First things first; this is not a film for dog lovers.
An edit, about twenty minutes into the film changes the tone from alarming to hardcore impending doom. Then the scene fades to black as Dr. Blair looks down at his papers and the terrible statistics on them; in the event of the creature getting out of the isolated facility and straight into the masses. This cements the trepidation in the viewers’ minds; not because of what it can do outside but what it has done in the isolated research station – what the fuck happened to the Norwegian camp? Why was the guy in the chopper so hell-bent on killing the dog? Now, after thirty-four years it seems all (very well) said and done, but back then audiences were scared witless even before creature-show n’ tell. A macho, Kurt Russell (MacReady – for Pete’s sake), dingus party, crude, almost B-grade Aliens was happening all over again, however with a more homespun mindset and with Carpenter at the simple yet nerve-rattling orchestral arrangements again. Constructing his film from the novella ” Who Goes There?,” by John W. Campbell Jr. Mr. Halloween gives us a tale of claustrophobic cosmic infection and loneliness and trust and how it diminishes as the movie progresses, only to be replaced by pristine paranoia.
Then suddenly The X-Files happens, boom; we have visual of a spaceship buried billions of years ago. Again, I can attempt at sarcasm but it must be read seriously for the film does not give relief throughout its 109 scary as fuck minutes, even when R.J. MacReady (for Pete’s sake) has burned the shithouse to the ground. It must be taken seriously for the film has aged masterfully well with its famous creature design, to its silent tracking shots of long corridors where we watch Kurt Russell run in delirium, to its unwrinkled and melancholic cinematography by the Carpenter regular Dean Cundey to the creature effects by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston to the stop motion, which is smoother than witnessed in Robocop, released five years later. No disrespect meant to Part Man, part Machine… You know how it goes.
Anyway, so this John–Assault on Precinct 13–Carpenter guy is a genius who knows how to scare the fire out of your loins and make you all uneasy at the sight of some random image. This man scares you with everyday things. The Thing makes us wary of ourselves, I suppose it is for the themes of innate fear and distrust smoothly flowing beneath the surface. Just watch Bennings and his antics carefully and you’ll see.
We have a Karl Marx Snake Plissken, we have Smirnoff, we have die-hard researchers, survivalists, isolation, below forty fucking degrees, J&B Scotch, corpses, a shitload of them by the forty-minute mark, John-Dark Star-Carpenter builds up slow with violent hiccups, which create the illusion of ongoing brutality but hey, it’s just men tying each other to the sofa. It does not sound right at all, but looks great.
Then we have the performances; Norris stops in his tracks to immaculate timing and reaction, the look of resignation on MacReady‘s (for Fuch‘s sake) face reminded me of Brad Pitt from Se7en. Pitt was still playing with his Joes when Russell was playing Snake Plissken. The acting is a notch above the B sensitivities of the film and thus makes it even more serious and somber; take a close look at the scene where the name, The Thing is given to the creature at about the one hour mark.
The nights in the film have a mood of their own. Sometimes they’re a luminescent blue, at others a fiery orange and then grey with a slight tinge of green; decay. The now-famous synth score by Ennio Morricone is usually effective, separate orchestral and synthesizer scores and a combined score that fulfilled Carpenter’s requirements. However, the director couldn’t help himself and used only ten minutes from Morricone ‘s music and replaced it with electronic sounds, almost tones; simple background sounds, something, which may be considered as sound effects today.
All praises aside, we know this motherfucker, Assault on Precinct 13 guy is one smart sob when R. J. Macready (oh for heaven’s sake) plays God and gets it all wrong. Like how the film opened to seething rage and awfully negative reviews, being called boring and a wretched excess and even the most hated film of all time: banal, repulsive, nihilistic and despairing – the feedback was discarding across the board, like how Pauline Kael had called Alien, 1979; “[sic] more gripping than entertaining, but a lot of people didn’t mind. They thought it was terrific, because at least they’d felt something: they’d been brutalized“. However, she did change the way she perceived the film, saying that the film had scared her so much that she could only think of how it had harassed her senses upon initial viewing, making her angry and desperate at a subconscious level.
John Carpenter was even called the “pornographer of violence”. But things did change once the film settled into the collective conscience, a few months later, when the film was released on VHS. Suddenly the critique changed to heavy praise, with The Thing being called Carpenter’s finest, most accomplished and underrated achievement. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz even said that it “is one of the greatest and most elegantly constructed B-movies ever made“. The joint consensus changed from hateful to pure admiration, calling theThe Thing a “tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects” and also making the picture a part of the 500 best films ever made & “The greatest genre remake of all time“. The audience and the critics could now see – after the dust had settled – that The Thing was something special, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror. The same things that had repulsed the viewers upon its release.
Strange world we live in.
A compelling tense masterpiece, that makes you think twice.
The Thing, 1982 is available to stream on Amazon Prime, and a Blu-ray can be bought by clicking on the image above.