Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Back in junior high, my friend Kyle and I watched all kinds of atrocious movies. We shrieked laughing at the part in Wrong Turn when someone uses a branch to catapult a mutant hillbilly out of a towering tree; we yelled with disgust at Wolf Creek when the protagonists destroy their only means of escape because they’re stupid; we shook our heads at Jason X when Jason survives a fall from space (outer space) because he lands in a lake. We laughed at Eight Legged Freaks and Arachnophobia. We cringed at The House on Haunted Hill.
Then, one night, we rented The Thing. We had very low expectations, but by the time we got to the kennel scene ("I don't know what's in there, but it's weird and pissed off!") the movie had me. We'd stumbled on a gem.
Here are five reasons why I still love this film.
The Thing was filmed in my home province. Shot on location in the depth of winter in Stewart, British Columbia, they captured the vast white desolation to portray Antarctica. They also filmed in Alaska, but the BC connection is damn cool.
Master composer Ennio Morricone wrote haunting orchestral music for the film, while director John Carpenter and his collaborator Alan Howarth created the synth pieces, because they're just that good. I'm pleased to see that you can find the soundtrack on vinyl. Gotta love that synth.
Kurt Russell is a badass lead actor, the great Keith David appears in the second film of his career, and let’s not forget Wilford Brimley as the axe-wielding doctor. The entire cast is believable as a collection of confused, frightened average-joes. In most horror movies, the characters are there to get stabbed or devoured by the creature. Not in this one! These guys try to use their brains and work together to defeat the creature. Their determination to stay alive makes the creature work harder to hunt them, raising the stakes and keeping the action tight.
This movie is not subtle, it's graphic as hell. But unlike the majority of horror films, John Carpenter makes you fear what you do NOT see. The story is constantly dropping hints, inching up the tension, leaving clues to what might really be going on. They first encounter danger in a pair of berserk, screaming Norwegians, but since they can't speak Norwegian, they don’t understand the true danger of the situation. You wonder what's going on, just like the characters do.
When they explore the devastated Norwegian camp, they find a huge ice block with a strange hole in the centre: something was inside, but they do not know what. Once the creature is among them it hides in plain sight, leading the characters to fear each other. Carpenter skilfully gets the audience to fill in the blanks with their imaginations. The violent battles with the creature are great, but it’s the buildups between the fights that make this movie outstanding.
Why does a tiny research station need flamethrowers? Because cold? No, because awesome. These characters are in a hideous situation and they deserve a devastating weapon to fight back. Not only that, every time they use a flamethrower, they risk destroying their shelter and exposing themselves to the deadly cold of the polar winter. Using their most effective weapon actually makes their situation more dangerous, not less. There's no easy way out.
I’m sorry that The Thing isn’t under the radar anymore. It’s getting harder to surprise people with its awesomeness. From its DVD release in 1998, to the 2002 video game, to the 2011 “prequel,” The Thing’s cult status makes it hard to miss. The amateur film reviews and commentaries and geek channels on YouTube are swarming it. Avoid them and go straight to the real thing. You don’t want some YouTuber spoiling it for you.
Remember: watch the 1982 version. The one with Kurt Russell. The one with the sombrero. The 2011 remake is not nearly as good.
One critic describes The Thing as one of the best “B-movies” ever made. Maybe that label is justified, but The Thing captures so many of the elements I crave in film-making that it really punches above its weight. It’s extremely satisfying not only for its atmosphere and buildup, but for the craft of its storytelling. Carpenter doesn’t waste a single moment. This 38-year-old film blows the doors off almost every one of the horror sci-fi movies you’ve seen in the last ten years. Yes, I mean you, Prometheus. Maybe The Thing is a B-movie, but it still dominates A-movies by the hundred, so what does that tell you?
Stumbling onto this movie by chance is one of my favourite movie experiences. If you haven’t seen The Thing yet and you have any interest in survival horror, or thrillers, or science fiction, hell, just watch it!
And enjoy your Halloween 2020...
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What's your favourite low-profile movie? Worth a watch? Email the title and why you love it to Brutalrealitydigest.com, and we’ll check it out.