Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Thing (1982)

Welcome back to The Birthday Series. For those that don’t know, this is how it works: Pick a film released each year as close to your Birthday as possible. In my case, that’s 23rd August. As I get nearer to my actual date of Birth, finding, for the most part, the films can prove to be difficult. There’s one year, though, where it’s easy: 1982. 1982 was a vintage year for genre films, the kind of year that we just don’t get any more. Still, the 26th August in the UK saw John Carpenter’s classic The Thing released, a film that has rightly gone down as a classic with one of the most iconic taglines of all time:  Man is the warmest place to hide.

May contain crazy Swedes and Spoilers below.

They weren’t convinced by their realtor’s claims that there was an outside swimming pool

With that, it pretty much sets its stall out early, we know now that this is set somewhere remote, and the poster (not the one I’ve used here) shows the frightening image of a hooded man with blazing light shooting out from under the cowl. When the film opens with the Alien spaceship crash landing, you can put all this information together to work out that what we have here is an alien possession film. What a film though: atmospheric, frightening, jammed full of great characters, fantastic practical effects and with a paranoid but eminently quotable script. The Thing can lay genuine claim to being the greatest remake of them all. This, really, is how you do it.

So, which one of you is an Alien in disguise?

Carpenter was on one of the hottest streaks of any director of the modern era at the time. He’d made his name with Halloween, but had also turned out Assault on Precinct 13 (another great reimagining), Escape From New York and The Fog. The Thing is arguably the greatest of them all, a simply brilliant and visceral film and the fact it disappointed remains one of cinema’s most unfair failures. It, according to Carpenter, simply didn’t find its audience, and he rues it to some extent.

Who’s a nice doggy? Or are you?

OK- this is the story, just in case you’ve been living in Wales or something and totally cut off from civilisation. We’re at the American base in the Antarctic. A dog is seen running through the snow, being pursued by a helicopter throwing grenades at it. Our American heroes rescue Fido, and kill the Norwegians that were pursuing it. However, the dog has a secret- it’s not so much man’s best friend, rather it’s an alien that assimilates whatever it touches, producing a perfect replica of its victim. Adopted into the camp, the dog may have infected one of our heroes. Who can you trust, when literally anyone could be a monster, and you’ve no way of knowing?

You’ll need some Savlon on that, mate.

I have no idea how to do this review, frankly. It’s such a well known and such a stunning film that there’s not a lot I can talk about that hasn’t already been covered. The cast is stunning, with a career best turn from Kurt Russell as Macready and Keith David as Chiles, the monsters feature some of the finest work of Rob Bottin’s career, and Morricone’s score is chilling. Really, this is an almost perfect storm of director, cast and material all at the top of their game. Carpenter, for instance, went on to make some stunningly entertaining films, most notably Big Trouble in Little China, but he never again reached the peak he reached with the Thing, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he was certainly never as frightening as this again (although Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness both have their moments).

Badass. That’s all there is to it.

The Thing, strangely considering how good the monster is, doesn’t rely on the beast for atmosphere or terror. Instead, what we have here is a deeply paranoid film, a movie populated with characters who have been isolated, and the internal divisions already present have been widened by terror to take them over. It’s clear from the very first introduction that many of these men have been here too long, that they don’t like each other and above all else don’t trust each other. When you inject the added trauma that they can’t even tell who’s human and who isn’t into the mix then it’s no wonder the situation becomes raw, and the Thing is indeed an emotionally visceral film.

Ouch.

Take, for example, the very famous couch scene. While Donald Moffat’s stupendous  “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!” line is hilarious and brilliantly delivered, it follows a genuinely unnerving scene where Macready, at the limits of his character, has tied them all to the sofa to test their humanity. Garry is terrified, rightly, as by this point, the crew are already convinced that he’s one of the Things, and he has no-one to appeal to for help. This scene is stunning, actually, and just one highlight in a very celebrated movie.

Colder than the Fox’s Glacier Mint Bear’s nuts.

While the Thing is high on atmosphere and paranoia, it doesn’t mean that the monster doesn’t pack a punch and that the film is free of jump scares. The CPR scene (see picture above) made me shoot up when I first saw it, and even though I know it’s coming now, it does still make me wince. The initial transformation of the dog from loveable family pet into tentacled nightmare is superbly handled, and all in all it’s very hard to argue against the quality of the special effects or Carpenter’s use of the monster. In all honesty, I can’t believe how well the effects still hold up, and the Thing’s practical work still looks fantastic today.

The Thing gives good head. Unfortunately, it’s usually someone else’s. 

