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My Favorite Scary Movie: The Thing (1982)

For the month of October, JoBlo.com staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.

THE THING (1982)

What’s it about? A group of researchers stationed in Antarctica find their ranks infiltrated by a gruesome shape-shifting alien hellbent on killing them, imitating them, and escaping to do the same to the entire planet.
 
Who’s in it? Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Jed the Dog
 
Who made it? John Carpenter (director), Bill Lancaster (writer), Rob Bottin (special effects), Ennio Morricone (score)
 

Why it’s my favorite scary movie:

My wife is not a big fan of horror movies, but last Halloween she agreed to watch THE THING with me on the big screen. As the film started and a sled dog ran through the snow, I heard her whisper under her breath, "Aww, a puppy!" Everyone in our row laughed. They knew what was coming. This was not going to end well.
 
And that feeling is exactly what makes THE THING such an effective horror film. No matter which style of scary movie you enjoy, John Carpenter's 1982 sci fi-horror opus has it all:

  • Buckets of disgusting gore and body horror? You bet. 
     
  • A blistering crescendo of tension and suspense? Uh-huh.
     
  • Heart-pounding jump scares? The blood test scene has one of the best of all time.
     
  • Constant paranoia and isolation that leads to a sense of nihilistic dread? Yep, the whole way through.

 A critical and commercial failure during the time of its release, THE THING has thankfully endured and found the audience it deserves. This represents Carpenter at the top of his game—using bleak cinematography, horrifying visuals, and a story that plays on our base human nature—all to craft another classic movie that scares us on multiple levels. Seeing The Thing kill and assimilate is frightening on its own, but there's an urgency in seeing the characters turn on each other as the creature and the snowstorm closes in that makes the sweat and the suspense palpable. And aside from a couple amusing reactions ("You've got to be fucking kidding!"), there’s no real comedic relief to break the tension; it’s just two hours of pure horror, both visual and psychological, that pulls no punches. Not only does this movie kill the dog, but it makes you watch as it literally tears the poor animal apart, turning it in to a grotesque stomach-churning monster that would give H.P. Lovecraft nightmares.   
 
And it definitely gave me nightmares as a kid. There are so many shots in this movie that are burned in to my brain: a torso opening up to bite off a man's arms, a severed head using a tentacle to right itself before growing spider legs and crawling away, a grotesque half-man half-canine monstrosity that thankfully gets a mouthful of Kurt Russell's dynamite. But while THE THING may have scared me as a child, as an adult you recognize all the hard work that went in to crafting Carpenter’s horrific vision. Most of the credit goes to a then-22 year old Rob Bottin and his team, who provided all the practical creature effects (with a little help from an uncredited Stan Winston). The sheer amount of work in this movie is mind-blowing given the budget. Bottin worked so hard for so long, he ended up being hospitalized for exhaustion, pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer. That literal blood and sweat is apparent on the screen with a wide range of creatures that defy expectations and still hold up as iconic images. The autopsy scenes especially are a thing of disgusting beauty.
 
Given the enclosed nature of the story, the movie hinges on its performances as much as its technical components. From Kurt Russell, adding another memorable character to his repertoire, to dependable actors like Keith David, Wilford Brimley and Donald Moffat, everyone creates believable, relatable characters that sell the mystery and the hysteria of their situation, especially the dynamic between MacReady and Childs.
 
And that's what gives the film its perfect ending, in my opinion. After all the gruesome insanity, Carpenter leaves us with a quiet scene by the fire between two people that don't trust each other, and an audience that also doesn't know who to believe. It's a perfectly bleak and ambiguous conclusion that lets you leave the theater feeling satisfied but still uneasy. The hallmark of any good scary movie.

For some really great insight in to the production of THE THING, I highly recommend this blog from producer Stuart Cohen.

The Thing test

“I’d made a really grueling, dark film and I just don’t think audiences in 1982 wanted to see that. They wanted to see E.T. and THE THING was the opposite.” – John Carpenter
 

Scariest Part: 
There are many great scenes showcasing Rob Bottin's amazing work on this film, but Vance's transformation is my favorite.

I've watched this movie dozens of times and know how the blood test scene ends, but I still jump every time.


 
Best Lines:

Palmer: "You gotta be fuckin' kidding."
 
Clark: I don't know what the hell is in there, but it's weird and pissed off, whatever it is.
 
Childs: You're gonna have to sleep sometime, MacReady.
MacReady: I'm a real light sleeper, Childs.
 
MacReady: Why don't we just... wait here for a little while... see what happens?
 
MacReady: Yeah… fuck you too!
 
Gore and Nudity: 

Plenty of gore, but no nudity (unless beards are your thing).

Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow Ups:  
 
The most famous follow-up is 2011's THE THING starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton, which is technically a prequel, but too often feels like a direct remake of the 1982 version (down to the exact same title). It's not an outright disaster, with a few tense moments and solid creature design, but the prequel doesn't do anything as well as the original and the terrible CGI only highlights how crucial and more effective the practical effects were. 

In the early 90s, Dark Horse Comics put out a series called The Thing From Another World that served as an immediate sequel to the film (and definitively answered what happened with Childs and MacReady). There was also a video game sequel released in 2002 that followed a new character but still featured an appearance by MacReady.  
 
For the serious THING fan, last year Mondo released a board game version of the film called The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31. I haven't played it yet, but the attention to detail looks great and if ever there was a story that would work in board game form, it's one where any of your fellow players could be a killer alien trying to assimilate you.

The Thing creature

“I love that, over the years, that movie has gotten its due because people were able to get past the horrificness of the monster — because it was a horror movie — but to see what the movie was about, which was paranoia.” - Kurt Russell

Scare-O-Meter Score: Having recently seen this in the theater again, I can attest to the enduring scariness of THE THING. There were screams at the jump scares, groans at the gore, and covered eyes peeking through hands at the most intense moments. Some of the effects may seem hokey compared to what modern audiences are used to, but Carpenter's direction and mastery of tension still plays well with audiences 30 years later.  (9/10)


 

READ MORE:

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE CHANGELING (1980)

My Favorite Scary Movie - JASON GOES TO HELL (1993)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)

My Favorite Scary Movie - THE BABADOOK (2014)

My Favorite Scary Movie - DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

My Favorite Scary Movie - DON'T LOOK NOW (1973)

Source: JoBlo.com

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