'The Thing' (1982) Movie Review

Updated on March 20, 2019
John Plocar profile image

Things are things from other planet things that come down with their spaceship things to do things with people things that turn into things.

Back in 1982…

John Carpenter’s latest in grotesque filmmaking, under the guise of the 1950s science fiction masterpiece’s simplified title of The Thing, has now come to our doors a little too late. An exercise, not in terror, but in forcing the teenagers to barf all over the theater’s pristine aisleways. I suppose that the special effects were impressive, if that is what impresses someone, and the movie certainly did its job well in making me excrement within my brand new Giorgio Armani corduroys. However, do we really need something this terrifying being presented in our local theaters to scare away our children when only two weeks ago we were blessed with a truly wholesome, family friendly science fiction alien feature, with the likes of Steven Spielberg’s modern classic that is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

I understand that R rated horror films, such as The ‘Mediocre’ Thing, tend to be a little on the gorier side. However, I would argue that this has no business being so bloody, society is past all of that nastiness. We need something for the entire family to enjoy and when it takes up precious screenings that could be intelligently provided for more showtimes of E.T., that is a crime of cinema! I’m just saying, why bring your kids to something that was not meant for children in the first place, when you could easily bring them to the other movie that has nothing to do with the horror genre. Besides, John Carpenter’s The ‘Subpar’ Thing, is a remake. And as we all know, no matter the quality of the original, the predecessor is always better than the remake. Therefore rendering this ‘80s modernization a total waste of time. Zero stars!

I know this is '90s but this is the voice I'm using in my head for that snippet above.
I know this is '90s but this is the voice I'm using in my head for that snippet above.

Admit It…

I'm an asshole.
I'm an asshole.

You wanted to punch me right in the teeth, didn’t ya’? Well, that was more or less the reaction from the majority of critics back in 1982 upon the release of The Thing. Not a lot of people actually realize that John Carpenter’s The Thing was a box office bomb and a critical failure for the director. As time went on though, The Thing became more and more popular through the avenue of video sales and television. Eventually becoming the horror classic that we all know today. It took a while, but it’s now one of the most highly regarded horror films, as well as one of the major go-to classic examples for practical effects of all time.

My Personal History with ‘The Thing’

I grew up as a kid watching a lot of different horror films; slashers, demon possessions, body transformations, aliens, haunted houses, creature features, you name it and I was probably watching it. John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the earliest horror films that I remember from my childhood. Sadly, I can’t specifically recall the very first time I watched The Thing, but I vividly remember watching it a lot as it premiered usually late at night on channels such as HBO. I watched it a lot with my dad, I definitely remember that. It’s one of the select horror films that I remember him digging quite a bit and we shared that together. Occasionally I reminisce about the times from my youth; wide awake in the middle of the night, the only source of light being the glow of our tube television within its wooden set, witnessing the impossible horror being achieved right in front of me and my dad. Knowing back then that I was witnessing something truly unique as there wasn’t much that rivaled the intense creativity that I saw in Carpenter’s masterpiece here. I still love the film now just as much as I loved it then, it easily holds up as one of my favorite horror films to this day.

In terms of the 1951 original film, The Thing from Another World, I always knew of its existence. However, I didn’t finally get around to watching it until recently. Actually, I wrote about my experience with watching it for the first time. I’ll leave a link down below, but to briefly sum-up my thoughts on the ‘50s version, it’s fine. Honestly, I can’t say that I loved it or had that good of a time with it. I found it to be a bit of a slog to get through. Not necessarily bad and I maintain that it may just be the result of which version I am accustomed with, but I personally don’t love it nearly as much as the ’82 picture. For anyone that may be wondering, I have not read the 1930s novella Who Goes There?. So if someone is in hopes of this review being a side-by-side comparison with the source material, you are sadly mistaken and I apologize.

The Plot

In the slim chance that someone has not seen or even heard of the 1982 film, The Thing, here’s a brief synopsis. A U.S. research team stationed in Antarctica during a strong winter, suddenly comes in contact with a shape-shifting alien creature that takes on the form of its victims. It’s up to the crew to stop this thing before it devours them all and assumes their identities to create even more destruction if it escapes. Surrounded by the dangers everywhere, not only against the creature, but amongst themselves as the paranoia takes hold.

Master of Suspense

From the opening frame emitting that ominous tone, The Thing instantly grabs my attention. As soon as we enter this snowy wasteland with the chase sequence of the helicopter and the dog, I’m completely engrossed by the story. Then the very second we are introduced to the station’s crew, I’m totally invested in these characters. This film does incredibly well with giving so much substance within a very minimal amount of time. The first act does such a good job in setting up these characters as a likable bunch while crafting an intense tone inducing a feeling that there is always something to be afraid of. That paranoia seeps into the audience just as it does with the crew members, never knowing who or what to trust. For instance, with every shot of the dog that newly enters their facility, there’s always something off about the animal. There’s something that feels methodical in a way. All without going overboard with the musical score or special effects or anything like that, until it is revealed that the dog is truly not what it appears to be. Thinking about it now, that’s actually kind of clever having the dog as the first threat since dogs hold the popularly known status for being “man’s best friend”. Nice touch.

