John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982) USA / R / 109 min / 8.2 IMDB / IMDB Top 250 #147 / IMDB Horror #5 / IMDB rank 1,044

By Roger Malcolm / Oct. 2012


John Carpenter’s The Thing is a horror masterpiece. Based on a 1930’s story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. it’s written for the screen by Bill Lancaster. Lancaster famous for writing the classic Bad News Bears. Originally released two weeks after Steven Speilberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982 and alongside Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic Blade Runner, The Thing faced tough similar-genre competition. While E.T. was capturing the hearts and dollars of American families, The Thing with its shocking horrors struggled to find success amongst its competition at the box office, costing Carpenter his job on his next film. Fortunately with the home video explosion of the eighties, The Thing was rediscovered and has become one of the most appreciated and loved horror films of all time.

A research team alone on Antarctica comes across an extraterrestrial that has been discovered in a spaceship below the ice. Only instead of eating Reese’s Pieces, this E.T. devours and absorbs other organisms, eventually replicating them flawlessly. Suspicions rise as each character becomes less trusting of the other, with the tension transcending the screen as the viewer no longer knows which character might be The Thing or just another victim. The characters ask each other – as we ask ourselves – the horrifying question of “How do we know who’s human?” The answer – we don’t or at least not until it’s too late.

The story truly is captivating, horrifying you throughout. An examination of comradery put to the test with an all-male cast, lead by Kurt Russell, who in one scene we can clearly watch feel the blast of a single stick of dynamite – WHAMO!. Russell stars as R.J. MacReady, chess-playing alcoholic helicopter pilot (and perhaps a leftover Veteran from Vietnam)- the perfect characteristics for a hero in a Hollywood Picture – or more appropriately a Universal Picture – or even more fitting a Universal Horror!

Starring as Childs in his first film, Keith David – who would go on to work with Carpenter on They Live – has become one of the busiest actors in all of Hollywood, including voice work in TV, video games, animated films, music albums and narrating documentaries, to performing in musicals on Broadway. Also starring are veteran actor Wilford Brimley playing Dr. Blair and T.K. Carter as Nauls. Carter later went on in the eighties to play character Mike Fulton, the cool & lovable Head Caseworker at Fenster Hall on Punky Brewster. The only trace of feminine existence in this film is the chess computer voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, then wife of John Carpenter – who MacReady calls a “cheating bitch.”

John Carpenter astounds us with his suspenseful direction through scenes that leave us feeling frost-bitten, paranoid and isolated in a beautifully-lit nocturnal Antarctic locale. Masterfully scored by Ennio Morricone, famous for his spaghetti-western scores of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy starring Clint Eastwood and, in my opinion the greatest western of all time, Once Upon a Time In the West (1968). The cinematography is astounding, with icy cool blues against stark white snow, the warm reds of flickering flairs, or bright whites spraying across scenes from the vicious flamethrower, and the blackest of dark corners and hallways around every frame, suffocating any chance of survival.

John Carpenter considers The Thing the first of his Apocalypse Trilogy, a trilogy of films with stories consisting of bleak outlooks for his characters in apocalyptic settings. The cherry on top of any horror film is an ending that will continue to horrify you well after viewing the film. One that sticks with you for days…and nights. An ending in which Man does not come out on top. The Thing, with its apocalyptic ending, is in my opinion the greatest horror film of all time. Recognize or be replicated.

Best Death – Our characters are suffering from extreme paranoia. Assuming the worst – that another character has been taken over – the doctor takes defibrillator pads and begins applying them to the chest of the character; when his chest splits open horizontally, it reveals hideous spearhead-like teeth which savagely rip both arms off the doctor. The doctor screams as blood drips out of his stubs and falls backwards onto the floor.

Best Scene – With the suspense rising and the shocks coming from all directions, one of our characters – Garry, played by Donald Moffat – finds himself tied to a couch under suspicions of being infected. After being cleared by a blood test confirming him as human, he very calmly expresses to the rest, “ I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!”

Palmer: Childs, it happens all the time, man. They’re falling out of the sky like flies. Government knows all about it, right, Mac?

Palmer: Childs, Childs… Chariots of the Gods, man. They practically own South America. I mean, they taught the Incas everything they know.

Published by

Roger Malcolm

An absent-minded plothole, as far as narratives go, so it seems...

One thought on “John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s