I have mentioned before that I love horror movies, even if most of them are god awful. The Thing is by far my favorite. Hell, it is probably in my top 10, or even 5, movies in general. It is directed by John Carpenter, who is the creator of the Halloween franchise, and stars Kurt Russell.
The premise is that a crew working in the Antarctic is stuck at their base with an alien species. This species can absorb, and mimic the appearance, voice, memories, and personality of any living thing. For instance, it infiltrates the camp by mimicking a Huskey. The premise allows for some great psychological horror. The crew doesn’t know who is a Thing. It breeds distrust and paranoia.
The thing that really makes this movie, is its atmosphere. Atmosphere can make or break a horror movie. It is the difference between making a movie jumpy, and genuinely scary. Any movie can make you jump. It is incredibly easy. Just look at the Paranormal Activity movies. All those movies have to do is make a chair move or a door slam, and people scream in the theater. But that is not the same as being scary. Jump Scares are a temporary scare. It vanishes as quick as it came, and it does not stick with you.
True horror lasts. It keeps you up later at night. It keeps you tense throughout the movie. That is what The Thing is. I am not sure if there is even single jump scare in the movie. I guess you could maybe count the famous chest compressor scene, where the dude’s stomach opens up. But that is not really the same kind of jump scare. It is scary and sudden and may make you jump, but it does not come with the usual, “WOMP” sound effect modern jump scares come with.
Instead of building the horror and suspense by just throwing loud soud effects at the audience, this movie builds it by, like I said, making the character paranoid. But not only that, making the audience paranoid. We do not know who is a Thing either. We get little hints, but no clear indication of who has been absorbed. It allows for multiple watchings because you want to keep going back and seeing when people become Things.
A lot of horror movies have problems with the characters. The characters are either excessively stupid, annoying, or forgettable. There have been many horror movies, where a character will die, and I have no clue who they are. Alien Covenant is a good example of this. They had all these characters, and we only really knew anything about maybe 5 of them. The rest were just cannon fodder, a number to add to the kill count. But the characters in The Thing are all memorable. In the same way, Alien did. We didn’t get a full backstory on these characters, but we know them by their personality. I wish for Horror movies would take just a little bit of time to introduce us to the characters. Not too much time, we do not need the full biography of them. But like in both The Thing and the first two Alien movies, just a good sense of who they are. Make them look physically distinct as well. The Thing does all of these Things. The characters maybe aren’t all deep, but they are at least all memorable. It makes the weight of each death so much heavier when we can recognize the character who is dying.
But they aren’t just memorable, they are also smart. It is so rare to see a horror movie where the characters make smart choices. There is a line from Kurt Russells character MacReady.
I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human.
This is such a great line and is indicative of the point I am making. These are smart characters caught in an impossible situation. They will act rash at times, but not because they are idiots like what happens in most horror movies, but because the situation is making them paranoid. The characters come up with a brilliant plan to test who is a Thing or not. They discover that each cell of The Thing has a self-preservation instinct. So they take blood from each survivor and test it by taking fire to it. If the blood jumps out of the way, obviously that person is a thing. Not only does this make for a beautifully tense scene, but it just makes the character seem smart.
The movie also has amazing practical effects. Just take a look at one of it’s most famous scenes.
The practical effects here look so grossly beautiful. Real care and effort go into making the effects, and it pays off. The prequel that came out in 2011 tried to use CGI, and it ruined the movie.
For me, the movie hits every single note a horror movie should hit. In a genre that produces so much lazy trash, it is a beacon of what film should be. Many people who say Alien is their favorite horror film, and I wouldn’t argue with that, but for me, The Thing is the best.