Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Thing (1982)

Like Wes Craven, horror is what John Carpenter is most remembered for, despite the fact that he's worked in other genres as well. More specifically, he's often touted and celebrated as the man who ushered the slasher film into existence with 1978's Halloween, a movie that also established the tradition of such films, should they experience any sort of success, have a minimum of four sequels, and the promise of being rebooted in our present age for no reason other than brand recognition and a quick buck. Because of that legacy, it's easy to forget that there's a reason he even has that legacy: he was more than proficient at creating horror that was not only scary, it was suspenseful as well, drawing more from what we didn't see than cheap scares. And if any of his horror films perfectly embodies this notion, it's The Thing, his 1982 remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World.

At a remote science station in Antarctica, the normal day-to-day of the scientists is disrupted when a group of Norwegians in a helicopter circle the station, firing at a dog. When the scientists kill the Norwegians, a team of them goes to their base to find out why they're chasing the dog. What they find is a terrifying scene, with all of the Norwegians dead. The dog, it turns out, is not actually a dog, but an alien lifeform that infects and replicates its host, hiding in plain sight. Now the team of scientists, lead by Mac (Kurt Russell), have to figure out who among them is infected, and what to do to stop the creature from spreading beyond the station into the rest of the world.

The film's greatest success is it's use of suspense. There's literally no way, for most of the film, that you can trust anyone; even Mac is made suspect when his tattered clothes are found outside, a sign that the creature has attacked. That paranoia grows even more intense as the film goes forward, building on a mounting fears and hysteria of the group reaches murderous levels. Carpenter's best decision in this is to never reveal every infected individual; instead, the audience is just as clueless as the characters. It's a smart move that pays off huge dividends.

Of course, the Cronenbergian visual effects are also stellar, gory masterpieces that are genuinely scary and repulsive. And the acting is also fun, appropriate for the genre. Russell shines again in the role of the badass hero, trading in his Plissken eyepatch for an unruly bush of hair. Wilford Brimley, Keith David, and David Clennon round out the cast of men (all men; aside from a chess computer, there's nary a female in sight).

Overall, The Thing is a pretty phenomenal horror film. There's supposedly a remake of this one in the works as well, due later this year. My advice: see this version. 

No comments: