Decades: Self-Proclaimed “Movie Nerd” Watches “The Thing” for the First Time


Source: Criterion

Will Teare

“Decades: The 2’s” is a series of articles tackling a year in each decade leading up to 2022. From 1952 to 2012, I plan to write about a single film that needs to make a return into the cinematic conversation once again to honor its overall quality and craftsmanship. These films may not be the defining film of the year, but one that should be honored with just as much regard. 


The year is 1982. President Regan is in year two of his presidency, David Letterman and Eddie Murphy make their first appearances to the American public and Commodore has just announced the “home computer.” All you’ve seen at the movies in the last few weeks is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn and E.T. a thousand times because that’s all your little brother wants to see. But tonight you want to see something a little scarier. Maybe even a little darker. The marquee says Blade Runner is opening that day and you’ve always thought Harrison Ford was cool but there’s something about this other movie, The Thing, that catches your eye. The poster really is something and that Carpenter guy knocked your socks off when you saw Halloween when you were a little too young. So you buy a ticket. Now, Halloween doesn’t scare you anymore, you’ve grown up. But even to this day, even when it’s just the thought of it, The Thing still gives you chills.

John Carpenter’s The Thing follows a group of scientists stranded in their Antarctic facility during a blizzard. When some peculiar visitors arrive at their door, they’re met with cosmic horror on a level they’ve never seen. The magic of the movie is its simplicity. One of the crew is secretly a shape-shifting alien monster that will stop at nothing to kill everyone, and they need to find out who it is. Can’t get easier than that. Where the movie gets really good is how well they execute on that premise. 

The hero of this movie, if not John Carpenter(trust me we’ll get there), is Rob Bottin. Bottin is responsible for some of the grossest, and most depraved creature designs to ever hit celluloid. He famously would work 22-hours at a time and sometimes didn’t sleep for whole days on end working on creature after creature trying to perfect what this Thing would look like. Unlike Jaws, where the scary part is the fact that the shark was only shown briefly and created tension in its absence, Carpenter revels in the fact that you so desperately want to look away from what you’re seeing. He wants you to see every pore dripping with ooze, and every bone shatter and crack as it takes the form of its latest victim as it releases this blood-curdling screech. In that way, it’s perfect.

Carpenter is widely known as one of, if not the greatest horror directors ever. But he’s also known by another title, which is a director of A+ “B” movies. Meaning, that he’ll take your cheesy creature feature horror script and direct it like it’s his last movie. The Thing may be his greatest achievement in that sense. This is easily one of those movies that entirely lies on how you treat the script. The Thing could’ve very easily been lost to time. Where another director would try to embellish the stakes or the origin of the creature, Carpenter uses the ambiguities as a strength. We never know where the alien is from, when exactly it came to Earth, and what its motivations are. We just know on a primal level, that all it wants to do is kill and survive, and the humans are its next prey. There is never a doubt in any of the crew’s minds that it can be reasoned with or tricked or whatever, they’re just prey to the thing and all they can do is survive. 

This was my very first time seeing The Thing. Frankly, that poster and the stories I heard scared me a little. I like to say that I’ll watch and love any movie that’s good but horror doesn’t fully work with my brain. I hate being scared and uncomfortable, but this movie is so great at making you feel the most of those two things, that I can’t do anything but be completely overtaken by it. The way that you fully get immersed into a mystery full of ambiguity, intrigue, and distrust in the face of annihilation in a very nihilistic movie is so riveting that I couldn’t take my eyes off it. When you get the chance, go watch The Thing. You won’t regret it.