When I saw the words “Starring Kurt Russell”, I thought I had accidentally rented Overboard or Sky High but when I saw the absolutely thrilling title card for John Carpenter’s The Thing, I was relieved and ready for this gore-filled, flame-throwing war of paranoia between an unknown being and a group of researchers.
The Thing is about a group of American researchers who encounter this unknown organism they come to call “Thing” because they do not know exactly what it is. This thing is parasitic and imitates the form of its host when it exposes itself. The horrifying storyline of this film is that we never discover what this organism’s true form is. Every time it makes an appearance, it always takes the form of the person or animal it has taken hostage.
The most praiseworthy aspect of this film is the practical effects. If there is any CGI at all in this film, it is at a bare minimum and not noticeable. The work that went into designing these forms that the thing takes and the gore left me speechless. When Wilford Brimley’s character is dissecting one of these forms, you can see the detail and complexity put in to make sure that the effects and makeup look as realistic as possible.
Another aspect that I adored while watching this film is our characters’ rapid struggle with paranoia and believing that anyone could be a form of the thing. The main conflict of this film is not between the researchers and the thing. It is everyone versus each other and their psyche. Kurt Russell’s character is the leader of this research team and he goes as far as to forcing everyone to tie themselves to a couch and cut themselves to test whether or not they are a thing. He learns that the thing will try to fight off the heat so he heats up a needle and sticks into each man’s blood sample. The great part about this scene is each man’s facial expressions shifting from tense and nervous when their blood is getting tested to relief and reassurance when their blood passes the test. It is phenomenal acting.
The setting and environment of this film, with most of it set in freezing rooms or in Alaska, adds to the paranoia and the dread of our characters because their flight-or-fight instinct is at a peak due to their battle, not only with the thing but with outside elements as well.
One of the things that lack in this film is characterization. There is no real set up or background for our researchers. They are there to fight this creature or to be killed by this creature. Their performances are still fantastic but we are not really given a reason to get behind them and feel something when they are in danger. I, more-so, found myself siding with characters who you could tell were not showing signs of being possessed by the thing.
I cannot validate it but I can see why this movie was universally panned by audiences when it originally was released due to its graphic nature and lack of characterization. That much effort put into the effects was still very rare for 1982 but it explains why this movie’s narrative has since changed in recent times.