The Thing: A+
I find myself drawn to murder. I find myself drawn to ooze. I find myself drawn to “The Thing,” an insidious opus that pits an Arctic research scientist and connoisseur of flamethrowers, the illustrious Kurt Russell, in a gripping battle against a ruthless shape-shifting extraterrestrial entity. Lurking behind this tale of flamethrowers and aliens is the subtle backdrop of paranoia and fear of the Cold War. Pay heed, Dear Reader! I shall not trifle with frivolous matters as I extol the virtues of one of my most cherished films.
“The Thing” emerged from the depths of the cinematic abyss in the year 1982, an era preceding my own existence, yet it served as one of the initial forays into the realms of R-rated horror that graced my impressionable senses. A mere handful of years had passed since the release of “Alien,” and it is within this black tarn of terror, steeped in isolation and the maddening whispers of paranoia, that both films share a common bond. Yet, dare I proclaim that “The Thing” supersedes its predecessor in sheer terror and suspense, for the malevolent alien in Carpenter’s gorefest manages to slither to a more intimate proximity with its victims. True that the larva-stage “Alien” reaches remarkable intimacy with the horrific impregnation of John Hurt’s Kane, but the knuckle-whitening dread of “The Thing” is another species of violation, seeping into the film and spreading like a slow virus tormenting the viewer with unstoppable Chinese water-torture consistency.
It is a tale of scientists delving too deep into the icy recesses of the Arctic, unearthing the dreadful abomination. They receive their punishment for their Promethean mining: The creature unleashes a torrent of unbridled savagery upon the unsuspecting researchers (a ghastly depiction captured in the lamentable and largely computer-generated “The Thing” prequel from 2011). Fleeing to a neighboring research station under the watchful eyes of Kurt Russell and his comrades, the Thing seeks solace within their midst.
The enigmatic biology of this insidious entity confounds the mind, even a mind as twisted as a Keeper of this labyrinthine purgatory of film, Dear Reader! Capable of both mimicry and absorption, it assimilates living beings on a cellular level until they become one with the Thing itself. How terrible a fate! A sentient creature possessing a hive-mind consciousness, each cell harbors an independent survival instinct, capable of autonomous existence. Perhaps my pathetic words stumble in the attempt to convey the intricacies of this alien phenomenon. Fear not, for within the movie itself, diabetic scientist Sir Wilford Brimley fantastically decodes the puzzle, employing Atari-esque expository computer models to portray the alien’s macabre microbiology.
The titular Thing, able to shapeshift and assimilate, claims its prey one vulnerable individual at a time. Its nefarious intentions reveal a subtext steeped in Cold War paranoia—a foreign power donning the guise of a friend. Patriotic 1982 anxieties now expand to intergalactic proportions, Dear Reader! And while “The Thing” can be read to embody America’s deepest fears of communism – violently forced “equality,” absolute homogeneity – Kurt Russell, his character radiating the spirit of rugged individualism at an almost sexual level, stands as the ultimate embodiment of blue-blooded Americans. Behold! He resembles Wild Bill Hickok more than the Arctic scientist he purports to be, a testament accentuated by the enduring presence of his trusty cowboy hat, scruffy facial hair, and gunslinger-like acumen with a flamethrower.
Yes, the dread of the Cold War beats a hellish tattoo throughout this evil tale, culminating in a horrifying and exciting showdown of Mutually Assured Destruction. Close viewers may appreciate subtle foreshadowing at the film’s outset, as Russell, confronted by his imminent loss to a computer at a game of chess, retaliates with a defiant gesture: dousing the motherboard with a cascade of delicious looking Scotch. We later see the Thing, meticulously calculating its moves, methodically dismantling the base piece by piece, while Russell, embracing the spirit of incendiary stalemate, seeks to engulf the entire compound in a blazing conflagration. Attention all abysmal pinkos: Witness the triumph of (quite sexy) unyielding resolve!
The naysayers will come, Dear Reader. They may swarm like rats, in fact, while you seek refuge in Carpenter’s masterpiece, dismissing the aforementioned allegorical essence of this beautiful and sinister film. Disregard them, Dear Reader, for they shall dissipate like ephemeral apparitions if you refuse to grant them your attention. I stand resolute in my conviction that this timeless work harbors layers of significance. To its original audience, “The Thing” embodied the specter of communism. In due course, it metamorphosized into a reflection of the AIDS crisis, and now, a metaphorical terrorist cell. “Snake Plissken Fights a Monster, The End” would have sufficed for the lesser minds, but oh, there is a profusion of meaning to unravel here, is there not? An unraveling that could very well unravel one’s mind along with it!
Detractors may also seek your attention through the pathetic practice of critiquing Kurt Russell’s performance, lamenting his, as one with a lesser mind might say, over-the-top “ham-fisted” approach to the role. Yes, I concede that his Kurt Russelly demeanor persists throughout the narrative. But I ask, who would you have preferred in his stead? Shall we wish instead for our arctic cowboy to be the venerable Clint Eastwood, that sage dispenser of stoic scowls, gazing intently at the Thing for a span of ninety minutes? Nay, we are blessed with the presence of a man who has masterfully carved a career from frenzied outbursts and unbridled cowboy-hat-wearing-lunacy.
Marvel, dear reader, at the grotesque spectacle of the special effects that adorn this cinematic marvel, a testament to the prowess of horror and science-fiction makeup. Other movie reviews from other Keepers locked in crypts of their own shall undoubtedly lavish more attention upon this aspect, and rightly so. I shall only touch upon them so that you can understand the magnitude of carnage that this film offers. Do recall, for example, that delicious scene with the arms (you know which arms, I’m afraid), featuring an individual quite abruptly bereft of such appendages. The sheer shock it evokes is perhaps only paralleled by “birth” of the original Alien in “Alien.” However, in “The Thing,” the practical effects slaughterhouse is unrelenting: Limbs are severed, lifeless flesh is reanimated, and unsuspecting victims are drenched in the vile tendrils of parasitic Thing goo. Horrific revelations abound!
I cannot attach a stronger recommendation. In the Crypt, I remain… watching…