Mankind’s greatest fears put against itself, removing all sense of connection with the outside world. If that is not enough to describe John Carpenter’s The Thing, then another way of going about would be talking about how it is one of the greatest horror films to have ever been made. It would already be easy enough to commend the incredibly consistency to John Carpenter’s own body of work in comparison to many other great artists who have extensively left their touch on the horror genre, but if there were one that stood atop all, then The Thing is the clear frontrunner. Although it is easy to commend Halloween for the incredible influence that it left upon many slashers that followed, it was not until 1982 when he accomplished the very most of his capabilities; a stunning achievement to be remembered through all of time.
Being a remake of the film The Thing from Another World, what John Carpenter does with the similar outline is experiment with what mankind fears most. We keep a focus upon scientists within the Antarctic, and as they end up encountering a sort of alien that can destroy anything that it touches by assuming the appearance of whoever it has attacked. John Carpenter, who has cited the original Howard Hawks co-directed film as one of his favourite films, decides to show his own love for the source but at the same time, with the original story which provided the concept for both, he uses it as an opportunity to leave his own distinctive flair to the same story and as a result, he leaves behind one of the most iconic horror films of the 1980’s.
What makes The Thing work so effectively comes from how well Carpenter manages to create an isolated atmosphere which highlights every sense of paranoia running through the human mind, but with what else Carpenter is putting together, something all the more clever is present. With all of the paranoia running through the human mind together with the very idea that the parasite can easily be anyone who is standing within the room, it gives the viewer a feeling as if they are trapped amongst the helpless. There is no sense of clarity in regards to how the titular “thing” works, but because of what it can turn itself into at any moment, a common fear that mankind shares is exploited in the very best ways – making The Thing even scarier now than it had ever been, and at that, Carpenter’s finest achievement. Adding more to this eerie nature is Ennio Morricone’s haunting score, setting a perfect tone for the course of the film.
Something that has always been most interesting to me about The Thing is how there’s an allegory it presents in regards to humankind and their struggle for power when confronted by the unknown. Carpenter plays upon how mankind is afraid of the unknown, especially at a time in which only doom is set to come. It is something that can be applied anywhere, whether it be on the brink of political turmoil or an apocalypse – amidst the isolation there is hysteria and rational thought only begins to fade away all the more. This “thing,” when it takes upon human form, for one can be representative of all the anger of irrational mankind coming out and unleashing itself on the sane, who mirror a form of control – think of protesters as they unleash their wrath upon a politician and their policies. The Thing is rooted with anger all throughout, and it works most effectively in showing what it is that this paranoia for the unknown brings upon rational thought.
All of this having been noted, one can also go ahead to note Carpenter’s usage of practical effects – which easily stand out as some of the very best to have been put on film even to this day. It is no surprise that all of this had come out from a body horror film, but every last bit of effort to the elaborate designs for the creature as provided by Rob Bottin is where the nightmares from The Thing only arise all the more, for even to this day they are still unbeatable special effects. John Carpenter never was afraid of what depths he wanted to reach with the special effects, whether it be from famous sequences such as the dog transformation or the defibrillator chomp, all of the set pieces come together in such a distinct manner and at that point, it becomes the only way to which the nightmare has come to life.
It is easy to see why John Carpenter himself considers The Thing to be his favourite of the many films he has directed: for every character, every action, and every mood is just perfect for Carpenter’s own creation, there is never a single forgettable moment to come by within its own brisk movement. The Thing is never happy, but all throughout it carries a specific anger that only raises its cultural relevance within this day and age. Carpenter fully realizes every last bit of brilliance to the material he has and allows it all to shine in The Thing, and at that, it is truly his finest achievement and one of the greatest horror films to have ever been made. A brilliant allegory of mankind’s slow descent upon the fears of the unknown, to that level their own fear turns against themselves and erases rational thought, The Thing stands out as one of the most important American films of the 1980’s – just outstanding on practically every level. Films like The Thing are pure nightmare fuel, for they bring out where our deepest fears of the unknown have taken us.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Universal.
Directed by John Carpenter
Screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from the film The Thing from Another World written by Charles Lederer and the short story Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Produced by David Foster, Lawrence Turman
Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, A. Whitford Brimley
Release Year: 1982
Running Time: 109 minutes