Ridley Scott's original Alien was on TV recently, so naturally, I watched. It's an undeniable classic of the horror genre, but while the film efficiently delivers a creepy atmosphere that has seldom been topped in the years since its release, there was something about the movie that didn't quite sit right. Being younger than the Alien franchise itself, I eventually came to realize that the omnipresence of the Xenomorph in pop culture had decreased the monster's effectiveness over the years, and my mind eventually wandered to the horror genre as a whole. It was at that moment that I realized something that has sat with me ever since: despite being almost as old as Alien, I'd argue John Carpenter's The Thing remains the single greatest creature feature in the history of the horror genre, simply because we still know almost nothing about The Thing.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Thing, allow us to get you up to speed. The 1982 horror-thriller focuses on a group of American scientists and military officers who stumble upon a crashed alien spacecraft in the middle of Antarctica and a nearby Norwegian outpost that has been completely destroyed from the inside. Eventually, our heroes (led by Kurt Russell as the iconic R.J. MacReady) learn that "The Thing" from the ship can absorb and mimic any human being, thus resulting in a constant state of fear and suspicion over who is (and is not) The Thing.
Here's the thing (pun very much intended), that's all the information that we really get about the titular alien over the course of the film. Although we get some truly haunting encounters with the various forms that it takes during the runtime of the story, John Carpenter always maintains the point of view of the men trying to stay alive in the remote installation. We never get insight into the true nature of The Thing, and to this very day audiences still have no idea what the alien creature truly even looked like.
After all, in one scene of the film, we watch as the Norris Thing sprouts spider-like appendages and separates its victim's body from his head in an attempt to flee a fire.
That's the beauty of The Thing. Every encounter with it is uniquely different, and it can be because the film's explanation of the alien remains so loosely defined. There are a few key traits that fans know and accept (The Thing cannot mimic inorganic material, The Thing can survive in cold but not heat, etc.), but for the most part, John Carpenter and the folks behind that first movie crafted a perfect movie monster with a minimal number of rules. Think about it; we still don't even know if The Thing was the pilot of the ship that crashed in Antarctica, or if it was cargo that got loose and killed the pilot. It's that level of mystery that makes a horror movie timeless.
Circling back to Alien, compare that to the evolution of the Xenomorph. What started as a mysterious and unnamed creature has since transformed into a beast that operates in broad daylight and (by the time Prometheus and Alien: Covenant came around) held few secrets about its exact origin. We now know where the Xenomorph came from, as well as why it was even created in the first place.
Because of this, the Xenomorph (even with all of the ways it can kill you) has lost a great deal of its ability to scare me, and presumably others, as well. The Thing has yet to encounter that issue, and hopefully, it never will.
Of course, that's merely my take on the matter. What do you think? Chime in on this topic in our poll, below, and let us know what you think the greatest horror movie monster of all time is in the comments section! Beyond that, make sure to head over to our full 2018 movie premiere guide to get a better sense of all of the films (horror or otherwise) that are set to debut this year!
Do you think The Thing is the best horror movie of all time?