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#286 - The Thing
John Carpenter, 1982



The inhabitants of an American research station in Antarctica finds themselves face-to-face with an alien that can perfectly imitate other living things.

While Escape From New York may be my favourite Carpenter film on a purely subjective level, it is most definitely The Thing that stands head and shoulders above the rest of Carpenter's filmography on an objective level. Halloween may have established him, and it is still one of his best films, but it's hard not to think of it as a rather basic prototypical slasher film despite its craftsmanship and quality. If you were to similarly boil down The Thing to such a basic narrative, then it's definitely a monster movie, but of course it's a testament to the talent on display that it becomes so much more than that. A significant factor might actually have to do with the casting - instead of vapid young people of multiple genders who are picked for their ability to look pretty and die horribly, The Thing assembles a collection of character actors of various ages who are able to carry the film well in between deaths. Though it does have some concession to narrative convenience by having a clearly defined protagonist in the form of rugged helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), he does not overshadow the rest of the cast, the highlights of which include a sharp-tongued mechanic (Keith David), an extremely paranoid biologist (Wilford Brimley), a wacked-out scientist (David Clennon), and an avuncular physician (Richard Dysart). Even before the paranoia sets in following the discovery of the Thing, the interplay between characters is often hostile and the actors pull it off perfectly.

The Thing is also well-executed on a technical level. A lot of the film's notoriety rests on the grotesque nature of its titular monster, who undergoes a series of increasingly gory and horrific transformations each time its true nature is discovered. The practical effects on display are stunningly well-executed, to the point that in the one instance where the film resorts to stop-motion animation it's extremely jarring. The vague nature of the Thing's biology and behaviour also means that there's a lot of the film that's up to interpretation but not enough to make for gaping plot holes. The bleak Antarctic setting is captured well by frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey - the blending of warm and cool colours is common and captivating even when there isn't any body horror going on. Though Ennio Morricone earned a Razzie nomination for his score, I can't imagine why - the skittish strings are used sparingly for maximum effect, even if the main theme sounds like vintage Carpenter instead of vintage Morricone. The Thing is definitely one of the best horror films and deserves to be considered Carpenter's masterpiece - though the violent nature of the titular creature may be alienating (pun possibly intended) to some viewers, those who persevere will definitely find something of worth.