Film Long Reads/Series Marie O'Sullivan's Film Reviews Marie vs. Horror

Marie vs. Horror #11: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

Marie vs. Horror

Spider-head creatures and a bunch of men trapped in a snowy landscape with flame-throwers sounds like it would be just too stupid for Marie to countenance. Was she right?

If you look closely at many horror films, they’re often an allegory for whatever society’s major fear was at the time they were made. Invasions from outer space in the 50s, for example, reflected the West’s concerns with potential invasions from the Soviet Union, with the theme of aliens taking on human form suggesting that the Reds may be right under our noses and living among us unknown.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is based on the 1950s short story Who Goes There by John W Campbell Jr and the ‘Communists among us’ idea could easily be read here as well. But there was another unseen, blood-borne threat at the start of the 1980s too, and you’d have to be completely naïve to overlook the beginnings of the world’s concern about AIDS while watching The Thing.

In this Antarctic outpost, no-one can tell who has been assimilated (infected) just by looking at another person; the only way to know for sure is via a blood test. It might not have been intentional on Carpenter’s part, but it was nevertheless very timely.

The visuals are what people tend remember about The Thing: at least, they are the things that I had heard most about before viewing. And I was not disappointed in that respect. The transformations are quite horrific, with tentacles and appendages bursting out from dogs and men alike in gory fashion. I was particularly delighted/disgusted by the spider/head creature, and equally fascinated by the head/tentacle object manoeuvring itself across the floor in an effort to save itself. If it’s possible to be wide-eyed in admiration and simultaneously grimacing in repulsion, then that was me.

But despite all of this, what gave me the most sense of unease was the creeping feeling of distrust. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is very clear that nobody can trust anyone any more, and this is played out right to the end. I’m sure everyone who’s ever seen The Thing has their own view on the fate of the two remaining characters, and the majority of the tension and arguments lies in the fact that no-one knows who is real anymore – even themselves.

And even though Ennio Morricone’s score was heavily criticised at the time, I’m a fan. I think it totally adds to the tense feeling driven by the distrust among the characters.

All in all, The Thing is one of those films that I enjoyed watching, and completely understand why it’s considered a classic even if I don’t need to see it again. I’ll even go so far as to say that I liked it much more than the other Carpenter horror classic I’ve seen – Halloween – which had moments that were just downright silly. The Thing was not silly; it was tense and clever, and for once I actually delighted in being repulsed. Shame there was no room for women though.

Next Week’s edition will be how shall we say… delicious?

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