THE THING REVIEW

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The Thing was released in 1982 and has gained a large cult following.

Matt Davis, Guest Writer

John Carpenter’s The Thing was released on June 25, 1982, the same summer that audiences all over the world were falling in love with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a fun adventure film about a young boy befriending an alien from another world. As such, the film opened to generally negative reviews, with many believing it had nothing more to offer than gross-out scares and a rather bleak and nihilistic view of the world that many audience members did not care much for.

The film only grossed a little under twenty-million dollars against a fifteen-million-dollar budget, and it would not have been surprising if it simply slipped away into obscurity, remembered only as a relic of the 80s, a fun movie for young boys (and girls) to pull out of their father’s collection of old VHS tapes.

However, The Thing has developed a cult following over the years since its release with many praising the film for its technical achievements and many labeling it director John Carpenter’s magnum opus, the crowning achievement of his career. It has also garnered a reputation as a masterclass in suspense and creating tension, adored by film buffs and average filmgoers alike, and the film’s overall influence in pop culture as a whole can be felt to this day in properties like Stranger Things and even Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. But what makes the film such an enduring classic when everything seemed to be stacked against it from the very beginning? 

The film tells the story of a group of scientists isolated in the Antarctic wilderness who are stalked and systematically assimilated by an unknown creature from another world that takes on the form of those whom it consumes. Now, without any means of communication with the outside world, the scientists are forced into a war against an enemy that has already infiltrated their ranks, and as the temperature continues to drop, the paranoia and tension continue to climb to the breaking point. 

Alongside veteran cinematographer and collaborator Dean Cundey, Carpenter crafts a setting defined by palpable tension and suspense through moody lighting and a color palette made primarily of blues. Cundey employs the harsh shadows and strong contrast between light and darkness that is so evocative in his other Carpenter collaborations here to a chilling effect when coupled with Carpenter’s direction. The two men and their crew stretched their fifteen-million-dollar budget as far as they could, and as a result, they all managed to create a both beautiful and frightening world for the characters to occupy and the audience to get lost in.

The special effects on display in this film are legendary among the horror community. Rob Botin was only twenty-three years old when he took on the task of creating the grizzly and horrific monster effects on display. Botin was clearly allowed to let his talent and imagination run wild as he set out to convey what a shapeshifting monstrosity with no discernable form or shape might look like. It is in the humble opinion of this reviewer that Botin achieved this goal with flying colors, considering the fact that many, if not all, of the effects still hold up to this day. Some of these effects were so lifelike and gruesome that they made several cast members sick to their stomach just looking at them. What an effect!

Although it has a limited ensemble, The Thing offers a well-fleshed out cast that makes up with personality for what it lacks in substantial backstory. Every character has a quality about them that makes them unique and stand out to the audience, even if their names are not always memorable and something easily picked up on first viewing. Kurt Russel as R.J. MacReady is the star of the show in more ways than just being the lead. While being the resident handyman of the group who is naturally the de facto leader when everything starts to go to pot, Russell manages to keep MacReady grounded and a relatable lead throughout by interjecting a sense of humor that is cocky enough without being arrogant.

Despite a less than lukewarm response upon its initial release, The Thing continues to pique the interest of those fascinated by well-constructed suspense, as well as some good old-fashioned gooey monster scares, with its state-of-the-art special effects, stellar performances from all involved, and John Carpenter’s talented direction. What is there not to love?

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