Posted in Film Commentary

Review: John Carpenter’s The Thing

I don’t know how I lived with myself before last week, as I had not seen this movie until I decided to review it for all of you. I had seen the original Howard Hawks version, but this one is by far one of my favorite horror movies now that I have seen it.

One thing I absolutely love is how this film does not waste time making you feel uncomfortable. Nothing really gets scary until about half an hour into the film, but that doesn’t mean Carpenter wastes time with needless exposition. Carpenter gives us just enough information for us to know what is going on, and immediately begins to point out how strange the situation is.

Another great thing is how investigating what happened to the Norwegians sets up the suspense. The Howard Hawks version has the Americans discovering the Thing, but having the Americans investigate a fallen research group sets the tone for just how much trouble they are in so much better than “Hey, look! A flying saucer!” ever could have.

I was bothered by one particular thing in the story, though.  Even after they discover how the Thing imitates, that they keep leaving people alone. Fuchs even says, “It needs to be alone and in close proximity to a life form in order for it to be absorbed. The chameleon strikes in the dark”. Even at the end of the film, MacReady takes two other men with him while leaving Childs in the camp by himself, leading to the ambiguous ending of not knowing whether he has been taken over. If they understand the risks of leaving anyone alone, why do they keep doing it?

One of the things that I adored about this film was the use of sound. The soundtrack itself screams classic horror, as it is mostly composed of foreboding bass chords and tense, screeching violin melodies. So many movies these days feel the need to bombard you with an overly dramatic score, when a low-key soundtrack that simply emphasizes important moments while reinforcing certain emotional responses is all you really need. I’m all for classic horror soundtracks and I am glad this movie does not go over the top with the music, but what is really great about the sound in this film is the use of wind. There are many scenes throughout the film where the only noise other than the characters talking is the wind outside, reminding you constantly just how isolated, alone, and helpless they really are.

What made this film a cult classic, aside from the awesome story, was how memorable all of the special effects were. Yes, some of them are cheesy when compared to contemporary standards, but they are not entirely outdated. There are still plenty of people who get scared when watching a dog practically turn itself inside out.

The effects may not be perfect, but imagining watching this film at the time of its release I could not help but think of how state of the art they were. Compared to horror films that came before it where most of the effects were done with objects you could find around your house, the effects in the Thing were tremendously more realistic and believable.

The best thing about this film, in my honest opinion, is the preference for psychological horror over shock horror. Now, most of what people remember about this film are the special effects (and for good reason). However, most of the horror of this film comes from not knowing who is trustworthy and watching these men fall apart from paranoia, knowing that any one of us would do the same thing in their situation. This is not a film about Americans triumphantly defeating an alien foe and proving that they are the best, but a film that shows just how vulnerable we all really are to our own paranoia.

I highly recommend this film to everyone I know, though most people I have talked to have admitted to being too creeped out by the special effects to enjoy the story. How rare, these days, that a horror movie actually scares people, even thirty years later. If you have a strong stomach and are not faint of heart, may I suggest you go watch this film as soon as you can.

Favorite Scene: