranoid. Able to blend in naturally and copy its host exactly, it is the fact that this beast could be anyone at any time that makes it incredibly formidable.
All we know about this Thing is that it is from another planet, it is able to assimilate an animal entirely and it will do this to survive. We do not know its intelligence and we do not know its end goal. Whether it wants to take over the entire world is irrelevant as this movie takes place on a small scale. Because of this, we can relate to the characters and feel their dread. Unlike other horror films that would show the villain stalking its prey and killing it, The Thing rather opts to not show when its titular organism takes over a person (for the most part). This adds to the dread as we are left to carefully consider if characters entering and exiting scenes are who they appear to be. Moreover, it is when the creature is exposed that we are introduced to its repulsive true self.
A reason why this movie is such an effective piece of horror is its ability to blend suspense with body horror and gore. The aforementioned sequences of anxiety where we don’t know who is who is just as powerful as the moments of unrelenting butchery. The film knows what to do when, and once the grotesque elements are presented, they work completely. The variety of nightmare inducing shapes that the beast transforms into leaves us with no doubt that it is not of Earth origin. A big part of this is the amazing practical effects on display by Rob Bottin.
Decades later it still holds up and looks real. Able to act off something real in front of them, the actors give us remarkable performances that would not be as believable if CGI was used instead. Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley and the rest allow us to be truly immersed into their chilling situation. This in conjunction with the mesmerizing music by Ennio Morricone and expert directing from John Carpenter creates for us a definitive piece of horror cinema.
The Thing is a movie that I truly consider to be one of my all time favorites. It is one that I have watched many times over and still enjoy it like it is my first time. For the reasons above, I have always found its monster to be deeply interesting and powerful. Creepy, suspenseful and stunningly grotesque, this Thing from another world is truly one to be reckoned with.