“If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it” – MacReady
There has never been a filmmaker more prolific or influential to the horror genre than John Carpenter. The king of scares was at the top of the game in that department for the best part of the 70’s and 80’s. But if I had to pluck one movie from his impressive back catalogue, then The Thing (1982) would be the one that stands out the most.
Based on the 1938 novella ‘Who Goes there?’, The Thing is actually one of multiple movie adaptations, but this is the only one that really excelled. And that comes down to a handful of reasons.
Firstly, as already mentioned, this adaptation was helmed by John Carpenter. By this point the director was no novice. He had already found success with ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ (1976), ‘Halloween’ (1978) and ‘The Fog’ (1980). But it was his mysterious, sci-fi nightmare The Thing, that elevated his status as legendary filmmaker for me.
Carpenter’s craftsmanship shines through more profoundly than ever with his work here. No scene feels needless. No moment seems wasted. No character decision feels unjustified. And no frame ever appears imperfect. That is what makes The Thing so special, and why revisiting it is such a great experience.
The alluring aspect to its narrative, lies within its constant mystery. You never really know what’s coming next and when you think you have it sussed out, Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster, make sure you’re nowhere closer to getting your answer than when you started the ordeal.
Whilst the writing may be some of the best we’ve seen in the genre, it wouldn’t work without the right cast. Thankfully Carpenter found his hero in Kurt Russell. A grizzly, foul-mouthed, bad-tempered American, who has perhaps had enough of staring into the landscape of the endlessly white Antarctica. In which he is stationed, at an outpost with a crew of research scientists.
Tensions quickly arise within the group when ‘the thing’ in question interrupts their otherwise mundane routine. An interesting character study which dives into paranoia in an isolated environment. Soon you (along with the characters) are left guessing who within the crew really is themselves, and who has taken on a new form.
Adding to the growing tension and horror that erupts on screen is a simple, bass heavy beat whipped up by the great Ennio Morricone. Something that shockingly earned him a Razzie award for ‘worst musical score’. His predominantly 2 note theme however, is a haunting number that you can’t seem to escape from, much like the characters who are living out the real nightmare.
It’s clear as to why The Thing is still held in such high regard today. Its favoured use of practical effects, the eerie tracking shots, the constant implication that everything is not as it seems. It embodies what a horror movie should be, and far removes itself from the standard tropes that were pinned to the genre even back when it was released. The Thing is haunting, relentless and incredibly graphic, so it’s not a film for the squeamish or the occasional horror fans. But for those that relish in the yearly celebration of spookiness, then I couldn’t think of a better film to dive straight into. Simply iconic.