Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Horror is a tricky genre for me. I don’t care for splatter films, and I’ve never been into any of the “big” horror movies. Relying on shock value puts butts in seats, but it doesn’t make for a long-lasting impression with people who see films as a more worthwhile experience. I guess they’re fun, but I prefer a horror film that can either make you think, or something uniquely different. For me, this is where ‘The Thing’ comes in. This John Carpenter classic is like an eternal search for absolute truth in a desolate cold hell.
‘The Thing’ relies on the old concept of the “unknown” enemy. If after all this time, you still don’t know the ins and outs of ‘The Thing’, I won’t spoil too much for you. The horror element here really ramps up when paranoia is spread as to who might be a “killer”, with no way of figuring out the truth. People will wind up dead, or missing, and it all adds to the mystery. Yes, it mixes in some old aspects of monster movies and gore, but it doesn’t lose any depth to the despair of friends turning on each other, instead utilising the idea of fight or flight instincts to develop the terror. It’s masterfully done with every shot and actor; the mania drips from their eyes as the truth is slowly unveiled, and we all learn just what this “monster” can become and the power it holds.
Now, you may or may not know about the more recent imagining of this story in the form of a prequel, released back in 2011. The main difference between this film, and the prequel, is that the characters here are patiently developed; initially all is well, but madness and chaos is not far away. Whereas with the modern prequel, everything starts off completely hostile, and stays that way until the end. The 1982 film feels like a well-crafted, intricate effort, whilst the prequel is more like a car hitting you head on; a film which feels “alien” (pun intended) to the original. The short message to take away from this is that the original of 1982 is way better than the 2011 film.
Carpenter uses a variety of long, meticulous shots here, and usually I’d hate long-drawn out shots in a movie, but with ‘The Thing’, it adds to the mystery and suspense of not knowing what will come next. It will make many wonder what is happening elsewhere, off-screen, while some of the characters examine a dug-up spaceship or a scene cuts to black. Often, the shot will jump back to another location or character, and leave you with more questions rather than answers. Whilst some might find this method frustrating, I hope most would find this kind of tension-building to be tantalising.
The only real complaint I have about this film is that the video quality, and audio in places, hasn’t aged well. There are some moments where the image becomes very pixelated, and other times there are some severe echoes, or canned sound effects – not necessarily disappointing, but very “of the time”, and noticeable. Nowadays, these kind of issues would draw most audiences out of the movie and ruin the experience. I know for some films this can’t be helped, like in the Hitchcock era, but with all the digital restoration techniques out there, it makes me wonder, and I’m inclined to recommend finding a high quality version of this film if possible. That said, the actual visual content and cinematography on show here is near perfect.
The lasting impression you’ll get from ‘The Thing’ is one of pure dread. Unlike most most movies where the bad guy has to lose, this film’s conclusion is one which is always kinda up for grabs. It’s something you’ll hear talked about in film classes, and contemplated between friends during a harsh winter season. If you watch this film for nothing else, watch it for the acting; these are probably some of the better of the 80s, and really helped to heighten the stir-crazy feeling, while embodying a morose and sullen atmosphere.