To me, The Thing isn’t simply scary because it has a lot of gore or nifty special effects. The film takes its time with revealing the monster while providing the narrative enough time to establish its bleak mood and atmosphere. The gore and effects certainly are a major factor as to why the movie works as a whole, they aren’t the only reasons though. The violence comes into play only when it feels appropriately surprising in the moment while the effects work is imaginative in visualizing the horrors that this creature is capable of. In some cases, it is definitely arguable that specific films call for the audience’s imagination over showing the violence onscreen. In this case, I feel that what the filmmakers show onscreen succeeds because of the tone that is set and the world these characters inhabit. When things get bloody or grotesque, I feel that it functions in favor with the film rather than opposing it.

Do not get me wrong, this is an intensely R rated film. Don’t mistake my words, this is for a mature audience. There is plenty of blood and guts and other strange body horror present throughout the runtime. I’m simply saying that the gore isn’t the only reason to be terrified. The Thing itself, the creature terrorizing the crew, is actually smart when it comes to the striking of its victims. The Thing doesn’t simply attack out of nowhere for no reason, it wants to hide in plain sight until it has no other options or is backed into a corner before it has to fight again. Because the Thing could be anyone, I re-watched the film recently and actually started thinking about it from different perspectives that I really hadn’t previously. Considering all different angles on who the Thing could actually be assimilating, even if it’s someone I’m fairly certain might be human. Honestly, there is no real telling for sure. A viewer can go into the movie watching the film one way under the belief that the hero could never be the monster, go into it a second time and start breaking things down to see that maybe they aren’t as innocent as they seem to be. There is brilliant attention to detail here that leads to several different conclusions. Like I said, that paranoia spreads like wildfire and everyone becomes a suspect.

The narrative structure provides so many suspenseful opportunities since everyone is a suspect, not only do they have to worry about the Thing getting to them, they also have to be cognizant of the ones that may not be infected at all. One wrong move or one wrong answer and an innocent man can easily be singled out and targeted or even killed by mistake. It is a tense situation that only gets more and more bloodcurdling as the story goes along.

The Characters

Even though there is not a whole lot of material presented when it comes to backstory or exposition, the characters in this research station all feel 3-Dimensional with distinct personalities of their own. No one ever comes across as flat or underdeveloped because of the talented character-actors that were cast. Their performances really do flesh out these individuals into feeling like authentic people that I am charmed by and am entertained to watch simply lounge around with one another in between all the frights to be had. Then when sh*t starts to hit the fan, the group still feels natural. I buy that these are the same characters, just more stressed out as they discover that something is trying to kill them. No character ever becomes an angry cartoon making idiotic moves only to progress the plot or interject a spurious sense of tension. When things go south, it makes sense and is believable how things led to that progression. It’s never forced or groan inducing, it’s always suspenseful.

MacReady

I am, what one would call, a huge Kurt Russell fan. I dig this guy’s work as he is charismatic as hell and downright intimidating when need be. Best way to put it, he’s awesome. His presence onscreen immediately draws the eye, he’s just one of those select few actors where his charisma can carry an entire movie if he absolutely needed to. Death Proof is the perfect example of that. In this, what I appreciate about Russell’s R.J. MacReady is that even though there is more emphasis pronounced on him to be the lead, he doesn’t seem out of place amongst the rest of the group. Yes, he definitely takes charge more, but it never becomes strictly the Kurt Russell show with everyone else as the backup. They still feel like a team with MacReady taking the initiative when needed.

That said, he’s still a cool guy to watch. MacReady’s introduction is among one of my favorites for a hero’s intro, opening with him pouring his glass of whiskey into a computer game after he loses and calling it a “cheating bitch”. That, to me, is great. Especially since a more modern approach would be to open with the character demonstrating how astute they are inside of a false action scene that only exists to grab the viewer’s attention in the most obvious of ways and force the opinion that the lead is a badass. In this short and humorous scene, we get everything that we need to know about the MacReady character. He is smart, but he’s also a smartass and isn’t above playing dirty or acting on his emotions if provoked enough. It brings in color to a character that, with misguided direction, could have been stoic and bland.

