Director: John Carpenter
Verdict: A masterpiece
Go to my ‘about me’ page on my blog, take a look at my top 10 films list, see how high up The Thing is, now understand that if you don’t just want to read me adulate about this movie for ages go away now.
I genuinely don’t understand why this movie didn’t make money, actually I do, it opened the same week as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and that’s an alien movie where just pitching the movie isn’t a spoiler, and it’s open to all ages where The Thing is definitely adult only, but it’s still a travesty this is a bomb. What that does mean however is that now we get one of the biggest hitting cult classics around. It’s masterfully paced and expertly directed and one of the best horror films going.
This films starts with a Norwegian chasing a husky across the Antarctic planes in a helicopter shooting at it with a sniper rifle and it doesn’t get any less weird from there. This film builds mystery upon mystery building suspense to a series of climactic ‘what the fuck?’ moments. Mark Kermode once described The Thing as ‘an extended sequence of blimey charlie moments’. One in particular I took a shot of whiskey after, my friend turned to me and said ‘good idea’. The great thing is that they’re expertly placed to build suspense between them, and not loose any when they occur. The practical effects are amazing, some of the sequences have passed into the popular consciousness now but, like the toilet scene in Trainspotting, it’s easy to forget how surreal and horrific, and just well made, these moments are. My friend said she expected really crap 80s effects and was blown away by how convincing and imaginative and well done they were.
The cinematography by Dean Cundey, who was actually oscar nominated for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, is beautiful. Cundey is a man who understands genre and how to tell a story visually with artistic panache inside that genre. This was the first time I’d seen this film on the big screen and you don’t notice the shots in the way you do on home video, just going ‘oh that’s a nice shot’, it just, works. And it works really nicely, the colour scheme, of course mostly consist of white so there’ll occasionally be red that really pops, or the yellow of fire, very much in the same way as the more recent The Witch. Unlike The Witch though, this is on a really wide screen, so the open expanses of the landscape really fill the screen, and become huge and hulking and ominous.
That ominousness is important, because what this film does really well is explore the fears and paranoia of the situation. This dread sense of existentialism and nihilism and ambiguity is what elevates this film from just another slasher flick to a masterpiece of horror cinema. This film, and John Carpenter films in general, have a great Sam Raimi, (The Evil Dead, Drag Me to Hell, Spider-Man), sense of a pop sensibility, and that’s really fun and thrilling, in a great rip roaring horror film way, so then when a moment has a real sense of portent it feels really important.
This sense is reinforced by a great score by the master Ennio Morriconne, (The Hateful Eight, The Untouchables, A Fistful of Dollars), who twists his own style to match the usual John Carpenter score of synths and simple motifs really well. It’s one of my favourite scores, not easy to get hold of but I listen to it whenever I can. It’s brooding, suspenseful, and kinetic, like Cundey’s camerawork.
Overall, this film is a film you have to see before you die, it’s beautifully made, really tense, powerful, atmospheric, absolute rip-roaring fun, and most importantly, really, really scary. When you’ve seen as many horror films as I have that’s a rare thing. And the prequel isn’t as bad as they say either.