There are horror movies that make you jump, there are horror movies that gross you out and there are horror movies that creep into your head and catch you unawares – then, every now and again, there are horror movies that do all of these things, and a little bit more.
I was already familiar with John Carpenter’s horror work thanks to Halloween, one of my favourite films since I first saw it in a drafty shed in The Forest as a teenager, and so had high hopes for The Thing.
The story centres on the invasion of a remote Antarctic research station by the titular creature, an ancient alien recently revived from the ice, and the attempts of the team to deal with it in the face of the onset of winter.
The first portion of the film immediately sets up that all is not right with some great aerial cinematography, following a title sequence that tells us this ‘Thing’ is certainly ‘From Another World’.
In some hands this portion could feel like a protracted series of exposition sequences as all the characters and elements of what is to come are set up, in Carpenter’s hands however we don’t have long to wait for the horror side of this science fiction tale to kick in as a dog transforms before our eyes in gruesome style and we get our first view of The Thing and the balance between exposition and horror is perfectly pitched.
Even as we build up to the initial reveal the sense of unease that comes to the fore in the second half of the movie is well set as clues and counter clues as to the true nature of both the monster and some of the characters are laid. This is a very clever trick that is used to make what could otherwise be a fairly episodic story into a cohesive whole that draws the viewer in from the start and never lets go.
Character-wise Kurt Russell’s MacReady is our hero but, throughout, his status as such is constantly undermined then reinforced, then undermined again, and Russell plays this excellently, at times even coming over as a crazed madman, as he forgoes sleep to try to keep control.
Alongside Russell the real star of the show is the creature work.
Made before CGI made monsters ‘easy’ to realise, but often disappointing, here puppetry, makeup and physical visual effects are used to create some truly horrific images as The Thing develops from Dog/Spider to giant alien monster all dripping with blood and a fair share of various other gore. This is combined with some astonishing design work to create some monsters that really, along with Giger’s Alien, have set the stage for all movie monsters to follow.
Not wishing to spoil the movie but, much like many horror movie classics, it doesn’t end in a way that would satisfy the story in a traditional manner, but, leaves a much more satisfying ending for the viewer with the horror remaining real in our minds as the credits roll over a continuation of the sinister synth drenched soundtrack that has permeated the best part of the previous hour and three-quarters.