‘The Thing’ Review: Only Skin Deep

Posted in The Screening Room by - November 04, 2015

Let’s get something out of the way right now: almost all remakes are bad. They are often bad for a number of reasons; be it a blatant cash grab on the name recognition of the franchise, poor script writing, or doing so little different from the original that it doesn’t warrant being remade in the first place. That being said, John Carpenter’s The Thing not only exceeds the original Howard Hawks’ film  in every conceivable way, but also cements itself as one of, if not the best remake ever. As a fan of horror and science fiction, it is a perfect melange of the two with a generous helping of nihilism thrown in for good measure. 

The film follows a group of American scientists stationed at a scientific outpost in the Antarctic who come into contact with a mysterious shape-shifting alien. Dubbed “The Thing” by the scientists, it begins to pick off the men one by one, assimilating their forms. While this assimilation is taking place, the men begin turn on one another, not trusting whether one another are human or The Thing. As the crew dwindles, the survivors look for a way to not only save themselves, but save humanity at large from being assimilated by the thing.

As I mentioned previously, the film is extremely nihilistic, particularly in its ending and score. The finale of the film is indeed, quite dark.  Without giving too much away, it concludes in typical 80’s Carpenter fashion; not quite a cliffhanger, but it has lead to fan speculation since the release of the film as to the true outcome of the ending.

The score emphasizes the tension and nihilism of the film, and its worth noting primarily since it is one of the Carpenter films that he did not score himself. It is instead scored by master of the western Ennio Morricone and it is so drastically different from his other scores that is sticks out as truly memorable. The low thumping bass and eerie use of synth help to elevate the terror and tension of the film. 

The cast is fantastic. Frequent Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell plays R.J. MacReady, a no nonsense helicopter pilot who finds himself the de facto leader of the group. Along with Russell, Keith David and Wilford Brimley (yes that Wilford Brimley,) make up the notables of the cast as Childs and Blair. Russell and David are fantastic in the film, often at odds with one another as to who is human or the monster in disguise. Their dichotomy together is not unlike the relationship between David and Rowdy Roddy Piper in another Carpenter film: They Live. As is the case in that film, the two square off for a majority of the film which lends an extra layer of conflict to an already tense film.

Brimley is the wildcard of the film as the base’s doctor who goes mad and has to be isolated due to his distrust of the others after finding out the thing’s abilities. Having not seen Brimley in much, he is a true standout in the film as the paranoid doctor, even if he is absent for the latter half of the film.

The real star of the film however, are the practical effects by then 22 year old Rob Bottin. As I’ve said on many occasions both in written reviews and on the occasional Kulturecast, I am a huge proponent of practical effects, especially in the current era of CGI. The effects in The Thing are some of the uses of puppetry and makeup that have ever been put to film. When The Thing shows itself after replicating a human, it is often with monstrous results. Wriggling tentacles, toothed mouths, and spiky crab-like appendages are all traits of the hybrid human-thing monsters, and they look as terrifying as they sound. 

Whenever anyone talks The Thing, there are two specific scenes that come to mind: the chair scene and the defibrillator scene. They are absolutely the two most well known scenes in the film, and the best showcase of the astounding practical effect work.

If you’ve never seen The Thing before, then avail yourself to watch it immediately. Not only is it one of the best examples of a remake done right but it is a standout in the genre. Carpenter is able to not only create a believable human drama, but also create a truly memorable monster. While its hard for me to pick a favorite film from him, The Thing is in direct competition with They Live for my favorite from the legendary director. 

Final Say: Watch It

Side Note: The prequel film of the same name is worth a watch for fans of the original, even if it is a tad on the derivative side. 

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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