In 1982 John Carpenter, already infamous in the world of horror for his 1978 film Halloween, released The Thing. A Sci-Fi, body horror that took a 1951 B-movie of the same name and married it with the style of the critically successful Alien. Despite being heavy on the gore with some of the most outstanding practical effects seen on screen and a solid cast of actors, it was a commercial and critical failure on release. However, the home video distribution of the film was a huge success and Carpenter’s The Thing gained a huge cult following. For Halloween this year The Thing was given a 40th anniversary release in cinemas. Gareth Holmes went along to see if a film as old as he is, is still as scary as he remembers.
On a remote Antarctic research base, twelve men are drawn into the discovery of an alien spacecraft under the ice, bringing back a charred misshapen corpse and a friendly dog. Soon however, it is revealed that the canine was the host of an alien parasite that can take on the shape of any creature it infects, eventually mutating into a horrifying chimera-like beast. Paranoia swiftly grips both the crew and the audience as no one knows who to trust. Is the man sitting next to you a friend or just a creature wearing his face?
The Thing dropped audiences into a cold, uncaring landscape with flawed paranoid men
As helicopter pilot MacReady attempts to hold things together, the radios are destroyed, and the survivors turn on each other as the isolation truly sets in. As an audience member it swiftly becomes clear there are no heroes in this tale, simply people trying to survive an unrelenting foe that is quite simply one of our basest fears given form.
Earlier in the year sci-fi fans had seen the ever-hopeful E.T., heroic space operas Star Trek II and Flash Gordon as well as the undeniable beauty of Tron and Bladerunner. In contrast The Thing dropped audiences into a cold, uncaring landscape with flawed, paranoid men fighting something they cannot see until it mutates from the body of someone they once knew. Ugly grudges and all too human reactions show us the harsh truth of how we may truly react in such a desperate situation.
Filled with oppressive tension and horrid isolation; all wrapped in a visceral gore-stained bow
John Carpenter adds another ingredient to the already gruesome melting pot, with visceral scenes of body mutation and mutilation. I won’t spoil them here, as talking about them does not do the practical effects, nor the visual horror, justice. I will say that once the instant shock of seeing them settles, there is a lingering discomfort of what happens when our own bodies betray us. The lurking disease that causes our bodies to break down despite our best efforts at combating it, often with those we know looking on, powerless and afraid: if it can happen to us, it can happen to them. This is also one of the few times that, despite knowing what is coming, the defibrillator scene still makes me jump. You’ll understand when you see it.
The Thing is a masterpiece of horror, filled with oppressive tension and horrid isolation; all wrapped in a visceral gore-stained bow. Humanity’s fear of the unknown, what lies beyond the stars, and how we are ultimately powerless against it, are the bread and butter of this film. Scored hauntingly by Ennio Morricone, pulling in the nihilistic cosmic horror of Lovecraft, the isolationist cold war fear of the eighties and the unrelenting disgust of body horror, The Thing is a film that takes its place as a true horror classic.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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