31 Scary Movies: ‘The Thing’

“The Thing” (1982) – In the ferociously cold, barren landscape of Antarctica, a small group of men run the United States National Science Institute Station 4, and although they currently live in isolation from the outside world, life seems pleasant. They play ping-pong and computer chess, watch VHS tapes of “Let’s Make a Deal” and listen to music.

Actually, what work is really getting accomplished?

Alas, when a Norwegian helicopter pilot – who desperately tries to shoot and kill a lone dog – enters their camp, tranquility changes to immediate violence, but these events will lead to unprecedented chaos and bloodshed.  Speaking of bloodshed, director John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is best known for its wild special effects and extreme gore, but this movie is much more than buckets of blood and innards thrown at the screen.

It’s an intense whodunnit and works exceptionally well in the confines of the lonely institute on Earth’s most lonely continent.  These men know every inch of the camp, but a completely unknown invader introduces itself in the most vicious and deceptive ways.  An organism or thing hopes to kill each and every person on-site (about 10 or so) and imitate them like a chameleon.

A perfect copy.

There’s nowhere to run, and with communications down for two weeks, no one to call.  The person standing next to you could be The Thing, and you would never know until it’s too late.  Ransacked with paranoia, but owning oceans of common sense, MacReady (Kurt Russell) says, “Nobody trusts anybody now.”

Speaking of Russell, he delivers an unforgettable performance as the bearded, no-nonsense helicopter pilot, as we heavily lean on this macho protagonist to pull us through 109 minutes of terror.  Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) may have figured out the mystery, but he nearly loses his mind in the process.  MacReady, however, appears to keep his cool (pardon the pun) in order to survive a seemingly hopeless situation.

MacReady is the type of guy you want quarterbacking your football team and leading men, even when they don’t want to be led.  The rest of the cast, including Keith David and Donald Moffat, play distinct and memorable parts, and most importantly, aren’t just celluloid fodder.  Meanwhile, Carpenter amps up audience-anxiety with ghoulish, haunting sounds emanating from his creation and by lurking his camera around quiet dark corners and through open doorways.

Geez, The Thing could appear in any given moment, showing its true self in either its repugnant glory….or not. The latter is much, much worse.

Image credits: Universal Pictures; Trailer credits: horrorfan (YouTube)

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