I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this fucking couch!
Year Released : 1982
Director : John Carpenter
Cast : Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilfred Brimley, Donald Moffat, TK Carter, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Charles Hallahan, Richard Dysart, Peter Maloney, Joel Polis and Thomas Waites
As I mentioned during my mainstream review of 28 Days Later, I have decided to celebrate so many days in a row of reviewing horror films by reviewing my three favourite films at 10, 20 and 31 days, and so based on that we arrive at my second favourite horror film, The Thing.
The Thing is John Carpenter’s masterpiece about paranoia and suspicion. Much like the film that I will reveal to be my favourite horror film on the 31st (although those of you that read my Top 20 films blog entry already know what it is is), I can’t recall the first time that I watched The Thing. It’s one of those films in which you can’t recall your genesis of appreciation for the film, but all I know is that since then I have loved the film and it is my fourth favourite film of all time, and the only one that featured in the aforementioned top 20 that was released before my birth in 1984.
As with my review of 28 Days Later, the plot below goes into considerably more detail and will reveal the plot for the entire film, so please be wary of spoilers if you haven’t seen it.
The scientists station at a remote Antartic research station are left in a state of surprise when a helicopter flies towards them and one of it’s passengers is shooting at a dog that is desperately trying to reach the safety of the base. The helicopter crashes after a thermite charge goes off, killing one of the men and the other pursues the dog. As the scientists approach the situation, the man shouts something in Norwegian at them before taking aim at the dog. He is quickly killed by Garry (Moffat).
Taken aback by what has happened, the crew takes in the dog before deciding to investigate the Norwegian base to see what they can find in the hopes that it gives them some form of clue as to what just happened. When they arrive they discover axes embedded in walls, blood everywhere, a man with two faces and a huge block of ice with a hole in it. They decide to take the two-faced man back to their base for research purposes.
Puzzled by what has happened, McGready (Russell) orders an autopsy on the two-faced man to see what has happened. Blair (Brimley) reports that other than having two faces, the man appears to be a perfectly normal human.
Clark (Masur) places the dog in with the station’s sled dogs and leaves them for the night, however, soon afterwards the dogs become uneasy at the new dog’s presence. The new dog violently transforms into bizarre create and attacks the other dogs. MacReady hears the commotion and discovers what is happening before alerting the others with the fire alarm. When the others arrive they just manage to prevent the creature from escaping when Childs (David) uses a flamethrower, killing it.
Blair again performs another autopsy and is horrified by what he finds, mainly partially formed dogs contained within. Blair believes that this creature is not from Earth and can perfectly imitate any living thing. This leads the station to do further research and this in turn leads them to discover an alien space craft that Norris (Hallahan) believes has been there for at least 100,000 years. Armed with the new information, Blair starts withdrawing himself from the group after realising that the creature must never be allowed to make it to civilisation. Fuchs (Polis) notes to MacGready that Blair’s diary says that the two-faced creature isn’t dead yet.
Just as this is happening, Bennings (Maloney) is captured by the thing and Windows (Waites) walks in just as the process of assimilation is about to finish. He alerts the rest and they catch up to the Bennings-thing before it can complete the transformation. The group kills it with a flamethrower and then burns the body. MacReady notes to the rest of the group that he knows that some of them must still be human otherwise they’d all start attacking him right there and then.
Blair soon destroys all of the methods of escape, including the sled dogs. He is soon banished to a shed. Copper (Dysart) suggests a test to see who is still human using everyone’s previously supplied blood, however, by the time that they reach the storage unit all of the packs have been ripped open. Everyone starts turning on each other as there is no evidence to suggest who did it.
Fuchs disappears during a power outage before MacReady, Windows and Nauls (Carters) find his burnt body. MacReady notices that the light in his shack is on after he had turned it off when leaving. He and Nauls go to investigate, but Nauls finds some torn clothing of MacReady’s and makes his escape. He returns to base and warns everyone what he has found. Everyone barricades MacReady out, suspecting that he has been taken over, only to then being forced to allow him back in with some dynamite.
Norris suffers a heart attack and is taken to the medical bay to be resuscitated, however, when Copper tries to defibrillates him his stomach opens to form a huge mouth and eats Copper’s arms, killing it through shock. The group struggle to kill off the Norris-thing as his unburnt body parts separate off before they finally managing to see it off with the flamethrower. MacReady theorises that each individual part is it’s own creature, and therefore comes up with a plan to withdraw blood from everyone and burn it with a heated wire.
Everyone still believes that MacReady is a thing and Clark lunges at him to try and kill him but he is shot for his troubles. The test initially seems to be failing as everyone’s blood gives no reaction, however, they get to the blood of Palmer (Clennon) and the burning causes it to rapidly transform. Palmer’s body then starts violently transforming into a giant mouth and attempting to eat Windows. Both are eventually finished off with the flamethrower. MacReady finishes the test and everyone else is confirmed as human.
