Top Horror Films – #5 – The Thing
1982; directed by John Carpenter; screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from the story by John W. Campbell, Jr.
John: The best remake ever made. I feel this movie is the best killer alien movie around, besting even the Alien series. Strong performances from a cast of good character actors, unrelenting tension, and a pounding score by Ennio Morricone make this a perfect horror film from THE master of horror, John Carpenter.
Allen: Although there have been plenty of films where a group of people are stuck in one place with a dangerous force terrorizing them, few have done it as well as John Carpenter’s The Thing. One of the few remakes that has arguably surpassed its original, the film is an achievement of storytelling and special effects. Once the alien being invades the scientists’ Antarctic base, the film dives headfirst into its narrative, not stopping for a moment while we watch them being taken apart one by one.
The great twist that The Thing incorporates here is that its monster has the ability to take on human form. Because of that, we are uncertain as to which person the alien has taken over, if any at all. This leads to moments of great suspense, highlighted by a scene where Kurt Russell’s character tests the blood of each of the remaining scientists, with sudden and shocking results. A great film that, despite being over twenty years old, still has the technical finesse and special effect mastery to unnerve even the most modern of movie audiences.
Ben: Over his lengthy career, John Carpenter has often cited the legendary Hollywood director Howard Hawks as one of his biggest inspirations. The film Assault on Precinct 13 is practically a retelling as much as it is a homage of Hawks’ classic western, Rio Bravo. It seems then only fitting that Carpenter would take on the task of remaking Hawks’ sci-fi horror film The Thing from Another World; however, what Carpenter delivered was far closer to the story’s original source material, John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella Who Goes There?, than Hawks’ somewhat campy take that confined the creature to a humanoid like form.
To help establish this gap of a difference between the original film and his own, Carpenter assembled a team of some of the best craftsman in the industry. In a surprising and interesting twist, Carpenter, who normally scores his own films, hired the great Italian film composer Ennio Morricone to take over the music duties. Carpenter’s film scores are very much influenced by Italian movie composers; where I would normally be disappointed in the lack of Carpenter behind his keyboards, I instead could think of no one better to help set the atmospheric and eerie tone the film encompasses. The movie’s gore and creature effects, which make it even more terrifyingly arresting, were provided by a young up-and comer-named Rob Bottin, who had worked with Carpenter previously on The Fog. As for the story, screenwriter Bill Lancaster strips the narrative of unnecessary exposition and whittles it down to a precise roller coaster ride, where the lack of information puts you into the same horrific unknown the characters experience. This is one of the film’s greatest achievements.
Carpenter works seamlessly to craft a film that builds tension upon tension, with the isolated setting, the sudden onset of something otherworldly stalking them as prey, and then the film’s finest touch—who is the Thing? The creature, which can inhabit the form of other beings it comes into contact with, creates a sense of paranoia that, on top of the isolation, only raises the stakes even higher. It also touched on, at that time, the sense of political paranoia that was the Cold War. As the movie progresses and a broader view of the truth becomes apparent, the characters are forced to confront which of them is possibly not who, or what, they claim to be. This is, to me, one of the greatest suspense scenes ever filmed; the pacing, the editing, the score, and of course the acting, are all so superbly balanced. Kurt Russell, Carpenter’s go-to hero at that time, is at his best as pilot R.J. Macready, whose attempt to keep his feet grounded amongst the fantastic chaos, and stay human, makes him one of horror film’s greatest protagonists. After many viewings over even more years, I can still say this scene—nay, this film—is just as effective today as it was in 1982. In my opinion this is John Carpenter’s best film and one of my favorite movies of all time.
Ed: First of all, Wilford Brimley dies. You have to love any movie that does that. Secondly, what happens to the poor dog… sad and wrong. Third, the scene with everyone tied up while they test the blood samples with heat…terrific. And fourth, one of the best endings to a movie ever. The fact that it’s ambiguous at the end is great.
Ben – #1
Spencer – #2
John – #4
Jeremy – #4
Brandi – #11
Ed – #13
Allen – #16