The Thing (1982)
John Carpenters The Thing, like the original Blade runner is a great film that nobody bothered to see upon its original release. It wasn’t even particularly liked by critics, being described for example by the LA Times for example as “bereft, despairing and nihilistic.” And that was one of the kind reviews. The Thing was pretty much universally hated by critics and audiences upon its release It didn’t help that it was released just a few weeks after Steven Spielberg’s juggernaut E.T.
Like many movies I wasn’t supposed to see as a child, I watched The Thing in my bedroom late at night when my mum was in bed. I have a vague impression of watching it on ITV perhaps, annoyingly with a half hour episode of the news in the middle of it. Can you believe they used to do that? I had heard about The Thing from a buddy at school. My particular school was a place grown up movies were often discussed with a high level of glee. The fact that you had seen say, Aliens or Total Recall as a kid gave you some kind of strange street cred. The Thing in particular was a movie that was famous school wide. My friend Kashif told me about a movie where a monster could become many different things just by touching them. That was about as detailed a synopsis you got in the school yard. As luck would have it The Thing happened to be on TV shortly after this conversation. So, Mum in bed, TV volume down low and snack in hand I settled down to watch the fabled monster movie. Now having uncles who would often set up pirate versions of 18 certificate movies in my nans front room, I presumed that this would be an easy watch. I mean I sat through a melting man in Robocop without breaking a sweat, how bad could this be?
From the very beginning, the opening title sequence creeps you out. The amazing music by Eric Morricone, plus the title burning through the screen made me feel very uncomfortable. Little did I know the effect this film would have on me, even after all these years. Although I was just a kid,I liked a film that had a slow burn. Most of my friends would watch a movie by just fast forwarding to the gore or straight to the action. I liked slow character building that directors like Coppola and Scorsese gave us. The Thing is one of those well paced movies. It also just has this sense of doom almost straight from the offset that I love, but something that critics and audiences hated back in the day.
After a random dog runs into an American expedition camp in Antarctica. A Norwegian helicopter passenger is seen chasing and shooting at the dog. He’s killed in the act and they take the dog into camp to protect it. While some of the camp members go to investigate the Norwegian camp, to try and work out why he came in shooting, the dog walks around the American camp as if he’s looking for something. Or maybe just an opportunity. The atmosphere is creepy in a good way, if there is such a thing. You can literally feel the tension building. Its all building up to the amazing segment where the dog shows its true self. This scene as a child was terrifying. I had never seen effects so visceral and tangible and done with amazing practical effects. Its body horror on a Cronenberg level.
I probably didn’t get it so much as a child, but going back and watching it back its not so much the amazing effects and the gore that are frightening . Its the sense of paranoia that gets to you. The fear that you cant trust anyone around you, comes through so strong in this movie. Also the idea of not knowing that something is wrong with yourself until the last moment is the thing of nightmares. Its entirely possible that the people that the Thing has infected don’t actually know they are until they are in danger and some sort of defence mode kicks in. The idea that you may not be who you think you are is the kind of idea that keeps people sleepless at night. And there is where the true horror of this movie lies. Back in 82 critics and audiences just didn’t seem to get this and its a real shame, as this is a true classic.