Top 100 Films #19 – The Thing (1982)

 

the-thing-macready#19. The Thing (1982)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster (based on Who Goes There? By John W. Campbell Jr.)
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, T.K. Carter, David Clennon

John Carpenter’s terrifying remake of Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby’s’ 1951 film The Thing from Another World stands as one of the best remakes in the history of the medium, doubling down on the original film’s sense of isolation and dread.  The Thing takes place at an isolated Antarctic research station and sees a group of men terrorized by a mysterious shape shifting organism.  The organism travels to the station in the form of a sled dog, and begins to quickly take human form, ultimately making each member of the research team untrustable.  The cast of characters includes the level-headed leader R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), the biologist Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David), and Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) among others.  After discovering the motivations of the organism, the men must band together in order to destroy it, or let their fear and paranoia get the best of them which may ultimately lead to their demise.  From the get-go, The Thing is an exercise in suspense and tension, giving viewers a palpable sense of isolation and distrust. The screenplay by Bill Lancaster is tremendous, establishing the camaraderie between the research team in the beginning of the film, and slowly but surely twisting the knife and creating subtle chasms between the entire group.  Since nobody is sure who the alien organism is posing as, nobody knows who may be an imposter version of themselves.  When this revelation kicks in, our cast of characters go into a controlled panic – they stop sleeping, eating, start acting erratically, and begin spending far too much time alone.  The incredible makeup and practically special effects by Rob Bottin are the highlight of The Thing in my mind – every one of his creatures is slimy, unnatural, and deeply disturbing.  The effects still hold up today, and help push the sense of horror that John Carpenter and company are trying to infuse into the film.  The performances from all-male cast are another highlight of The Thing, with Kurt Russell’s MacReady and Wilford Brimley’s Blair being the two major highlights.  MacReady is quickly forced into a leadership role, and he takes it and runs with it throughout.  When the cast of characters begin to slowly lose their minds, it is MacReady who manages to keep a level head and direct his team.  Blair on the other hand becomes one of the most paranoid, untrusting, most erratic characters on the crew, and Brimley captures it brilliantly.  Also worth mentioning is Keith David’s Childs, whose apprehensiveness towards MacReady, followed by their eventual partnership is an absolute highlight of the film’s last act.  My favorite scene in the film involves both Kurt Russell and Keith David involved in one of the most tense moments in film history – the blood test using a heated piece of copper wire. Carpenter’s direction during the blood test scene is frantic and claustrophobic, creating one of the most iconic moments in horror history.  The Thing is an absolute tour de force in horror filmmaking, and one that every fan of the genre needs to see, if only for its mounting sense of dread and excellent special effects.

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