Dir: John Carpenter. Cast: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Donald Moffat, David Clennon, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, Thomas G. Waites, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Joel Polis. 1982.
John Carpenter’s version of The Thing is an argument in favour of the power of special effects. Though all the elements of filmmaking are firing on all cylinders and absolutely doing their jobs here, it’s the SFX that overwhelm and horrify.
I saw The Thing twice in the theatre during its initial release in the summer of 1982. I don’t remember that first screening, but I do remember the second. Lured back into the theatre by what I’d already experienced the first time around, I convinced a friend who hadn’t seen it to accompany me. At some point during the movie she leaned over and whispered to me, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to hold my hand.”
The Thing features an all-male cast, save for Adrienne Barbeau as the voice of a computer. I really think, intentional or not, this serves not to reinforce the machismo of the 80s action movie, but rather to add to the coldness and hopelessness predominant in the frigid atmosphere of the film.
The Thing is about an American research station located in Antartica that has to defend itself from a shapeshifting alien that sometimes looks like some of the crew. It’s a full on jump into the depths of paranoia. But the practical special effects here, by a very young and not overly experienced at the time Rob Bottin, show us things that we truly haven’t seen before, and maybe since. It’s the closest we’ve come to putting onscreen the sort of creatures writer H.P. Lovecraft imagined.
That’s not to say that The Thing is all effects and nothing else, but I can’t think of another film, with the exception of possibly The Exorcist, where its effects matter so much, and at times, all the other aspects of filmmaking seem to be in support of the SFX with the primary purpose of getting the story onto the screen.