Released in 1982, John Carpenter’s The Thing has emerged as one of the most popular cult classic movies of the modern era.
It’s one heck of a creepy film, with psychological trickery and claustrophobia in use due to the nature of the monster and its alarming shapeshifting abilities.
In 1982, its chances at the box office were ruined by Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (the latter was also affected by the success of E.T.).
The Thing was knocked out of the limelight. On a budget of $15 million, in America it only made back $19.5 million, meaning the film was considered a commercial failure.
As of 2020, it’s recognised as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Its groundbreaking use of practical models, created by special effects genius Rob Bottin, look startling today—especially when compared to the overuse of CGI.
Kurt Russell stars as the beard-sporting protagonist R.J. McReady. He and a small American crew is stationed in Antarctica at a research facility when a nearby Norwegian camp triggers off an unusual incident.
Investigating the other camp, the Americans discover a grotesquely deformed, seemingly alien corpse and bring it in for tests.
After this, a terrifying psychological horror story emerges where it’s unclear who is human and if anyone can ever be trusted.
The film is a remake of The Thing From Another World (1951), whilst the works of H.P. Lovecraft were also a source of inspiration for Carpenter as he developed the concept.
Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) also played its part—thanks to that, sci-fi horror was very much trendy.
And like Scott’s horror masterpiece, the first half of The Thing ramps up the sense of tension and claustrophobia. Scenes such as the one above, where the character Bennings is assimilated, merely hint at what’s going on with this bizarre creature.
The entire production is impressive stuff for 1982, although not for the squeamish, but the fantastic performances and brilliant soundtrack make it stand the test of time.
The music was created by Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Due to negative initial critical feedback to the film, the score (bizarrely and idiotically) received a Razzie. Thankfully, it’s now seen as something of a movie soundtrack classic.
Later in the film everything gets ramped up a notch as Carpenter delivers the special effects and gore in spectacular fashion.
Arguably the most famous moment is the legendary chest defibrillation scene.
An overwhelming sense of paranoia is what the film promotes as the cast descends into near madness wondering if anyone else has already been assimilated.
As trust goes out of the window, primordial survival instincts kick in. Why can you trust?
The Thing ultimately concludes with a famously open-ended scene. After researching it in depth online, it still has fans debating the living daylights out of its potential meaning.
And Kurt Russell’s delivery of that line is utterly fantastic, “Where were you Childs?”
And the ending has triggered off all manner of debate amongst fans (and the film’s stars) over whether either of them is the Thing.
The theory we like is McCready hands Childs a bottle of petrol. When the latter takes a swig and doesn’t flinch, the former realises he’s still up against the monster. It’s a theory, but one heck of an existential cliffhanger.
Anyway, although The Thing failed in 1982 it’s now considered an example of what Hollywood should be doing in the modern era.
Rather than relying on increasingly tedious CGI to deliver the aesthetic goods, go back to practical effects.
And why? Carpenter’s film is a scary, claustrophobic classic. Whilst not quite at the heights of Alien, it’s nevertheless a brilliant film that’ll stick with you for a lifetime.
In 2011, Hollywood rolled out a controversial prequel telling the events leading up to the 1982 film.
To be fair, we think it’s a decent enough film and perfectly enjoyable – a lot of effort clearly went into its production.
With the ongoing debate about CGI in modern films (i.e. there’s too much of the stuff) and the original being so famous for its landmark practical effects, there was a major push to ensure the 2011 version honoured the original.
But during production, the studio flipped and demanded CGI be added to replace the practical effects work (which had already been completed by Amalgamated Dynamics), resulting in hasty additions of dodgy looking CGI.
This annoyed a lot of fans and the result wasn’t as good as it should have been, which once again raised the regular complaint of CGI being a lazy addition to many contemporary films.
Recent critically acclaimed blockbusters such as Mad Max: Fury Road and Dunkirk have since rectified this by applying top quality CGI alongside dramatic practical effects.
That helps to balance the two out to perfection, indicating where the future should go for Hollywood.
After 2011’s The Thing debacle, and continued negative feedback about the overuse of CGI, let’s hope this balance is maintained to greater effect in future. Eh?