“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!” – Garry, The Thing (1982).
To say I do not like horror films is an understatement. Despise is too strong a word, but it’s definitely somewhere in the middle of those emotions. I don’t like to be scared, I’m not a fan of many tense moments in your average horror film like The Conjuring (2013). Still, as readers of my work may have noticed, I do thoroughly enjoy psychological horrors. Stuff that taps into the paranoia and fear we all inevitably hold. Alien (1979) and The Shining (1980) are two of the most well regarded films I would ever consider watching again. This brings me to The Thing, a film that was so very close to a perfect rating, but fell at only one hurdle.
We may as well get the one problem this film has out of the way straight away. Many will think this is petty or not even a valid point to not give this film a perfect rating, but it’s one of the very few problems. The aspect ratio of this film is genuinely appalling. Most older films will appear in a 4:3 format, but not The Thing. It’s sort of like watching the film through a telescope but you’re holding the telescope the wrong way round. To me it did take some of the impact away, the same can be said for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) but definitely not to the same extent. Watching on a HD TV was possibly one of the worst ideas I’ve had for watching a film from the early 80s but it was the only option I had.
Kurt Russell is swiftly becoming one of my favourite actors. His constant pairing with John Carpenter with Big Trouble in Little China (1986) is proving invaluable to say the least. He’s a phenomenal actor and Carpenter has some of the best direction going, he’s the definition of cult movies. The pairing of the two is often perfect, and The Thing is no exception to that rule. They’re always on the same wavelength when it comes to film, they know exactly what they want and work together so well. That being said, that sense of believability in the film comes from the performance of Russell. He provides such a great sense of fear and paranoia throughout. In the most basic terms possible, he basically glues everything together.
Carpenter often provides stunningly and gruesome visuals and The Thing is the film that represents this the most. From infamous scenes of the autopsy and even earlier scenes in the kennel are horrifying. They are true definitions of what horror should be. Gruesome, gory, but also integral to the plot, well angled and well acted. If it weren’t for an immensely talented cast then The Thing simply wouldn’t have worked.
One of the most important parts to this film is the dynamic cast of characters and how they work together and evidently fall apart. Keith David and Kurt Russell have some great chemistry with one another. That infamous ending being better than I had honestly expected it to be. The ending of the film is ambiguous but perfect, leaving a lot of opportunity for fan theories to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately what happens after that is Kurt Russell goes off and denies all the rumours. Still, they were pretty good theories and fitting for the film.
How can I review The Thing without talking about its visual props? A whopping $1.5 million spent on special effects and that money could not have been spent any better. It’s gory, gruesome and above all is some of the most visually stunning stuff I have ever seen in any film. No film so far has even come close to replicating how realistic these props are. Carpenter has always been one for visual props and it’s a shame they aren’t so frequently used these days. My personal favourite has to be the very first prop we see, the transformation of the dog. Not just because it’s integral to the plot but also because it’s bloody spectacular.
Alongside this amazing use of visual prop,s the set design and costume design is elegant in setting the eerie tone of the film. The lab in particular is a prominent location for a lot of unraveling moments within the plot. Because I don’t have much else to say in this paragraph, I’d just like to point out that Wilford Brimley gives an absolutely spectacular performance as Dr. Blair. He added a dark humour to the plot and to be quite honest that was most definitely well needed.
To be quite honest I wasn’t too big a fan of this film at first. I don’t mean that this was the second time I watched the film. What I mean is the first five to ten minutes were very off putting. I really wasn’t sure why they were taking pot shots at a dog from a helicopter and considering I watched this so long ago I honestly cannot remember. Then about twenty minutes in to the film the Norwegians invaded and then shot themselves or something? On reflection it makes a lot of sense now. Reading this here and watching it for the first time will throw you a bit. I read up on the whole shooting the dog from the helicopter thing. Once reading up on it, it makes a lot more sense.
Still, the time of mad Norwegians and paranoia is over, The Thing is possibly one of, if not the best horror film I will possibly ever see. It has a strange ability to make good dialogue seem perfect and a large cast seem claustrophobic. What it lacks in early build up it certainly makes up for in a perfect second act and an action packed finale. Carpenter’s direction is highlighted perfectly throughout this film, giving off possibly the best example of his work thus far.
With Russell and Carpenter at the helm it often seems the results are perfect. There’s a great team dynamic throughout that gets spoilt and rebuilt as the film goes on. Whatever the case, The Thing is a must watch film. It was panned on its initial release. That doesn’t stop it from being one of the best damn horror films you’ll ever see. The soundtrack, the tone and everything else is just so good it’s beyond description. It is the epitome of cult movie, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by not watching it.