Review: The Thing

One of the greatest remakes ever made, John Carpenter’s 1982 science-fiction horror is a tale of terror that sees Kurt Russell battle a shape-shifting alien.

Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Bill Lancaster
Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Charles Hallahan, Joel Polis, T.K. Carter, Richard Dysart, Thomas G. Waites
Released: 1982 / Genre: Science-fiction/Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
Buy on DVD: DVD | Blu-ray
Discover More: Top 10 John Carpenter Films | 31 Days of Horror
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When it comes to horror films, we each have our own specific blend of ingredients that we look out for. It could be that you prefer the film to be set at night, perhaps with a bit of fog to set the scene. Maybe you like your horror films to include fantastical, mythological beasts – you’d pick Hammer Horror classics over the Hostel series any day.

On the rare occasion that I do decide to watch a horror film – I am by no means an aficionado of horror – I choose films with one key element: suspense. I enjoy films with a Gothic element, where everything is not what it seems. Granted I may sleep with the light on for a few nights, but I’d much rather watch that than the Scream series of films or the Saw franchise. I enjoy the lure of castles, crypts and coffins rather than blood and gore.

That said the film I have chosen to review doesn’t fit within the Gothic. It doesn’t fit within the gore category though, either. However, it does fall into my most crucial element – suspense. Not even its title gives it away… Ladies and gentleman, I present to you my review on John Carpenter’s The Thing and the elements that I believe make it a fantastic horror film.

25% Setting
the thing, john carpenter review,
Set in the Antarctic, a group of scientists unknowingly invite a shape-shifting alien, which assumes the appearance of the people that it kills, into their research station.

Even in normal, alien-free conditions their situation is less than ideal: sub-freezing temperatures are an ever-present threat to their survival. To be caught outside for an hour or two would mean death, but to remain indoors where a hidden enemy lurks is less than ideal, too.

With a lack of communications and a lack of transport – one of the characters kills their sled dogs and destroys their helicopter and radio – their chances of escape are miniscule. As previously noted, to leave the research station for any amount of time would mean certain death anyway.

20% Psychological torment
the thing, psychological terror
While it is never revealed just what they were studying, the team are men of science, not psychologists or alien-hunters from Area 51. They cannot explain what the creature is any more than you or I could, and their minds would be just as susceptible to anxiety and fears as ours.

Not knowing whether someone is why they say they are is mental torture – how can you work it out? How can you be sure that your colleague is who they say they are?

Furthermore, it is not knowing whether you yourself have been taken over, too.

40% Suspense
the thing, suspense,
From a character’s point of view, this element is intertwined with the previous element, psychological torment. In one crucial scene, where MacReady (Kurt Russell) assumes control and tests each of the remaining scientists’ blood to check if they are human or alien, I can only imagine how hard and fast MacReady’s heart must have been going. Imagine what the remaining scientists would have been feeling, too. This scene is very reminiscent of the ‘calm before the storm’ scenario. When the creature is revealed, which is currently trying to ‘blend in’, all hell will surely break loose.

As the audience, I had no idea how was human and who was alien. The alien only needs a few seconds with its victim to assume their identity. This means that literally anyone from the team could have been taken over…

15% WTF?
john carpenter's best film,
When we finally see the creature, or rather the cellular structure that the creature has formed from its victims, it is really rather gruesome. In my opinion, though, it is not its form that is particularly frightening but what it is capable of – as I’ve always said with Mystique from the X-Men franchise, the ability to change one’s appearance into somebody else is never going to be used for good is it?

I can only describe the creature as ‘WTF’ as it is never revealed what it is. Yes, it is alien and we did see the remains of an ancient spacecraft buried beneath the ice some distance from their research station but we still don’t know how it came to be there, how it came to be discovered or whether there could potentially be more…

Review by Claire Packer. Claire blogs about movies at her site Cinematic DelightsSee all reviews

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
As well as writing and designing, Claire loves going to the cinema, seeing live music, travelling and driving.

