Forty years ago this summer, John Carpenter released one of his best movies, with the terrifying, claustrophobic, and psychological fright-fest that is The Thing, which happened to be remake. Over the years, I’ve watched this landmark achievement from the “Master of Horror” more times than I can count, including once when I was way too young to a) understand the movie and b) handle some of its more traumatic moments.
With 2022 being the 40th anniversary of The Thing, and movies like Jordan Peele’s Nope making me think about it more than I have in quite some time, I decided to give it another spin and revisit U.S. Outpost #31 once again. In doing so, I had a few random thoughts about the movie, its characters, special effects, and legacy in general, and I thought this would be as good a place as any to share them…
Kurt Russell Is Just So Damn Cool In The Thing
In the past, I have gone on the record saying that Snake Plissken from Escape from New York is Kurt Russell’s most badass character, and I still stand by that after watching The Thing again. However, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that R.J. MacReady is just so damn cool in The Thing. He has a distinct look with that flowing hair and bushy beard (especially when it’s covered in ice), flies a helicopter, spends most of the movie with a flamethrower, and drinks J&R Rare Blend like it’s going out of style.
There are a lot of great characters in The Thing, but MacReady is in a league of his own. And even though his ways are a little draconian when all hell breaks loose, he’s the one person in the secluded and isolated research outpost that seems to have it figured out. Plus, is there a better response to shit getting out of hand than MacReady’s classic “first goddamn week of winter” line? I think not.
Despite Being Released 40 Years Ago, The Thing’s Special Effects Hold Up Really Well
After burning through the 2022 Disney+ documentary series, Light & Magic, which dives into Industrial Light & Magic’s impact on the industry, I’ve been thinking more and more about my favorite visual effects in movies. At the top of that list is The Thing. it’s amazing what creature designer Bob Bottin and crew were able to achieve 40 years ago with a random assortment of materials, tools, and ingenuity.
Whether it’s the Dog-Thing early in the movie or the Norris-Thing near the end, these special effects hold up really well; much better than some of the early CGI work that would follow a decade later. These practical effects give the movie a higher sense of realism and also add a timeless quality.
The Blood Test Scene Is A Masterclass In Suspense
One thing that makes sci-fi horror movies like Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing such staples of the genre is the way in which both slowly build up tension to a boiling point. In the case of Carpenter’s 1982 classic, this is quite literal. In the final stretch of the movie, none of the survivors really know who is human and who is the shapeshifting alien, leading to the classic blood test scene.
This scene is a masterclass in suspense and is one of my favorite in any sci-fi movie. It’s simple (R.J. MacReady figures out the alien blood will avoid extreme heat and so he put a heated wire in containers of each survivor’s blood) and effective as you don’t know who has been assimilated until the tension is at its peak. And then after building up for several minutes, it exploded into one of the most terrifying scenes of the movie.
The Thing Is So Much More Than A Standard Alien Movie
If you saw The Thing while randomly scrolling through a streaming service or at a movie store, you’d probably think it was just another alien movie, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Sure, on the surface it’s a movie about an alien eating and assimilating humans, but it becomes so much more than that as the story unfolds.
This is a movie about paranoia and mistrust of your fellow man and how isolation and fear can further exacerbate the situation. More times than not, it’s the humans’ own fear of one another that makes the situation get out of hand, allowing the alien to hide in the shadows and sometimes even in plain sight.
I Can’t Believe Critics Didn’t Like The Movie Upon Release
If you look at the Rotten Tomatoes page for The Thing, you’ll see that the movie is “Certified Fresh” with an 83% critic score, but John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror film wasn’t also so beloved. In fact, upon its release in June 1982, the movie was largely panned by critics, with the late Vincent Canby of the New York Times opening his negative review by describing it as “foolish, depressing, and overproduced.” Even Roger Ebert, who loved horror movies like Dawn of the Dead, gave The Thing two-and-a-half stars in a review in which he called it a “barf-bag movie.” But Ebert, who passed away in 2013, also hated quite a few beloved movies.
Was it too dark, too nihilistic, too gory for reviewers? The same can be said about audiences, as the movie only made around $19.6 million at the box office upon release, per BoxOfficeMojo.
You Could Have Seen The Thing And E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial Back-To-Back In Theaters
Here’s something I didn’t think about until recently: The Thing and E.T. the Extra-terrestrial came out within two weeks of one another in June 1982, meaning you could have sat through one hell of a double-feature at your local theater 40 years ago. Imagine watching Henry Thomas’ Elliot and E.T. form an emotional connection and then two hours later watching a shapeshifting alien build a whole different kind of bond with humans. Also, I wonder if any parents bought a ticket to The Thing to appease their children after E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was sold out.
Other Random Thoughts About The Thing
Those aren’t the only thoughts I have about The Thing and its legacy 40 years after its release. Below are some shorter ideas that also ran through my head on my most recent rewatch.
- Ennio Morricone’s Score Is Nothing Short Of Brilliant
- This Is Still One Of My Favorite John Carpenter Movies
- Wilford Brimley’s Meltdown Is Both Over The Top And Tragic
- Let’s Just Act Like The 2011 Prequel Doesn’t Exist
All in all, The Thing is a movie that I never really get tired of watching. In my opinion, it’s one of the best horror movies of all time as well as an all-time great sci-fi flick, and it’s impact can still be felt all these years later.
Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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