Finally, before I sum up and move on, there’s the end itself. This has been much debated, but by this stage of the film there’s only Mac and Chiles left. Mac and Chiles don’t like each other, and haven’t liked each other since the first sight of them. They’ve both fought the Thing to a standstill, and are sitting in the ruins of the camp waiting for hypothermia to take them. The question remains however, are they both Human? Superbly Carpenter never tells us, instead he allows the audience to decide and Macready’s final line is the enigmatic “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens… ” Carpenter doesn’t need to tell us that they’re both Human or that Chiles is a monster because it doesn’t matter- either way Macready is as a doornail. It’s a brutal ending, as harsh and uncompromising as the landscape that it is set in.

One of the harshest endings in cinema

Overall, this is a magnificent film, and actually one of my all time favourites. I’ve struggled with this review, because it’s so famous, but the rating and my recommendation are simple. The Thing is a legitimate classic of Horror, and arguably the finest work of Carpenter’s fairly distinguished career. I have absolutely no hesitation at all in awarding it 4 buckets of fried chicken out of a possible 4, and please, John, put them, the weed and the X-Box down and make another good film. I know you can do it. Oh and stop whoring your back catalogue around to utter hacks like Rob Zombie while you’re at it.

Next up is Honky Tonk Freeway. Which I’ve never heard of but am willing to bet  is a hi-larious zany comedy of some sort. Yay.

Until then,

Jarv.

The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

23 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: The Thing (1982)”

  1. Continentalop says :

    I saw this last year again, in a doubtle feature with another movie that you could argue is the greatest remake ever: Cronenberg’s The Fly. Both films also have the best tagline’s, along with Alien, of all time. “Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.”

    I will also mention that both movies can still scare the crap out of an audience. Bunch of people who never saw either one before were freaking out through both movies.

  2. Droid says :

    I didn’t see this film until the late 90’s, and was impressed, but not blown away by it. I’ve seen it about three or four times since and it keeps getting better. It wasn’t until I saw it a few years ago on the big screen until I really got the terror of it. Top film.

    But… the Americans killed the Swedes? I thought they died of their own ineptitude. Blowing themselves up.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s kind of a standoff. Garry breaks out his gun, and then they fuck up and blow themselves up. To be honest, I’ve seen this film countless times, and I can never remember this bit properly.

  3. tombando says :

    I like the Hawks version better. But I’m like that.

  4. kloipy says :

    I just watched this again for like the 40th time last weekend and the Thing (haha) with the film is that no matter when i start it, i get sucked in and have to finish it. It is that good. One of my favorite films ever

  5. Tim The Film Guy says :

    One of my all time favorite Sci-Fi films 😀

  6. MORBIUS says :

    .
    My only quibble with this Classic film is the idiocracy

    of using a Helo on a ‘strafing run.’

  7. Xiphos0311 says :

    never heard of it so its good?

  8. ThereWolf says :

    Also one of my all-time favs. Watched it again last week and with the play.com blu-ray ‘steelbook’ edition due to arrive this week, I’ll probably watch it again at the weekend! Worth a note, the transfer to blu-ray (which I was sceptical about) is surprisingly crisp. The film looks (and sounds) as good as I’ve ever seen it

    The Brim! “No dog makes it a thousand miles to the coast… that thing wanted to be US!”

    It’s all about the paranoia – it shines through in the scene where they discover the blood supply’s been ransacked in the fridge and they’re all glancing at each other.

    Still does my head in; do the victims know they’re a ‘thing’? Or is it a complete surprise to them as well when their face starts sprouting tentacles?

    I’ve never considered it a remake, just another adaption of the short story ‘Who Goes There’.

    Excellent review, Jarv.

    • Jarv says :

      Cheers Wolf- That scene with the blood is awesome, the look on their faces is truly unsettling.

      • ThereWolf says :

        There are so many things (no pun intended) going on… Windows backing off to the door to give himself an escape route, Copper admitting he’s the only one with access to the cabinet, Garry admitting that he’s the only one with the key – Copper tossing the grenade back to Garry by abruptly explaining that once he’s used the key he hands it straight back… Garry tries to explain it away and in doing so sets Childs off and as they argue Clark wades in shouting… pandemonium… and they’ve all forgotten about Windows…

        Great scene.

      • Jarv says :

        It comes back later when they’re splitting up for the teams and arguing about who goes with who.

        Just a great film.

  9. Just Pillow Talk says :

    For me, the soundtrack puts it over the edge for me. So damn awesome, this movie is.

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