Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Thing (1982)

3/4

Starring: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat

Rated R (probably for Strong Violence/Gore and for Language)

No one does atmosphere like John Carpenter.  Be it his masterpiece, "Halloween," or one of his shittier movies like "They Live," the one constant is the sense of creepiness flooding throughout.  His ability to get the audience on edge through sound and images is what makes "The Thing" such an unsettling experience.

What sets "The Thing," a remake of the 1951 film "The Thing from Another World," apart is the sense of isolation.  These characters are totally cut off in the most unhospitable continent on the planet.  Carpenter uses lots of wide shots with careful lighting in order to convey this.

A group of scientists are at a remote research base in Antarctica.  The person who keeps things running smoothly is a guy named MacReady (Russell).  One day they hear gunshots, and after running outside, they see a helicopter shooting at a fleeing dog.  The helicopter is eventually destroyed and the dog is taken in.  But the dog isn't a dog; it's a parasitic alien who can mimic its prey, and if it gets back to civilization, spells doom for our entire planet.

"The Thing" is an ensemble horror film, which seems less usual than it actually is (after all, most are just on hand to fill body bags).  The cast is composed of mainly middle-aged men, not hunky guys or bodacious babes.  All give solid performances, but the one who stands out is, obviously, Kurt Russell.  There's nothing special about the role or the performance, but MacReady is an effective anchor for the film.

Upon its release, the film was notable for its considerable gore.  Even by today's standards, there's a lot of blood and guts.  But Carpenter's goal has never been to gross-out his audience ("Halloween," if you recall, was virtually bloodless).  The gore is never excessive, especially when considering the creature designs.  The special effects by Rob Bottin are exceptional, and even when compared to the CGI in movies like "Avatar," they retain all of their power.

If there's a flaw in the film, it's that Carpenter isn't able to attain a consistent level of suspense.  It comes in bursts, but it flags between the set pieces.  Nevertheless, it's easy to see why this has become a horror staple over the years.

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