Spooktober Special: My Assimilated Thoughts on The Thing (1982)

The ultimate game of Guess Who? Where the losers get eaten alive and the winners get to play again.

MILD SPOILER WARNING

Hope all of you fine boys and girls are nice and comfy in your little homes, apartments, condos, and whatever people live in these days because its spooktober and things are about to get chilly after this spooky tale of the most grotesque and gory movie night ever. OOOoooOOOoooooo [spooky noise]

Our story begins like all horrific stories began, with a young lady, who we shall refer to for the rest of the story as the lovely J. Dear Miss J. always enjoy a good story. Among some of her favorites consist of dragons, knights, and cool humanoid robots who just really want to be humans. For tonight however, she hinted me towards the classic film by director John Carpenter, The Thing. Now we all know that the absolute worst kind of stuff went down in that tale but at that moment, J simply was keen to experience every single drop of the oozing alien menace and shortly, The Thing was sprawling disgustingly on the largest LED screen we could find.

While both of us had never saw the movie before, I believe I was the only one who went completely blind into the experience, with little knowledge and near-zero expectations similar to an oblivious member of the American Antarctic research crew, I was ambushed and devoured by The Thing, the movie. Post-assimilation, I am now a fresh admirer of John Carpenter, another addition to his classic cultists of horror.

Now, being a fleshy, goopy host to an unidentified outer space creature sounds kinda bad when you really think about it but we’re not gonna get consumed literally. We’re here to appreciate how the The Thing was such a great film that you could feel it slowly crawling, invading your brain matter, figuratively.

The Thing, that Thing

Bennings is visually excited about all the awesome monster design work in this film.

Being an alien horror at its core, The Thing creature is undeniably the highlight and focus of all the aesthetics. Although the transforming pile of extraterrestrial meat does work in an entirely different manner than say, the xenomorph as seen in the Alien franchise, the same kind of horrific appeal could apply here. We really, really want to know how that damned thing work. In the film, it could multiply, it could consume other organic beings entirely, it could perfectly imitate an intelligent human being full of character and human memories. The list simply goes on, and this is only from what we’ve witnessed on screen. Presumably a part of Carpenter’s brilliance, this strange, morbid curiosity greatly intensifies our senses whenever the Thing does get caught in the action. Our eyes would immediately stick to the screen despite the brain’s protest and the lips’ cringing gesture. Like a couple of psychics, connected by a neurosis network, Miss J and I would writhed uncomfortably in unison at the sight yet we could not avert our gaze at the reanimated pile of gore.

With credit to the monstrous design by special make-up effects creator Rob Bottin and his team, this shapeless creature has ironically joined the ranks of the most memorable designs in horror such as the many variety of zombies and mutated undead, the Alien xenomorph and its lovely relatives, and probably the bugs from Starship Troopers. If there’s an award for the best, worst nightmarish unexplained thing ever brought to life on film, I’d definitely nominate The Thing for it. Please name it the Flamethrower awards or something, that would be cool as hell.

The Perfect Storm of a Plot

The Norwegian crew hates it when the Americans show up to their BBQ party unsolicited.

Slow and steady is the best way to radiate creepiness, the sense of dread and paranoia. Like a Hitchcock classic, The Thing carefully placed the setting and characters in a sensible situation for the alien intruder. Downed communications line, deadly weather, claustrophobic corridors, the Antarctic research outpost simply couldn’t be more uncomfortable, with or without an outer space threat. Despite the plentiful supply of rock music, retro computer chess game, and liquor, MacReady and his pals were never meant to remain safe or cozy during their mission. This makes it feel more natural for things to go South for just the right amount of inconvenience prior to the horrifying discovery, and suddenly, its too late to run. Sure, the Thing isn’t supposed to reach civilization due to its super infectious ability but if the setting is in a nice town somewhere, we’d definitely see a whole different kind of movie with absolute chaos and guns blazing for days. Now that I think about it, the theatrical release year was 1982 and Arnold Schwarzenegger would’ve been a perfect cast for a more explosive-based plot of The Thing. Assimilate this, spec ops Colonel MacReady gave his farewell to the monster from outer space along with a nice little souvenir, a high explosive missile smashing against one of its many ugly faces.

That Sweet Sweet Paranoia

MacReady’s greatest trick to an attentive audience, rope.

According to the New York Times best seller “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” by Mark Manson, the underline of human anxiety is the result of a byproduct of our super normal human ability to think about thoughts. Add a small dosage of suspicion to that and voila, things snowball into senseless paranoia. As it turns out, the real beauty of the Thing was never about the flesh eating monster or the mystery behind its origin or a bunch of dudes, chilling out in the Antarctic resort. This entire story was built around the theme of paranoia, an ubiquitous bug in our brains that pops up any time distrust comes into view. Oh, that one friend who’s stopped using Facebook for years didn’t congratulate your online birthday event? I’m sure that person actually hates you and secretly plots to ruin your life rather than simply having better things to do with his or her time. Retaliate immediately! While the main subject of fear remains as basic as that, it certainly morphed into great entertainment with the mixture of movie magicks, talented filmmakers, and of course, shape-shifting flesh-eating monsters.

