John Carpenter's The Thing (1982) Review

by Dave

Check out our companion podcast episode on this movie here.

Awhile ago on the podcast I decided to admit another of my retro confessions, this one appeared to be a significant one in the ears of my co-hosts. I had mentioned not following or being interested in certain significant retro things in the past but this one really seemed to suck the proverbial air out of the group. I admitted that in my 47 years of my life I had never seen John Carpenter's The Thing. After the customary gasp and "WTH?!?" type reaction that I have grown accustomed to, it was quickly settled to be a must watch movie for me. What you may or may not know about me is that I appreciate an occasional horror movie but back in the 80s it just wasn't my "have to go" see movie genre. The 80s came and went and this movie, although I was aware of its existence, just didn't gravitate to something I felt I needed to make time for. Most movies I opt to watch lately via steaming service or on demand are those that I am familiar with, mainly because at the time of night I get the opportunity to start a movie for solo spectator viewing is when I am zoning out into a slumber like slate and know that I am doomed to miss portions of the movie and really don’t mind. The Thing took awhile to make the time for because I didn’t want to be on the way to sleepy time and miss critical portions of a “must watch” movie.

In the beginning of October of this year, I made myself a promise that I would make time for this infamous "must watch" movie. On the night of Saturday, October 27, I searched and found only one option via On Demand, knowing that this was my rare opportunity to make it happen before the end of the month. I committed $3.99, which is about two dollars more than I was prepared to pay, but having settled in with a glass of bourbon, told my family that I was embarking on a retro horror movie and the room had been cleared. I took a pic of the title sequence as it started and tweeted to the world that I was going to watch this movie for the first time.

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I am not going to go into a review of the synopsis of the movie as I am fully aware that if you are reading this, you likely already have seen it. Most of the people in my circle of online friends really simply just want to hear that I loved and enjoyed this movie as much as they do. I am getting there ... cool your jets.

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Lets start with one of the major characters that can not be denied and really made this movie what it was. The desolate setting of Antarctica. I really feel that this was a integral part of the story, as we needed to feel like this band of characters had no one to help with this alien symbiote problem but themselves. I've seen this formula before but the setting was deep space, like in the classic Alien (1979), or under water with The Abyss (1989) isolating characters and giving them what appears to be an unbeatable adversary is just great story telling and works for The Thing.

A really strong point for this movie for me was the cast, with the kick ass character of MacReady played by the fantastic Kurt Russell. Very notable cast members were along for this journey being that of the Wilford Brimley (the quaker oats dude), T.K. Carter (side kick to Dr. Detroit), Keith David (the dude that Roddy had to beat up to put on a pair of sunglasses in They Live), Charles Hallahan (the Dad in Kidco, you saw that one didn't you?) , and the always hard ass character actor that didn't disappoint as always Donald Moffat (The Taxman in Popeye, yes I saw this movie, don't judge). I really felt that they sold the concept that they were a ragtag bunch of people that had gotten stuck with each other on this science gig and had gotten used to each others daily nuances. Everything that happened played well in the concept of knowing people so well and when something was slightly off like a co-worker that you know better than yourself is taken over by an alien you question those odd behaviors. A fun scene is MacReady testing each of their blood in front of them with the blow torch at the ready to toast them if they were indeed the alien symbiote.

Here we are at the end of this and I hope that I was able to convey that this was indeed a fun movie for me. However, due to the hype of "must watch" it didn't meet that high bar expectation for me. I would definitey put this movie at somewhere between $.99 to $1.99 rental fee and no more. I didn't hate it, but was expecting a bit more for the ride as it by proxy of the pushing of eveyone had gotten built up to this "you gotta see" versus "you should make time for it but no rush". I think co-host Scott had worried that is what this would become and he called that one correctly.

Here is my working theory on “beloved” retro movies that get consumed past their time in the limelight. I feel like if you had enjoyed them when they were released and in the context of their time in history, this one being the early 1980's it may have set the stage for great isolation horror movies that came after it. I could see that this would have been a trend setter and likely recognized for that reason. Unfortunately, as I have seen this formula done over and over and this movie was viewed much later it doesn't get the credit in my mind as being the first to the table. Had I seen it when released it likely would have been that for me and I realized that all the horror isolation movies that came after were just following this formula. As I can't “unsee” the movies that I watched before this one, it is just another good horror movie that I know I should have seen before that may have raised its personal stock with me. Sorry that it is not gravitated in my mind to a great movie to those retro enthusiast that believe this movie is the cat’s pajamas.

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