The Eighties Fever: ‘The Thing’ (1982)

What happens when you review thirty year old films from the perspective of someone who gets classified as a millennial, but wouldn’t really consider himself one? With both popular and obscure films on the list, it’s a mixture of new insights into old films, all while celebrating what might just be the greatest decade ever. This is The Eighties Fever.

Viewing: First Time

I’ve owned The Thing on Blu-ray for almost a year now, but never got around to watching it. Finally, through the persistence of a couple friends, I sat down and watched it. The horror genre owes a great deal to John Carpenter. Without him, I doubt we’d have as many iconic horror films that get watched on an annual basis.

The Thing is a 1982 science-fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter (Halloween). The film stars Kurt Russell in the lead role as R.J. MacReady, but he’s surrounded by a great cast of supporting characters. In fact, the film hinges on the performances of the cast, as without them giving it a 110% The Thing wouldn’t work as well as it does. Let me explain.

The film begins with a helicopter trailing a dog running through the Alaska snowy tundra. A man begins firing at the dog from the helicopter attempting to kill it. The dog manages to make it to an American research station, and upon landing, the man from the helicopter is shot after firing randomly and yelling in Norwegian. It all seems pretty strange. The Americans at the research station sure think so. However, upon investigation of the Norwegian camp where the helicopter came from, MacReady and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) discover a slightly burned corpse of a human that is anything but human.

The two take the body back to their camp for further study. A bit later, the dog the Norwegian tried to kill has been locked up with the other dogs in the kennel. It is here we find out that the dog is a shapeshifting alien, as it devours a dog to try and take its form. The Americans are alerted and destroy the creature. Or have they?

This is the central crux to the story, and it is what got me hooked. It’s the idea that this shape shifting alien parasite has potentially infected more than just a dog in its time at the American camp. And this is where the acting is so crucial, because the viewers are just like the characters in the movie; we’re trying to figure out who’s been infected, and who hasn’t. It’s this type of slow burn, as I call it, that I enjoy in horror movies. It’s this dreaded sense of distrust among a group, and seeing it come between in ways the main threat wouldn’t be able to achieve.

Speaking of the ‘threat’, this alien parasite, the practical effects used to achieve its shapeshifting powers are remarkable if not astounding. How did this film not win an Oscar? Of course, sometimes the effects are a bit too grotesque for my liking, but in that regard I think the film’s achieved its purpose. The effects of the shapeshifting aren’t anywhere near as important as the performances of the parasite once it’s finished shapeshifting, but both work in a symbiotic nature.

Unfortunately, not every part of this film is pure gold. The film does hinge on the horror cliché of everyone acting stupid at moments. For example, the Americans find out that the parasite only attacks when it can get them one-on-one, so why would the Americans ever do anything if not in a group? People are just chilling by themselves, or going off on a walk, and I’m going, “What are you doing? This is so stupid, you all just need to stay together?!” Of course, if they did that the movie probably would have turned out differently, but it is frustrating watching them go off on their own and get killed because I’m sitting here going, “Big shock.”

The ending makes up for that though. I’m not a huge fan of ambiguous endings, but horror movies seem to love using this trope. Yet, The Thing manages to use it quite effectively. MacReady has blown up the base and the assumption is that the parasite is also dead. However, MacReady has somehow survived the explosion and collapses into the snow. A figure in a winter coat appears in the backdrop. For a moment, I thought this was going to be the real MacReady and we’d be dealt with a who’s who sort of situation. Instead, it’s Childs (Keith David) who apparently got lost in the snow. There’s some tension between the two since either one of them could be the parasite. However, both just admit defeat as they’re both going to slowly freeze in the snow, so they acknowledge their distrust towards one another and share a bottle of scotch between them as they await their fate. I was thinking MacReady might just blow both of them up with an extra stick of dynamite, but this ambiguous ending works in the film’s favor. It leaves the viewer wondering whether the parasite made it out of the explosion alive or not.

Final Verdict: The Thing benefits from a solid storyline and more than capable actors handling the material they were given with. Kurt Russell is obviously the main draw to get you to watch this film, but so far I would say this is his best collaboration with Carpenter. There are more than enough twists and cop outs to keep you second guessing on who these characters should be trusting, and enough action and thrills to keep you engaged. It does suffer occasionally from some classic horror clichés but those are minor compared to the triumph of cinematic delight that unfolds before the viewer on the screen. Seriously, if you haven’t checked out The Thing, hunt it down immediately. You won’t be disappointed.

Grade: 8.2/10