What I have found with a new appreciation for the MacReady character and performance, this time around with my last viewing of the movie, I started watching the film under the mindset of if he is also one of those things impersonating the group. A lot of that surprisingly added up and made sense if someone were to watch this movie and be under the impression that MacReady was one of the creatures. I really enjoyed seeing the movie from that point of view, I hadn’t really done that before because Kurt Russell is so damn charming. Part of me doesn’t want him to be evil since he was a major childhood hero of mine. It’s still really enjoyable to figure out the different ways that MacReady could have lied or manipulated certain things in order to fly under the radar from the rest of the guys. Certain scenes where he is acting just a little off, not enough to cause suspicion yet just enough to feel like he’s hiding something. Bits of information seemingly doesn’t get from point A to point B that relied on his character. It’s terrific that I can watch the movie with two totally different takes on whether Kurt Russell is playing the hero or the villain and still have just as good a time with it.

The Isolation

One of the most ingenious things about The Thing is the setting. The environment is an entirely desolate and isolated area away from any form of human contact for thousands of miles through ice and snow. It is apparent in every scene that they are completely on their own in this below freezing snowy desert. There are a number of times watching the movie where I feel like turning up the heat in my own room, as though I’m right there in the middle of the cold with these guys. The building in which the crew resides in is claustrophobic yet necessary to stay alive, while the outside is open and free but cold enough to kill a man. Strongly reiterating that the characters can’t simply run away, they are all stuck there after certain events transpire. The only thing they can do is try to survive and figure out who isn’t who they say they are.

The isolation of this location, as well as this horror story going on, really lends itself to feeling more personal than anything grand scale. It is simple in premise and setting, while eluding to the possibility of catastrophic events on the chance that the Thing escapes their clutches. However, the film never tries reaching above its own grasp with an attempt to resemble a more typical alien invasion feature, it remains a bottle film instead. We stay in one location, providing that claustrophobic sense of danger that would have been absent if the crew were to have been located closer to civilization.

The Thing

First of all, I’d like to say that the imagination that went into every single one of the creature designs and transformation sequences are beyond stunning. Add that with the set lighting and the camera work, the Thing is one of the scariest movie monsters I’ve ever seen. Never becoming accustomed to one appearance or special effect, as the film always seems to be throwing something new at the audience with what this creature is capable of. Like I mentioned before, this is not just some stupid monster that attacks for no reason. It takes its time, it plays it smart and waits for the right moment to make the kill or defend itself when it absolutely has to.

When someone has seen the film about as many times as I have, it becomes fun in watching the performances of the characters that turn out to be the Thing. Plus, it’s also interesting to piece together how the Thing infects some of its hosts. Such as with one of the characters is seemingly unaware of what’s going on, but it appears the organism that has invaded his body (that sounds wrong, yet so right) is slowly taking over one part at a time. At least, that is one way to interpret that particular character’s arc, if you will. I won’t spoil as to who is or isn’t the Thing or anything like that in the slight chance someone reading hasn’t watched the movie, but beware to those who haven’t, I am doing my best to dance around specific plot points as much as possible.

The Effects

When someone is looking for what is the perfect reference point in the large array of practical effects seen on film, this is it. The Thing, not only is one of the most perfect horror films in regards to suspense, but it also has some of the most flawlessly executed special effects ever projected on the big screen. There are very few films that are on par with the incredible level that The Thing amounts to with its effects work; every ounce of creativity, ambition, believability, and terrifying surrealism injected into every single effect is inspiring. Not to mention the quick thinking, problem solving, and dedication it took from the special effects artists during principle photography is commendable in its own right. Some of these astonishing animatronics and intricate rigs that took months of planning and design work were mainly purposed for a single take. Meaning, when something went wrong or didn’t work properly during filming, the special effects department needed to figure out a way to patch everything back up, fix whatever issue was going on, and have it ready to go that very day. Even if that was never the original plan, they had no choice if they wanted the effect to look right in camera. A lot of praise has to go to Rob Bottin for coming up with a lot of the special makeup effects that can be seen in The Thing, but it really is some of the best work done by an effects crew ever and they all deserve every bit of credit they can get.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

CGI, I will admit has come a long way over the last thirty years, there is some spectacular visuals that have been achieved through the help of computer generated imagery. In my opinion though, the best computer effect will never match the best practical effect. There are movies that I love with amazing CGI, but if someone told me to choose which one I prefer, I’m going with the effects done in camera rather than the ones made in a computer. There’s a life to them, a texture that no matter how good the computer effect is, cannot replicate the authenticity of the effect that can interact with the set and actors. The natural light that reacts with the physical material present on the stage can’t be mimicked within a digital format. It can get close, sometimes it can look damn near as real as the laptop sitting right in front of my face at this very moment. In the back of my mind when I see a CG effect, I’m almost always saying, “That is a computer effect”. While with the effects that can be seen in The Thing, I don’t simply see a collection of all the prosthetics, liquids, and mechanics that were concocted for it. While watching any effect in this film, I’m just mesmerized and entranced by the scene. That, to me, is why a film like Carpenter’s The Thing will always surpass the majority of modern day effects work.

