Just in time for Halloween, Dustin explains why John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ remains ahead of the curve even by today’s horror standard.
Hello and Happy Halloween from all of us here at HefferBrew. In honor of the holiday, we have a very special Movie That Rules, John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Grab a change of pants, hit the lights and brace yourself cause this is what horror is all about.
This movie is nothing but a two-hour nightmare factory to anyone unfortunate enough to come across it late at night. Itself a remake of “The Thing From Another World,” director John Carpenter was able to make the movie his own by utilizing a claustrophobic setting, a solid lead performance from Kurt Russell and his beard and truly terrifying makeup effects.
The story is a basic horror plot that finds a group of men stranded in the Artic for the winter watching a military base and after they witness a dog being chased by a helicopter and some snipers (seriously, it’s sweet) they find evidence that a previous group has seen some misfortune after finding something not of this world. Soon, the group doesn’t know who to trust as literally anyone could be the shape-shifting thing we are promised in the title.
Early on it seems like the movie is dragging a bit, but it becomes clear pretty quickly that Carpenter is merely setting us up for the terror and chaos to come. When it comes, and oh does it come, the rapid-fire scares, gore and monsters relentlessly hit you so hard, you can hardly comprehend everything that’s happening.
As previously mentioned, Kurt Russell and his beard carry this movie as R.J. MacReady, the leader of the group, but the chemistry shared by the entire cast overall is top-notch and makes the situation that much more realistic. Each character gets a chance to shine, whether it be as human or something else.
The real draw here though is the creature effects, done by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston (there’s literally nothing he didn’t do badass effects for) and they hold up even now, 30 years later.
What makes them work is how they enhance the scares as opposed to take away from them; the real fear comes from not knowing who will transform next and the seamless effects don’t disappoint.
“The Thing” contains a handful of scenes widely considered some of the scariest scenes in all of horror, let’s take a look at a few of those to really highlight how badass this movie is.
The Dog Kennel-
Everything looks cool right? Just a dog that should be cute but is kind of unsettling because you’re not too sure you can trust it heading into its’ kennel for bedtime. Then all hell breaks loose! Clearly not concerned with upsetting any animal lovers (seriously, this film got mad hate mail from animal organizations) the dog in question’s face splits open and it starts tentacle-grabbing all the other dogs as they bark and shriek in horror. This is the first major “Oh shit” effects moment of the movie and it doesn’t disappoint, but it also doesn’t quite prepare you for “things” (OH, cheap pun!) to come.
THE Ol’ DEFIBRILLATOR INCIDENT-
“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE!?” You can read it all over Kurt Russell’s gloriously bearded face if you’re not too busy jumping behind the couch in search of shelter. The best part of this whole scene is the relentlessness of it all, you think the chest caving in, suddenly having teeth and biting the hands off of the Dr. that’s just trying to save what he thinks is his colleague’s life is it but you are sorely mistaken. The gaping chest whole suddenly spews all sorts of green slime before a head with spider legs appears, Kurt Russell then blasts the monster with a handy flame thrower and all should be good. BUT NO! It’s not even close to being done, it seems they, and us, have forgotten about the actual body and not just the terrible monster exploding out of its’ chest. The actual guys’ head then separates from the body, grows some more tentacles cause this thing is all about tentacles, and it starts to crawl away before being blasted by a flame thrower. This is definitely “Oh shit” moment two and possibly “pause and walk away to gather your thoughts” moment one. This is what jump scares are all about, there’s instant payoff, none of this “a chandelier is going to fall while it’s really quiet” (looking at you “Paranormal Activity 4.)
If these first two scenes haven’t convinced you that this movie is awesome, then you’re probably crazy and will never know good horror if it slaps you with its’ machete/chainsaw/clawed/knife wielding hand. That said, I’ve got one more argument on this movie’s behalf and it’s a doozy.
It’s ok guys, it’s just a movie, I understand that this might have been a bit much so take a second and compose yourself.
Take a breath.
Gather your thoughts.
Good? Ok cool, moving on; OH MY GOD THIS SHIT IS NUTS! Directly inspired by what went down in the scene above, Kurt Russell realizes that the monster is interested in protecting itself anyway necessary and that at any perceived threat it will break apart in an attempt to get away, each piece somehow being able to complete survive. MacReady decides the only way to decide who isn’t what they say they are is to use a hot needle to dip into dishes of blood, with the infected blood reacting negatively to the threat. Of course, he decides the best way to do this is to tie everyone he’s testing to a couch and have someone hold a flamethrower to them while he performs the test with his own flamethrower. The older man in the group exclaims how stupid he thinks all of it is which instantly has MacReady as well as anyone watching the movie convinced he’s the Thing, so MacReady decides they’ll test his blood last but surprise, it’s not him! As MacReady tests the next guys’ blood, it suddenly springs to life as the guy melts; the shittiest part of this for all involved is that the majority of them are tied to the couch right next to him. It manages to escape the couch rope and kill MacReady’s trusted flamethrower handler, MacReady then blasts it himself but it manages to crash through the wall and escape.
At this point, if you’re not convinced that this movie is two-hours of badass 80’s horror than you’ll likely never be sold on it. However, just take into consideration that most of today’s modern horror masters cite this movie as a huge influence. It revolutionized how good special effects could be considering there was no heavy reliance on computers, just puppetry that still looks convincing by today’s standards. In a world full of “Hostel,” “Saw,” remakes, sequels and prequels, “The Thing” still manages to be one of the best films out there for horror fans looking for a late-night scarefest.
Dustin Brewer is co-creator of HefferBrew. He considers himself a huge fan of the horror genre and is happy to discuss the pros and cons of horror movies of any decade on Twitter @dstnbrwr, here in the comments section or you can like HefferBrew on Facebook to continue the conversation.