Drew Struzan via Wikipedia
John Carpenter’s 1982 film “The Thing” is one of the greatest achievements of horror. The film is a terrifying look into the human psyche when a group is put in isolation and they begin to mistrust each other.
The film takes place in Antarctica, where snowy and desolate landscapes help paint a picture of isolation. The story follows a team of American scientists who discover a strange anomaly in an ice block they find at the Norwegian base. After they take in a dog from the Norwegian site, the team slowly discovers over time that the canine might not be what it appears, as they have to band together to fight off this strange creature, all the while worrying about which members of their own team they should trust.
The film stars Kurt Russell as the crew’s pilot, Macready. Russell is able to play Macready with the right amount of intensity and leadership skills to help bring this character to life. Alongside Russell is Keith David, who played the role of Childs, the team’s mechanic, who has a quick attitude and was found to be incredibly resourceful. Another key player in the movie is Dr. Blair, the senior biologist of the crew who was portrayed by a relative unknown at the time, Wilfred Brimley. Brimley is able to portray Blair with an intense intellect and everyman quality that is meant to comfort the viewer, but as the film goes on we see his sanity slowly fade.
Other notable names in the film are Donald Moffat, Richard Masur and T.K. Carter, amongst other names all with impressive performances. Each actor plays their character with such passion that you believe they are a team of scientists, making it all the more heartbreaking when one is picked off in an incredibly gruesome fashion.
One of the most renowned aspects of the film is the special effects. A man’s stomach ripping
open and biting off another man’s hands with its teeth made of ribs is a horrific visual. This film is littered with revolting and petrifying body horror that has helped it become a cult classic. A majority of the effects were done by Rob Bottin, who used a combination of latex, chemicals and food products to make puppets that brought these horrific designs to life.
To help animate the creatures, they used teams of puppeteers. All of this time and effort ended up costing the film $1.5 million out of its total budget of $15 million, but if it were not for the work by Bottin and his team, the film would likely not have had the same haunting effects.
The cinematography throughout the film adds to the horror. Each shot is meticulously crafted by cinematographer Dean Cundey to maximize suspense.
The film’s score was composed by Ennio Morricone, who has composed the scores for films like the Clint Eastwood Dollar trilogy and “The Hateful Eight.” Morricone was a pioneer in developing the sound for the spaghetti western genre. Carpenter’s choice for Morricone was to give the music in “The Thing” a European sound. The whole score adds to the horror on screen while never getting in the way of the visuals.
Unlike his other films, Carpenter did not write the script himself, instead hiring Bill Lancaster. Lancaster’s energetic screenplay provided ample witty dialogue between characters that sounded like real conversations while also including convincing scenes of psychological collapse as the characters begin to scream at one another accusing each other of being the alien entity.
Carpenter’s vision for this film, based on John W. Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?” is perfectly realized by the amazing cast and crew who worked on the movie, but it is Carpenter’s directing that elevates it to an immortal status. At this time Carpenter was in his prime of filmmaking, fresh off the success of “Halloween” and “Escape From New York.” Universal Pictures decided to put Carpenter on the project (despite being rejected in the mid-70’s.) Carpenter, with the help of his team, was able to bring his style of suspense and charm to help the film be a success.
“The Thing” has lived on to become a cult classic among horror fans, despite being a box office flop when it was released. It is now widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made.