Why I Still Love The Thing, 40 Years After Its Release

Why I Still Love The Thing, 40 Years After Its Release

As the weather gets colder, all I can think about is the impending holiday season. I am talking, of course, about Halloween. As a horror movie fan, I take the opportunity to snuggle up with a blanket and scare myself for fun. When I’m feeling this way, a movie I inevitably return to is John Carpenter’s The Thing. (Spoilers for a 40-year-old horror classic.)

For a long time, I wasn’t sure what it was about The Thing that I loved so much. The movie is about a group of scientists at a remote antarctic outpost who encounter a dog being chased by a man trying to kill it. As any sensible people would do, they shoot the enraged man with the gun, and take in the dog. Unfortunately for them, this is a horror movie, and that dog isn’t a dog at all. It’s an alien that can shapeshift into other organic creatures, seamlessly integrating itself in order to consume and consume and consume.

This movie, released well before the era of reliable computer graphics in 1982, is a technical achievement. All of the horrific ways that the titular thing distorts its body are done with animatronics. Even now, they make my skin crawl. The scene where protagonist MacReady, played with an acute hostility by Kurt Russel, figures out that he can tell who is human or not by testing their blood is a particular favourite.

The way the thing distends dripping blood from its orifices and splits its head open to become a teeth-filled mouth scares me every time. But the creeping dread that permeates the movie is caused not just by the threat of alien infiltration, but by how it sows paranoia amongst this cast of characters.

In life, you’re probably not under threat of having a friend or colleague replaced with a murderous alien. All the same, they can hurt you when you’re least expecting. Childs, played with a quiet intensity by Keith David, is pitted against MacReady from the start of the film. While he may very well be the thing, it’s his distrust of MacReady and his methods that position him as a villain in the narrative. In actuality, Childs wants what MacReady wants — for everyone to be safe and for the thing to be found and disposed of — but they can’t or won’t trust each other. Without that trust, they can’t work together.

By the time that Childs and MacReady can trust each other, it’s far too late for them. They’ve allowed suspicion to poison their minds and slowly destroy everyone else on their base. But the world as a whole will now live because two men finally found a way to see eye to eye. The Thing is a vision of how humanity might lose itself to distrust. No matter how much I might dislike a person, I have to trust them, believe that they’re human, or we might as well burn all that we’ve built to the ground.


  • Childs is a thing at the end though?

    Also can I mention the amazing The Thing videogame is worth a play, even in 2019.

    • I think the official answer is… are either of them still human? Its left deliberately open-ended.

      In the game tho, Childs was still human, since he was a popsicle unlike McReady.

      • I thought the reasoning came down to humans have a small gleam to the eyes, things don’t, which follow the McCready-Human, Childs-Thing theory, although yes, the game upends that (and arguably isn’t canon :P)

        • I hadn’t heard that particular theory, but it’ll be something I’ll keep in mind whenever I watch it again next, thanks. 🙂

          I’d say that only really the original theatrical release is ‘canon’ since you’ve got the TV alternate ending where the thing gets away in husky mode.

        • These are all fan theories. There are several times non-thing characters have no gleam and thing-characters do have a gleam.

          @akeashar is correct in that there is no official stance on whether Childs is a thing, Macready is a thing (absurd if you ask me), both are a thing (even more absurd), or neither are a thing.

          The official stance is that it doesn’t matter because the thing isn’t the real antagonist, it’s not the real horror; the characters’ collective paranoia is.

          I lean towards Childs is, or neither are, depending on the viewing.

          • The principal cinematographer on the thing, Dean Cundey confirmed the gleam one. Whilst not official, personally I’m happy to take it.

        • I always thought that McCready is human and Childs is a thing because in the final shots, McCready has steam coming from his breath, but Childs doesn’t. If he’s not human, he’s not actually breathing air. He’s just mimicking.

          • Yeah I came to say this too – Childs doesn’t exhale steam where McCready does.
            I also like to think that at the end the bottle he hands to Childs is filled with fuel, as a test (McCready doesn’t drink from it himself), but there is no proof of this.

    • I love the movie and bought the game the moment it came out. Sadly it was really clunky and hard to control. So much so that it pulled me out of the story and I gave up on it. I should give it another whirl. Maybe there’s been some patches that make it playable for me.

      Pretty sure in the interviews they said the ending was left open and that there was no canon “he’s a thing” going on.

  • The original is a classic. The remake isn’t as good but it’s far from a bad film. One of those rare occasions.

    • I enjoyed the Prequel (of the same name) for what it was, but the original was definitely better. There were a few bits of special effects that really didn’t work with it.

      • To me the prequel was ok. It wasn’t the disaster to me a lot claimed it to be. Until I saw that they’d cgi’d over some utterly marvellous practical effects with relatively dodgy CG for… ‘reasons’, whatever they may be. I’d love to be able to see a cut of that film using the practical effects :\ The continuiity in the prequel was pretty great in terms of axe marks, characters etc.

        • I feel about the same. I mean the prequel basically tells the same story, it’s not like it adds anything new. I’m a bit disappointed that when they had the chance to give more background (the spaceship) they kinda cheaped out. Though to be fair that was almost always a no-win scenario. Whatever they came up with would disappoint someone.

          I’m guessing the CGI was used because the practical effects may have looked amazing in static shots but once they were moving they were a little underwhelming. But I think that’s the genius of Carpenter’s version. Working with those practical limitations in a way to make the effects more creepy and effective – dimly lit, shadowed, jerky-twitchy movements being part of the transformation…

      • On the fun side note section, there was a game book series in the 80s called Falcon, where during one of the sections the protagonist ends up in the The Thing except set on another planet.

        Since I was in primary school, the way the time travelling MC explained his combat exoskeleton as his being part of the Scouts was a headscratcher since I thought he meant the Boy Scouts rather than having heard of the military meaning.

        It was a pretty neat small sequence in it all.

        • I have those Falcon game books. I think it was Rack of Baal, I remember reading that and seeing the name MacReady on a character and going waitaminit. Just went to have another look at it and the book is missing, got three others in the series but it’s missing. Must have loaned it to someone and not got it back 🙁

          Also, @jaylien, it’s not really a remake. It’s based on the same story as the earlier movie “Who Goes There” by John Campbell. Apparently Campbell wrote a longer version of it which was published posthumously a couple years ago. It’s called “Frozen Hell”. I haven’t read it yet so I can’t say whether the longer version adds anything meaningful to the story.

  • First time I saw it, I missed the first two minutes, and was appalled when I saw it on a second viewing. IMO it is a far better movie
    if you don’t see the spaceship right at the start.

    • IIRC it was executive meddling that added the [spoiler] at the start (wait, can it even be a spoiler if its in the first two minutes?) because some idiot thought the movie needed to spell out the nature of the thing to you.
      I think I got this from the RLM Re:View, which was worth watching.

      • Thanks, that would explain it. Weirdly similar to the start of Predator now I think about it, and similarly spoilerific.

  • It’s still one of, if not the best horror movies out.

    So much done right, but especially the creature work; this period also spawning alien, terminator and shortly thereafter the predator, all iconic.

    That era-Hollywood was enthusiastic to back new (maybe a touch crazy) IP. Now (maybe bottom-line driven). I’m certain people are still coming up with invention, but it seems HW is too conservative to bankroll anything new (while tripping over itself to retread and dilute anything that made bank beforehand)

  • Not in the same “universe” but I love the movie Splinter too. It’s a very similar scenario with a weird life form that infects and mimics humans. Not quite in the same way as The Thing, but it makes a nice double feature if you’re in the mood for alien assimilation movies.

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