I’m not a big watcher of horror movies, so I’d never seen John Carpenter’s The Thing before this semester. I was, however, familiar with the story, the major plot points, and the characters. Last October, Linkara began to review the comic book sequels to the movie. (He reviewed two more this October and has more planned for next year.) For those of you who don’t know, Linkara is an Internet reviewer of bad comic books. He loves the movie, but yes, he thinks the comics suck. But we aren’t here to talk about the comics (though I do recommend you check out the reviews). Let’s discuss the movie.
Fair warning: there will be spoilers in this post.
First, I want to mention the music just briefly. Sometimes I feel like movies, television shows, video games, and so on have an advantage over books because they can use sound to help create a mood. I really liked the song that played during the opening and closing credits of The Thing. It did a perfect job of setting up a sinister, creepy atmosphere.
Next, I referenced the setting in a previous post. Antarctica is not as terrifying and isolated as space, but it’s still pretty high on the list. But this movie uses that setting for a twofold purpose. It traps the research team, yes, but it also traps the Thing itself. It’s both a means to heighten the fear (no way to escape) and provide a form of grim hope (the monster can’t get to the rest of humanity). The Thing’s resources are limited because it’s in the middle of Antarctica. If it was in a more populated setting, it would become an Apocalypse scenario pretty quickly.
Even without the computer’s amazing analysis to make things clear, you can imagine how bad it would be. The Thing wouldn’t have to rely on a dozen men and a handful of dogs. With a huge variety of people and animals to infect, it would go from being the stalker/imitator of the movie to a plague–a thinking plague that actively tries to spread itself.
As monsters go, the Thing is pretty scary. Not only is it incredibly resilient and powerful, but its greatest strength is in its ability to imitate other organisms. It imitates them perfectly. This is no T-virus or Flood that mutates its host from the onset. This is a creature that assimilates its prey and becomes an exact duplicate. Until it’s forced to show itself or tries to attack someone (at which point it displays some pretty grotesque body horror), there’s nothing to set it apart from any of the others.
It could be me. It could be you. If imitation is its greatest strength, paranoia is its greatest weapon. You can’t trust anyone, and no one can trust you. I like the paranoia aspect a lot. I think that’s an excellent way to add tension and suspense to a plot. It’s a step up from the “any one of us could be the killer” plot element. The cast–or at least Macready–does eventually come up with a way to discover whether or not someone is human by doing a blood test, but they still end up with a pretty grim ending–MacReady and Childs, the only survivors, await their deaths in the wreckage of the outpost, and neither knows for sure if the other is infected. (And this is part of the reason a direct sequel to the movie is problematic.) By the way, apparently the television version managed to make the ending even more hopeless by showing a Husky running from the burning camp.
In many ways, it shows the unstoppable force of some of the other monsters we’ve looked at, but it’s also intelligent. It’s not just killing people that get in its way. It’s actively trying to get out of Antarctica. Apparently, there’s some ambiguity about whether or not infected people know they’re infected, but I like to think the Thing is in control of the infected, and that it’s smart enough to imitate their behavior well enough for no one to notice anything strange. It adds a different layer of fear and paranoia if the Thing could be lurking dormant inside of you and you wouldn’t know it until it made its move, but I still prefer the hidden malevolence of the Thing pretending to be a human.
All of these aspects come together to make it one of the scariest monsters we looked at. And as aliens go, it’s one of the most alien. It made for a solid, tense, disturbing movie.
Also, that spider-head thing is going to haunt my nightmares.
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