For the majority of the movie’s length, I found myself playing detective and like every hard boiled noir flick protagonist, the case continues to haunt me personally even today. Before I noticed it, I was chewing on every bait Carpenter dangled on screen. That shifty guy who was way too close with the dog-thing just before it went full tentacle mode, key holder to the sabotaged blood supply which could’ve led to identification of the Thing, guy who locked himself in a room and destroyed communication equipment with an axe, the mysterious figures in full winter gear, pretty much anyone could’ve gone into my long list of suspects and soon enough, it dawned to me that not even the TV screen could’ve protected me from the seeping paranoia. Not to mention that exhaustion and restlessness can drive any high performing crew to collapse and implode, with or without an alien invader. The advantages were piling up on the Thing side for sure but then came MacReady’s DIY blood test to equalize the momentum.

Mankind Strikes Back

This image could probably appear in an alien-made film about horrifying human invaders.

All you need is a piece of hot metal, suspect’s blood sample, and a functioning flame thrower to identify and blast the pesky beast. However, the keyword here is functioning. Despite how the blood test scene sadly brought an end to the trademarked human or fake human suspicion game, the extreme tension and the latter mayhem that followed it were clearly among the most memorable moments of the movie. While we would usually sympathize with our fellow earthlings, the blood test scene made me feel a bit sad for the disguised xeno who had to sit there, sweating bullets, and hoping for the best. He must’ve unconsciously peeked towards the deep dark muzzle behind the tiny flame at some point with his borrowed pair of human eyes and crunched his stolen grey matter hard for any chance of a way to escape certain fiery death. Hell, even the legendary composer, Ennio Morricone paused his craft to let this mind numbing silence take its maximum toll upon everyone involved. Like a lethal round of Russian roulette, the bloody petri dishes with names on them were tested one by one until the anticipated bang.

With the moe out of the way, the remaining humans did what we’ve always done best, destroy everything. MacReady and his demolition men equipped with dynamite sticks, molotov cocktails, small arms, and flamethrowers rushed through the hallways of their former accommodation and work space, laying waste to every room and corridor. For the mankind side, if their team couldn’t possibly win, the only strategy left is to smash the damned trophy. The crew would rather sleep with the Eskimos under the Antarctic blizzard than let the Thing enjoy its comfy stay until some clueless rescue come pick it up and away into the rest of civilization. Then, MacReady finally got to confront the dog-kennel Thing and blow it into chunks along with the entirety of the American outpost. Pretty badass, I must admit.

The Ending That Started it All

The shocked face of Kurt Russel when he realized that the fandom is still active after thirty years.

To be or not to be, that is the main question surrounding the last two characters of the Thing for decades after its release. Facing imminent death by extreme weather, MacReady was approached by the ever so suspicious Childs who only appear now after running off to chase some ghost in the snow earlier. With the level of stiffness akin to a pair of nervous schoolboys, they awkwardly agreed to tone it down and relax with a nice bottle of Whiskey. At this point, the Thing has come to its end but the seemingly endless amount of online debates and fan theories have just started. Was Childs infected? Was MacReady infected? How? The hive mind of the Internet fandom was rocked to its very core. Not even the mastermind himself, John Carpenter could’ve stalled the tide of analysis videos and in-depth investigations spawning left and right. The story was intentionally left open-ended and shrouded with the same tinge of uncomfortable mystery as when it first began. Fresh paranoia once again, runs rampant and infects every available human mind it came into contact with.

The Aftermath

I’m more paranoid about how the sole chopper pilot in the crew is an alcoholic.

The credit rolls and noone made a move for a good minute. For a pre-computer special effects era movie, this 1982 classic performed exceptionally well to tell a terrifying story. It was way past midnight and we began to pack up our snacks, littered cups and glasses. The silent darkness outside and pitch black corridors certainly did not help transition J and I back to our comfy tropical climate living room. We’ve been truly spooked and I did what all sleepy yet terrorized horror fans do, overwrite the past two hour period of memory with the most vibrant, warm, and cute-looking stuff I could dig up on Netflix. And so for the next twenty minutes, we blasted away the cosmic horror with Japanese anime girls in maid outfit to secure our nightmarish-creatures-free sleep.

Happy Halloween and Merry Spooktober everyone!

Thanks for reading.

Beans juice enthusiast and feline management expert. Currently in Bangkok, Thailand. My opinions are my own.