If you have never watched John Carpenter’s movie The Thing, I would urge you to turn off your computer (now!), call in sick if you’re at work, escape from the hospital if you’re actually sick and bed-ridden, and fire up Netflix streaming.
I wrote briefly about the story Who Goes There? on which the movie was based. Also, there was a movie prior to the 1982 version of Thing, called The Thing From Another World.
I’ve also heard there’s a newer remake. Sorry, but no. It’s forever 1982 in my brain, as far as superior renditions of this story go.
So what makes it so good?
It is no longer the horrifying film that made me beg my parents to let me sleep with them night after night after only seeing a few minutes of it, but it is still about as close to perfect, in my opinion, as a horror movie can be.
Let’s start with the setting:
Setting of The Thing
Is it possible to get more out in the middle of nowhere than an Antarctic research station? Me thinks not. It reminds me of the original Alien in this way. An increasingly frightened group of people are in a claustrophobic environment with no real hope of escape.
Well, in Alien I guess you could have jumped out of an airlock, but then you’d die. And if you’ve seen Total Recall you know what happens to people when they’re suddenly exposed to a nasty alien atmosphere.
And in Thing, the frozen surroundings are only mildly more hospitable. Kurt Russell only has to be outside for a few minutes before they have given him up for dead.
Once we’re about 20 minutes in, we know that the Thing can imitate other life forms perfectly. Suddenly it’s no longer clear who is human and who is not. Nobody can be trusted!
So how to deal with this situation? Easy, Kurt Russell has to start pushing everyone around, glaring, and threatening to light them all up with dynamite if they don’t toe the line. Which brings us to:
Kurt Russell’s beard
What else can you say about this beard, except that it grows in power and intimidationality as more icicles begin clinging to it. It is a beard you do not say no to. The beard is fierce, and perched atop it is the meanest stare you’ve ever seen. Speaking of, I can’t wait to see what Russell is like as the bad guy in the upcoming Tarantino movie Django Unchained.
And as his right, the bearded Kurt takes charge. “Get over there.” “Shut your mouth.” “Who want to taste this flamethrower?” (I made that last one up, but those three quotes are indicative of the way he sees to things).
If it can ooze, it oozes
This is a horror movie of slime, guts, and a big fat maw full of moments that would make kids say Ewwwww and which make me laugh and which made my wife say “That’s really disgusting.”
If something is bleeding, it really, really bleeds here. If it oozes, it oozes in slow motion and the thickness of the slime can never be in doubt. Better to overdo it here.
I’m sure the special effects were absolutely unprecedented in 1982 but they still hold up very well. This was a labor of love for some FX department. Have you ever seen a human head walking around on little spider legs?
When the people starting Thinging out it’s a real spectacle as tentacles burst and tissue stretches and moaning fills the air while the rest of the crew shriek and shoot flames everywhere.
Other assorted oddities
Wilford Brimley goes nuts and causes lots of mayhem, despite his lack of a beard.
Keith David is of course in the movie, and he does his Keith David thing here very well. Not as good as in They Live, which I might talk about tomorrow, but pretty good. In the 80s, when you needed a tough black guy to make trouble and stare everyone down, you called Keith. I like him so much that I should probably go add “Keith David” to my interests on Facebook.
Roller skating in the research station.
Brimley’s hilarious examination of a primitive computer program that shows just how bad things could get if the Thing escapes to the rest of the world. It looks like an Atari game and is apparently set up just to calculate the end of the world as we know it due to alien calamities.
Great use of “Very Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder.
Perhaps the greatest failure at manual heart palpitation in all of cinema.
I don’t know if it’s possible for me to enjoy a movie more than I enjoyed watching The Thing in honor of Halloween. Watch it!
It only could have been better if Chuck Norris’s beard had been in it as well.
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