Later in the film is the infamous defibrillation scene, where Cooper tries to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan). As Cooper is about to attempt reviving Norris, his chest opens up and becomes a pair of jaws that tear off Coopers arms. Luckily, MacReady has a flamethrower at hand for just such an occasion, and promptly incinerates them both. However, in the chaos, Norris’ head manages to detach itself from his body and turn into a strange spider fiend. The rest of the research team notice the Norris spider trying to escape out of the door, and their bewildered looks make the scene oddly hilarious.
Some directors might have opted to keep the monster elusive, building up to a big reveal - as Ridley Scott did in Alien. But if you have something as twisted as The Thing, it seems a shame to hide it. Carpenter knew this, and didn’t shy away from showing the creature in all its gruesome glory.
The film actually received mixed reviews at the time of its release, but one of the things it was praised for were the special effects. In my opinion, the ‘80s were the golden age of horror special effects and The Thing is testament to this. The gore is rich and vibrant - something lost in the more toned-down 2011 prequel. Because The Thing is not restricted to any natural form, the designers obviously had a lot of freedom with regards to the texture and design. Organs on the creature didn’t have to be anatomically logical, so the result is something impossible looking. Suddenly the vague title of the film makes a lot more sense.
I could go on about the creature, but the real centre of this film in terms of theme is paranoia. If you’re working with a team of researchers on an isolated Antarctic base, the likelihood is you’re going to be there for a while. In that time, you are forced to make friends with your colleagues. No one wants to be stuck with someone they hate for months on end. When you introduce a shape-shifting alien into the fold, things get complicated. The relationships between people who have been stuck together for months start to unfold and crumble, and their true opinions of each other emerge. The Thing acts as a catalyst for this, forcing the characters to distrust each other deeply. While MacReady seems the level-headed one of the group, the one we’d all like to imagine ourselves being, even he at times becomes consumed by the fear of not knowing who to trust. There is even a degree of self-doubt; none of them know how this creature works. Would you know if you were infected?
The theme of isolation is also a pretty big part of The Thing, and plays heavily into the paranoia the characters exhibit. Being in the middle of the Antarctic, the crew face the difficult choice of death by alien parasite or death by freezing in the snow (spoiler alert: some people die). When faced with such bleak options, the characters are driven to desperate measures, and as their behaviour becomes more erratic, it becomes more difficult to tell whether they are human or not. The Thing is driven by the same desire to survive as the human characters; its methods are just different. The film plays with your emotions and keeps you guessing as to who is infected and who isn’t, making the situation of the characters that much more relatable.
The Thing was criticised for a lot of things when it was released, but in time it has found appreciation among many horror fans. It is visually beautiful and very well acted, even if this wasn’t appreciated at the time. Kurt Russell leads the film without trying to overpower the other actors with his presence. This could have been all about him, but he merely serves as the everyman of the story. The soundtrack of the film is as minimalist as the icy setting of the film, matching it perfectly. Everything comes together to create a film that has stood the test of time against the critics. I only hope that future generations of horror fans also appreciate what an important film The Thing is.
Why We Heart: The Thing (1982)
By Ross Wildish - 6th February 2014
Ask someone to list the most definitive horror films of the ‘80s and no doubt John Carpenter’s The Thing will be among them - for more reasons than just Kurt Russell’s glorious beard.
Set in the bleak landscape of Antarctica, the film revolves around the crew of a research station who encounter an alien parasite that has the nifty ability to mimic any living thing. After a dog is chased into the camp by some angry Norwegians, helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Copper (Richard Dysart) head to their camp to find out what got them into such a state. They find their reason: the body of a strange humanoid creature. Rather than burn it and run away as sensible people might, they decide to bring it back and do an autopsy.
Unfortunately, another predicament pops up when the dog saved from the Norwegians mutates and kills the other dogs. Now, I am okay with people being tortured by demons or murdered by monsters in films, but as soon as a dog dies that’s gone just too damn far. This scene is pretty horrific and disturbing, especially if you’re an animal lover like me. That being said, it’s still a brilliant scene that introduces the creature in a bold way.