The Thing 1982
The Thing 1982
The Thing 2011
The Thing 2011

The Music

The collaboration between Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, and Alan Howarth in creating this score is some of their best work. It’s creepy, other worldly, and simple yet complex. There is a sophistication to the music as it is simultaneously calculated and raw with animalistic behaviors. The awesomely thumping synth tones interwoven with a beautifully delicate orchestral symphony. Every beat, every harmony is conducted with just the right amount of emotion and somber overtones. Then when the violins start intensifying, the rest of the band erupts in, ramping up the symphonic chaos more and more, bizarre noises suddenly strike from the music. It truly is captivating to listen to. The sound department and editor were also wise about the approach of synchronizing the music with scenes; leaving in plenty of quiet moments to allow atmosphere to settle in so when that music does flow into a scene, it’s all the more effective.

A Small Part…

I won’t lie, a small part of me wonders what would have happened if John Carpenter’s The Thing turned out to be a financial success. Would there have been sequels? Would this have turned into a big sci-fi horror franchise that could have battled the Alien series at the box office? Eventually future installments could have delved into the lore of the Thing itself, possibly providing an interesting world evolving these creatures. How many different interesting and creative designs and effects could we have gotten from a series like this? Or would have Carpenter fought for the film to remain a standalone piece? Sadly, it seems as though we will never know what could have been. To be honest, another small part of me is glad that it wasn’t a box office hit, leaving no chance for a franchise to ruin anything and leaving this as a pure horror classic.

John Carpenter’s legendary remake has come very far from being second to Spielberg’s E.T. back in ’82. Don’t get me wrong, I love E.T., I really do. But The Thing was shafted hardcore when it premiered. I’m glad that most people regard it as a classic now. I don’t think many people today realize the obstacles this movie went through, yet somehow managed to find a cult audience over several years. The Thing has been one of my top ten favorite horror films as it holds up incredibly in its thirty-seven year lifetime that it’s been around. For this review, I actually watched the movie twice since I hadn’t seen it in a couple of years. My first viewing was on the Scream Factory Special Edition Blu-Ray, let me tell ya’, it is gorgeous as hell. I have not seen the film ever look better. Honestly, this one of the few times I’m actually okay with a horror film being digitally cleaned up. My second viewing was on the second bonus features disc where it contains a VHS recorded copy of a Network Television edition of the movie, that was kind of interesting to watch since I’ve never seen the movie censored before, but it also brought me back to watching the movie as a kid since it was in that 4:3 aspect ratio and the VHS quality was a cool aesthetic for it.

So, like it even matters at this point, I recommend John Carpenter’s The Thing. No duh though. Of course I do, but what does it matter? It’s already a classic, if you haven’t already seen it, what the hell are you doing here?! Go watch it!! It’s a great film. If horror or gore is something that isn’t your cup of tea, steer clear since this will obviously not be something for you. Anyways, that’s all I’ve got on the subject. The Thing is one of the greatest sci-fi horror films ever made, it really is one of the few perfect cinematic terrors of all time. Do you disagree? Well, I suppose that is your opinion. It would be a wrong opinion. But it’s all yours. I’m clearly kidding, film is subjective like any other form of art. Everyone is entitled to their own personal tastes and opinions… even if they are wrong.

Don’t Touch That Dial…

Stay tuned, my thoughts on another… Thing… will be coming before too long.

From the producers of the remake of 'Dawn of the Dead'...
From the producers of the remake of 'Dawn of the Dead'...

What's Your Favorite Thing?

So what is your favorite interpretation of 'The Thing'?

See results

That’s All Folks!

Well that was a doozy. Did you like or dislike my review? Agree or disagree? Think that I should transform into someone who will shut up? Comment down below and let me know! And if you did so happen to enjoy my review, then please do me a little favor and share this article around the social media world. Thank you all so much for reading and have yourselves a… transformative… day. I think I said that in the last review I wrote… crap.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 John Plocar

    Comments

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      • John Plocar profile imageAUTHOR

        John Plocar 

        4 months ago from Weatherford

        @Sam

        Thank you! It's easily one of my favorite sci-fi/horror flicks as well. It is one of those perfect suspense filled movies that one rarely sees. And right?! xD

      • Sam Shepards profile image

        Sam Shepards 

        4 months ago from Europe

        Awesome review of The Thing, still one of my favorite science fiction movies of all time. Really love the arctic setting. Snake Plissken's escape from the arctic is an excellent ending of the trilogy.

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