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  1. Avatar
    Marc Reply

    Great write up on one of the genre’s very best ever. Sci-fi horror, not often does it happen and happen to be a great watch. Kudos of the 5 stars…but then again anything Carpenter and Russell ends up being that way right?:P

  2. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    I’ve had this film on my mind a lot lately, what with the remake coming out this weekend and all.

    I can’t agree with you more on how good The Thing is. I’m planning on watching it again tomorrow night, and then seeing the remake on Saturday. I can only hope it’s good.

    I would even up the percentage for setting to about the same as suspense. They’re intertwined so well that it’s hard to really separate them.

  3. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    Oh, I also love, love, love the effects.

  4. Avatar
    Dan O. Reply

    This is just a totally creepy-ass film that had me wondering what the hell was going to happen next, and the fact that we never actually find out if everything’s OK at the end, still had me a bit chilled to be honest. Nice review.

  5. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    Nice review, Claire. I think I’ll stick with this version of The Thing rather than the CGI-laden remake.

  6. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Rodney: I thought it was a remake too – the title gives that impression – but it’s a prequel that takes places three days before John Carpenter’s The Thing.

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    Dan Grant Reply

    Yes, it should be called “The Thing that happens before The Thing”.

    Great review. It really is one of the under rated horror films of our time. While not incredible scary, it does blend suspence and confusion quite nicely. This is my favorite Carpenter film after Halloween.

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    Thomas Reply

    well-deserved praise! I never get tired of “The Thing” and in particular of the coolest man on Earth that is Kurt Russell. Whatever I do, that film is unbreakable, it never looks old-fashioned in terms of style, effects or acting. And these days I can use that film occasionally to remind myself that remaking a film sometimes produces outright classics – if done by proper film-makers instead of the remake machines that currently run a part of Hollywood. Come to think of it: among the films I have seen most often in my life, there may well be a trio of Carpenter movies on top: “The Thing”, “Escape from New York” and “The Fog”. Blissful times…
    I just recently watched it again:

  9. Avatar
    Claire Reply

    Thanks for all your kind comments, everyone!

    Marc: I’ve taken a look at Carpenter’s back catalogue and added quite a few to my rental list. I look forward to watching them!

    Sir Phobos: I hope you enjoyed watching it again – though I’m sure you did! – and I look forward to hearing what you think of the new The Thing. As Dan said, it’s supposed to be a prequel to Carpenter’s film. Here’s hoping that it’s good and not over the top and silly!

    Dan O: I was fine with the fact that everything is left up in the air at the end, too. It adds to the overall mood of the film by finishing it with such an obscure ending.

    Rodney: I think I will check out the new The Thing as, like Dan said, I think it is a sequel to what happened in Carpenter’s film. I’m worried that it will be really OTT and not scary, though…

    Dan Grant: I completely agree with you. It’s not overly scary, which is why I gave ‘WTF?’ such a low percentage. It is the suspense and pyschological elements that make it such a good horror film.

    Thomas: Kurt is very, very cool! I’ve added Escape from New York to my rental list and I’m really look forward to seeing another Russell/Carpenter pairing.

  10. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Claire: Thanks for writing such an interesting (and interestingly formatted) review.

    In terms of Russell/Carpenter pairings I would say The Thing is their finest outing but what they do great together is a mix of genres. Escape From New York is also excellent but I’d recommend Big Trouble In Little China – you’ll love the fantasy elements of that one I think!

    …avoid, at all costs,, Escape From L.A. – one of Carpenter’s worst.

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    max Reply

    I really have to watch this. ‘The Thing’ was in my Netflix queue to watch for the longest time and still is, but I just haven’t gotten around to it. This review puts it right back to the top of my list. Thanks for the review Claire.

  12. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    One of my favorite remakes ever. I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre, but when it is done well it is very good.

  13. Avatar
    Sir Phobos Reply

    @Claire So I watched the remake a couple of weekends ago. F-

    It was horrible. FYI.

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