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Spooktober Review: “The Thing”

John Carpenter's masterpiece builds terror from uncertainty

Throughout “Spooktober,” Nicklaus Neitling reviews one horror property each weekday.

The Thing is, by far, John Carpenter’s greatest film. Don’t @ me about this.

The film follows members of an Antarctic scientific outpost as they come across a shapeshifting being from outer space. Helicopter pilot R. J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) tasks himself with finding out who is human and who is The Thing. The Thing is a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another World, itself an adaption of John W. Campbell’s Who goes there? While panned at release, it has since gained a cult following. Personally, it’s one of my all-time favourite movies.

Spoilers for The Thing.

For a 35-year-old movie, the effects still hold up and are equally terrifying and disgusting. The scene where Dr. Cooper tries to save Norris with a defibrillator but where Norris is revealed to be The Thing and kills Cooper is still good horror. The scene where The Thing consumes the dogs is still terrifying. It all holds up, I’m willing to bet, because of Rob Bottin’s excellent practical effects — a mastercraft of creature design.

None of the film would work, however, if it weren’t for the blood test scene.

This is arguably the most iconic scene in the movie. For good reason, too, as it just works so damn well. We watch at the edge of our seats waiting for the test results. Who’s not who they are? Is MacReady The Thing and his character a charade?

The scene is honestly filmmaking perfection. I’m willing to bet that it’s become the model for any scene testing for liars in a group. Furthermore, it’s been parodied across contemporary media, from South Park (see the “Lice Capades” episode) to YouTube skits.

The film’s ending has kept fans debating for years. After The Thing is seemingly defeated and the base is set ablaze, MacReady sits down in the Antarctic cold with a bottle of whiskey. Then the missing Childs (Keith David) appears after everyone else has fallen to The Thing. Skepticism meets MacReady’s face as Childs takes a swig of the whiskey. The film ends with a wide shot of the two men sitting by the destroyed base slowly freezing to death.

We’re left without knowing who was telling the truth and who wasn’t. We could argue for the next 30 years who The Thing was: MacReady or Childs. But it doesn’t matter, because the uncertainty is the point.

The Thing was an allegory for communism in the United States and society’s mistrust and uncertainty during the red scare. No matter how much evidence from either side exists, we mistrust everyone and we remain skeptical of the two’s true intentions.

The gore in the film gets intense, but there are gorier movies. The tension is great, but I’m not often thinking of it when it comes to The Thing.

For me, there’s nothing more terrifying than sitting in the absolute cold, freezing to death with no hope of survival, to then see your sole surviving friend only to greet him with: “Where were you, Childs?”

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