Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster
Alright, here we go. With the second entry in the Shocktober horror marathon I can start to feel things start to get going with a pretty outstanding film from John Carpenter, who has done it before with Halloween, one of the few horror standards I have seen, and good enough to make it onto my Top 100 films of all time list. With the prequel set to release in the next couple of weeks, I was anxious to catch the original first to see what it was all about because I am curious to see the new one starring Joel Edgerton. This one stars Kurt Russell, and what can I say about Kurt Russell other than what happened to him? He was such a cool dude and sure, he still does stuff, but he is the type of actor whose persona seems to me, an outsider to the decade, to have dominated the 80s. Sure there were bigger stars, but Russell was right there until the early to mid 90s. He is the type of guy that I feel like should have been bigger.
In Carpenter’s The Thing, Russell plays Mac, the pilot for an American outpost on the frozen continent of Antarctica. The film hits the ground running right away as a mysterious helicopter is pursuing a husky dog, trying to kill it. It is soon learned, after the helicopter lands at the American camp and the crew are killed, that they were Norwegian researchers who had encountered a strange phenomenon. The other members of the American team must try to unravel the mystery of the Norwegians as they slowly disappear and disfigure. Wilford Brimley, Keith David and Donald Moffat co-star in this alien horror mystery.
The film had me from the word go, which is great for a horror film because when it hits the ground running as quickly as it did, the tension and mystery just build and build throughout and it’s brilliant. Carpenter crafts what I would call more of a mystery/thriller than I would a horror film, and I mean that in the best way possible. I have said that I don’t scare easily, so perhaps it is better that this would be more of a mystery given my tastes, but the fact remains that the unknown is more terrifying than the known, and Carpenter’s treatment of the “Thing” is great in that regard. Everyone is kept on their feet guessing who is human and who is not, even the audience doesn’t know. Carpenter even throws in little hints, but not until the reveal do we actually know who is who.
And the setting of the film really aided the effectiveness of the film. Putting this in the freezing, remote Antarctic outpost is perfect for everything that has to happen here. For one, paranoia. Paranoia is a compelling theme for any movie, but place it in a location where no one can go anywhere and you basically just turned it up to 11. And watching these characters basically lose trust in everything around them, but especially the people they have lived with for weeks in this secluded science center, is worth the price of admission, or in this case the price of rental.
I was impressed by John Carpenter’s ability to be patient with this material and let it evolve naturally, creating a sense of impending doom and mystery as to what the “thing” is and how it would be resolved. And the ending is exactly what needs to happen. Another thing which impressed me, and surprised me a bit, was seeing that Ennio Morricone composed the score for the film. I have loved his work in the past, but when his name came on screen I was curious to see how his style would fit with this type of film. I was also disappointed by how little his score was used, basically only using a very simple theme, which was remarkably effective, like the rest of the film. Kurt Russell was simple and effective. That is the best way I can describe this film: simple and effective. That and explosive claustrophobic paranoia.