By Donovahn Wyatt
This film review is an opinion piece submitted to the Samford Crimson.
It’s that time of year again. The weather’s getting cooler, the leaves are changing and Halloween is right around the corner. So, you all know what that means! It’s time to watch movies filled with stupefyingly gratuitous violence. There’s no better example of that than John Carpenter’s 1982 Sci-fi/Horror classic, The Thing.
For those of you who don’t already know, director John Carpenter is a god of horror filmmaking. He wrote and directed the iconic 1978 slasher film Halloween, which revolutionized the genre and had a tremendous impact on cinema as a whole, so much so that it spawned a massive franchise with 12 films and inspired countless others.
The Thing is based on the 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. novella Who Goes There?, which details a team of arctic scientists fighting to survive against a shape-shifting alien. The novella had previously been adapted for the silver screen in 1951’s The Thing from Another World, but I will not be going over how these adaptations compare to each other.
The 1982 film follows a team of American researchers stationed in Antarctica as they discover the frozen remains of an alien organism. After a while, it becomes apparent that the creature isn’t as dead as the team thought, and they discover that it can assimilate other life forms, including humans, and spread like a virus. This means that anyone could be infected by The Thing. Paranoia and fear spread among the crew as they question who is really still human. Making matters worse is the fact that a blizzard prevents them from making contact for help or escaping the creature. Tensions continue to escalate, and the crew is slowly picked off as this never-ending nightmare continues.
This movie is considered a classic for a variety of reasons. The acting, in combination with Carpenter’s direction, is superb. The camerawork is also excellent, with a particularly spectacular one-take shot that occurs early in the film coming to mind. The ensemble cast does a great job showcasing both the camaraderie of the men stationed at the Antarctic base and the fact that they may be more than a little sick of each other’s company. Standout performances include Kurt Russell as the protagonist R.J. MacReady, along with Keith David as Childs and Wilford Brimley as Blair.
An overall dark and violent tone is effectively juxtaposed with moments of dry humor. The film’s production design does a phenomenal job of amplifying the feelings of claustrophobia along with the brutal cold and isolation of the Antarctic. The music further compounds these feelings. Composer Ennio Morricone’s score enhances the ever-growing sense of dread and terror throughout the film. The most standout aspect of this movie, also the thing that will stay with you most after repeat viewings, is the creature effects. They are exceptional and truly disturbing to witness in action. Speaking of repeated viewings, one thing to keep note of, is the excellent use of foreshadowing throughout the runtime.
The film, despite decent box office returns, was brutalized by critics in its day. They found issues with the film’s violence (which was par for the course for horror films in the 80s) and overall bleak tone. Despite this, it gained a cult following from both sci-fi and horror fans. The aspects that critics disliked are ironically the factors that are beloved by fans. Because of this, The Thing has become influential across various mediums such as comics and video games. This film is highly recommended for fans of both sci-fi and horror, or anyone just looking for a good scare this spooky season.