Creature-features are fun to watch any time of the year, but they’re an absolute must on Halloween. Although there are many excellent SF and horror films to choose from, this year I’m going to have to pick John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Based on the Don A. Stuart (AKA John W. Campbell, Jr.) story “Who Goes There?” The Thing is a blend of several horror-film styles that leaves the audience guessing as to who’s human and who is not. Set at an Antarctic field station, the film tells the story of the crew encountering an alien that can imitate any living form after the slightest of contact, the men quickly becoming distrustful and paranoid of each others actions as they try to figure out which of them is not who he seems.
While the same story was also adapted into the 1951 film The Thing From Another World and more loosely into 1973’s Horror Express, John Carpenter’s version is by far the best and closest to the original material, although the film has not always been so highly regarded. The film first ran on screens in 1982 just after E.T. and opening on the same day as Blade Runner, the gory special effects simultaneously earning praise and criticism. Indeed, the creature effects in the film are not CGI but elaborate puppets, The Thing containing some of the most impressive monster effects ever seen in a film even by today’s standards. While absolutely repulsive, the scene in which one mans head becomes detached from his body, drags itself across the floor, then sprouts spider-legs and scuttles away is seamlessly done, the gruesome visuals being far beyond most other horror film efforts.
A good scary movie does not win audiences through gross-out scenes alone, however, and this is certainly true of The Thing. Much like other films (i.e. Alien), the crew members face an unknown creature in a small space that they cannot escape from; there is not running away, confrontation being the only solution to the menace. Where The Thing differs, though, is that the alien mimics humans and does not simply use them like in the Alien films, paranoia quickly becoming established in the claustrophobic setting.
If nothing else, The Thing is a unique film on a variety of levels, remaining just as impressive and enjoyable today as it was when released a quarter of a century ago. If you’re really in the mood for a good scary film, I recommend waiting until dark, turning off the lights, and popping this one in, but just be sure that whomever you invite over didn’t just return from a stint in an Antarctic outpost unless you want to be greeted with a slimy, tentacled, and altogether monstrous surprise.