In the tundra of the Antarctic, a group of American researchers stumble upon an alien spacecraft buried deep in the ice. When a lone dog, the only survivor of an incident at a neighbouring Norwegian research base, is taken in by the Americans, things begin to go bad as something alien has infiltrated their ranks.
Released at what was the height of the 80’s Body Horror movement (also see: The Fly, Society and Videodrome), The Thing was met with moderate praise but a lacking box office. Whilst audiences at the time were unsure of what to make of the film, it has since garnered its classic status through retrospect. It is a shame the movie did so badly in the cinema as the film lends itself terrifically to the big screen.
The Thing defines what the effects artists of the 80’s defined as “plastic reality”. It wears its body horror staple with pride, eschewing the minimalist approach found in John Carpenter‘s other horror classing, Halloween, in favour of full on viscera. Yet, whilst the gore is as extreme as it is horrifying (it still holds up relatively well today), Carpenter is savvy to the real fear: paranoia. If the grue is the payoff, then the build to the big messy reveal features tension you can chew on. Literally anyone could have been compromised, an alien copy of their former selves. There is misdirection at every turn, with red herrings, bluffs and double bluffs aplenty. Is Clarke human, with his somewhat vacant stare and attachment to the team’s sled dogs? Or maybe it’s Windows? Or Macready?
It seems a shame that The Thing only earned its stripes years after its initial release. Even though Carpenter has had a lacklustre career as of late, you can’t deny that, in his early days, he was the undisputed king of the genre. His uncanny ability to garner tension from any kind of horror, be it slasher with Halloween or ghost story with The Fog, ensures he retains his status despite making such guff as Escape From L.A. and Ghosts of Mars.
The Thing still remains one of the ultimate examples of paranoid cinema. If you are able to stomach the nauseating splatter, what you are left with is an efficient, confident and frightening movie that can be comfortably mentioned in the same sentence as the likes of The Shining, The Exorcist and Alien.
A great example of a film that completely justifies its infamy. In a good way, of course.
Best line: “Let’s just…wait a while. See what happens.”
Titbit: Whilst the movie is set in the Antarctic, it was filmed on the Universal back-lot during the height of summer.