The remaining team go out to test Blair but discover that he has escaped the shed and has been building a small craft. They realise that Blair is infected and know what they must do as they know the Blair-thing will purposefully freeze itself until a rescue team comes for them and they will then escape with them. Childs soon disappears.
MacReady, Nauls and Garry are the only confirmed humans left and they decide to dynamite the complex. Garry is killed by the Blair-thing and Nauls disappears. MacReady eventually triggers the dynamite just in time and the Blair-thing is killed.
Although there is still no sign of Nauls, MacReady goes to rest and is resigned to his fate. Childs re-emerges and they share a drink together as they realise that even if one of them is the creature, there is no point in fighting it anymore and they laugh it off.
So why is it so good then?
I have often said that I find it far more difficult to praise a film than to slate it. This is caused because of several reasons, but the main one is that I have trouble putting across why I enjoy a film so much, but I don’t really have that problem this time and could happily talk about The Thing for a long time.
Let’s start with the most basic element of a horror film and that is to scare you in one way or another, and The Thing does that so well because it’s not about about trying to jump-scare you all over the place, tricking you into something that’s not there and various other cliches that you get in the genre. The Thing’s horror comes from the paranoia that the film instills in you as it makes you think how you never really know certain things about people.
Whilst it would have been easy to take the edge off of the film by showing you when people do get infected/assimilated, you’re as clueless as the characters as to who is expected and some of the scenes in which characters are revealed to be things (that sounds so odd writing it) come as a genuine surprise. For example, the scene in which Norris’ stomach opens up to form a huge mouth comes completely out of nowhere and it is a genuine scare the first time that you watch it.
Some scenes are almost genius in their execution and simplicity. For example, the above image is from early on in the film and before anyone knows the the dog is actually an alien, and it would have been easy then to give a clue as to who the shadow belongs to, but it’s never revealed and although it’s speculated that it is either Palmer or Norris, it’s never truly revealed.
The film would have definitely lost something had it revealed who was infected far too early, or indeed show you who was assimilated at the time of their assimilation (i/e you see it happen), but you only know as soon as the other characters know, and this is so important to keeping up that level or paranoia. Even the 2011 prequel does well in this aspect, although that is not even close to being as enjoyable due to other reasons.
Despite having a large cast, you get to know most of the characters reasonably well, but arguably the most enjoyable part about some character developments and the relationships between the group is that some of them aren’t likable. It doesn’t pretend that you should like all of the characters and some are portrayed to be very antagonistic style characters, however, it somehow makes you want those characters to survive.
This is in no small part down to the casting of the film and the broad age range of the characters. It would have been far too easy to hire a young cast and claim that they are all amongst the best in their field, giving it less credibility (such as the prequel), but a significant number of the cast were well into middle age at the time of the film, some even over 50. This age range is important because it establishes how certain characters will react in certain situations. For example, Garry is probably the oldest character, and his reactions to various events are probably going to be more considered and calculating than a character such as Nauls, who I’m fairly certain is the youngest character, who you would expect for give a more panicked and less controlled reaction.
The cast was near enough perfect as even at the time very few of the actors were well known, and now if you showed the cast to the average film fan they’d probably only be able to name Kurt Russell and Keith David, and in many ways this also helps as you have no pre-set expectations about most of the cast going into the film, which unfortunately can’t be said for the prequel as it had several actors who were very well known and who have stereotypes attached to them.
With the film now being 33 years old, it still stands up today and is one of the best remakes ever made, although it does look somewhat dated in some places, but in many ways the disgusting and grotesque make up, prosthetics and other special effects almost make the film great. The transformations of the characters, such as when Palmer is revealed to be a thing, looks painful as his face bloats and then splits. This is one of the several aspects in which the prequel failed as it seems to lose something with the use of CGI instead of practical effects.
The film has excellent pacing throughout and there are long gaps in which the thing is nowhere to be seen. The acting and the characters really allows this to be a monster movie without really relying on the monster. The true horror comes from not knowing who is infected and who isn’t, it’s a paranoid masterpiece.
As I mentioned in my look at my top 20 films of all time, if I was to rank them then this would be number four. It is one of my favourite films and whilst I don’t watch it on a regular basis, it is one of those that I can just put into the BluRay player and be excited about what I am about to watch.
Even now I discover new things about the film every time I watch it and new thoughts with regards to the ambiguous ending, such as how Childs has mysteriously changed clothes and many people link that to the thing tearing through clothes when it takes over someone, to people shooting this theory down, and that is one of the many reasons that I love this film. It just keeps giving.
One of the greatest remakes in any film genre of all time, The Thing still stands up relatively well today and is a genuine masterpiece of the genre. Whilst it might not appeal to a younger generation due to it having virtually no special effects, the practical effects actually add something in my opinion and it still holds up relatively well today in many parts.
The Thing is a great example of using your characters to build the story as in reality the alien/creature isn’t in the film for long periods. The film relies purely on the interactions between the characters and because of this it works far better than if we had seen the thing on a consistent basis throughout. It’s there when you need to be and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.