Keith David

6: John Carpenter's The Thing Review

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I love watching horror movies. I try to watch as many as I possibly can during October. Unfortunately, I have been so busy this year with my job and other things that I have yet to really watch any, besides Hereditary, which I loved. Horror is another film genre that has hurdles to get over in being rewatchable. Not only do you have subjective tastes to deal with, once you know when all the scares are coming, that might lessen the experience. That means, for me, you would need to make sure everything around the scares work, like writing, effects, atmosphere, lighting, and what have you. I decided to choose a horror movie that I love and could watch hundreds of times without getting bored with it, The Thing, the 1982 remake by John Carpenter.

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The story follows a group of scientists working at an isolated base in Antarctica. One day, they see a helicopter of scientists from another base chasing a sled dog and trying to kill it. After dealing with the incident, they take in the sled dog. Later that night, they find out something odd about the dog. Unfortunately for them, they realize that the dog turns out to be a shape-shifting alien that ends up causing chaos at the base. Things turn from bad to worse when they understand that the alien has made it impossible for anyone to leave the base, and has hidden himself among the remaining people there. It then becomes a tense game of survival as the scientists try to find a way to get out of there, and to stop the alien from leaving Antarctica.

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It’s always interesting to read about the history of this film. It might be a classic now, but it was not back in the day, as it underperformed at the box office, along with many other films when E.T. came out. You can’t understate that E.T. killed a lot of good movies in its release area. Anyway, after being popular on TV and rental stores, it’s now a certified classic. Well, why? I mean, opinions change over time, but when I first saw this film for the first time a decade or so ago, I found it to be incredible. It’s easily one of the scariest movies I have seen in my life. First off, being isolated in one of the coldest places on earth is already horrifying. No real consistent way to contact the real world from that location is unsettling, but throw in an alien that can shapeshift, and the paranoia among the characters all add up to the overall experience. A lot of the film’s scares and tone are definitely molded by the film’s composer Ennio Morricone. While he is very well known for his work in films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy, he also composed the music for The Hateful Eight, which can be argued to be a sort-of western version of The Thing. Anyway, Ennio’s music brings this minimalist unnerving atmosphere that gels well with the dark rooms, shadows, and the ever-present sense of someone among the crew not being who they say they are. It then becomes a ticking time bomb of slowly making sure that if anyone ends up being infected by the alien, they are taken care of immediately. What also works about this movie is that the scientists, while having their moments of rage-filled paranoia and stubborn pride, are smart. Sure, logic isn’t always the most important thing in a film when compared to the emotion and writing, but the fact that the characters don’t simply kill one another in mere seconds of finding out about the possibility of being infected is a nice change of pace. It’s always infuriating when the writing, tone, and atmosphere of a horror film is undone by characters doing something stupid that takes you out of the experience. The Thing is a slow burn-style horror film that easily makes the scares that happen in the film ten times more effective.

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The cast for this film is fantastic. Of course, you have John Carpenter mainstay Kurt Russell, but also Keith David, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, and Thomas Waites. Each actor is memorable in his own respective way. I think it also helps that everyone here looks normal. There is no chiseled cut 20 year-old-looking man. It makes it more believable when you have a bunch of people who look like they would actually work at this science outpost. However, one of the best characters in the movie is the alien itself. The special effects, done by Rob Bottin with the help of Stan Winston, the alien is nightmarish in its look, as it takes the incomplete form of a mass of skin, heads, arms, and blood. Anytime the alien is found out, it becomes a horrific scene of the alien morphing its form to try and take out the threat or get away. Some have said that the effects are too good, but I think that’s a positive. Nothing is worse than bad CGI effects or bad practical effects. This is meant to be a ghoulish monstrous alien lifeform. It should look utterly disgusting and very creature-like.

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I have no real critical issue with this version of The Thing. In terms of my horror criteria, it’s pretty much a perfect horror film. There is a reason the many comic adaptations and the terrible prequel film failed, and why more people prefer and love John Carpenter’s cinematic masterpiece. Could some of the characters have had more to them than what they got? Sure, but in the end, I was still invested from beginning to end with wanting every man there to survive and not get absorbed or killed by one of cinema’s most terrifying creatures. If for some reason you don’t own this movie, Shout! Factory has recently released a beautiful new enhanced version for blu-ray, and I can’t stop recommending this movie enough. I know it’s past Halloween, but that’s not going to stop me from saying, play it again!