Throwback Thursday: Fighting the Cold inside and out in John Carpenter’s The Thing

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past—“classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important in some aspect.

Baby, it’s cold outside. So stay inside. Grab a bunch of friends and watch a movie like John Carpenter’s 1982 opus, The Thing. It will definitely fill you with an air of paranoia, and what better film to add in the element of the cold than this one?

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The Thing deals with the team of an Antarctic research station that gets a little more than they bargained for when they deal with some pesky Norwegians supposedly going crazy. Little does the American team know but the Norwegians weren’t crazy—they were trying to save the world from an alien that can mimic the appearance of others. Now it’s on the shoulders of Kurt Russell (as a lone-wolf pilot) and a who’s-who of character actors to try to deduce who the bad guy is and hopefully stop an epidemic that could destroy the world.

This film initially failed at the box office but has gone on to have a long life on home video, inspiring comics, video games, and even a failed prequel in 2011. The Thing itself is an adaptation of a novella by John W. Campbell and would actually be considered a remake of 1951’s The Thing from Another Planet. Another film you should watch if you love vintage ’50s sci fi and a creature that looks like celery.

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Seriously. Am I the only one that sees celery in this?

Besides Kurt Russell’s standout acting, we get Keith David, Wilford Brimley, and Richard Dysart all giving great performances and throwing doubtful glances at everyone. If you only know Brimley from Cocoon, know that he’s a deeper actor than that—though Cocoon is still a good movie, so check it out if you haven’t. Keith David is fun to watch in everything he does with his magnetic bass voice, and Richard Dysart is also more than the sum of his parts (even though he held down the TV show L.A. Law for years).

The score is quintessentially ’80s, but also with a touch of epicness brought out by the great Ennio Morricone and by John Carpenter. It’s almost grand, but it surprisingly fits in well with the claustrophobic, intimate nature of the film.

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Doesn’t he just exude “cool”?

Really, though, this film is all John Carpenter’s direction. He burst onto the Hollywood scene with the small-budget Dark Star and kept the do-it-yourself aesthetic for most of his career. (Side note: If it weren’t for John Carpenter’s “do everything” mentality, we might not have Robert Rodriquez doing the same things these days.) The Thing definitely has the typical Carpenter themes: loner trying to do right, a dark sense of humor, and moodiness galore. From the music to the acting to the camera angles and editing, Carpenter really knows how to set a mood. It is most evident in The Thing where every piece on screen comes together to fit the sense of dread, paranoia, coldness, and darkness that makes the chills—both real and imaginary—hit home.

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Go to Wilford Brimley when all hell breaks loose. He’ll solve anything.

I haven’t even mentioned the special effects. The credit for some of the amazing and unnerving practical effects here go to Rob Bottin and Stan Winston. Both are now legends in the field of special effects, and so much credit for the scenes in The Thing in which we actually know it’s the alien go to these tremendously talented guys. And it’s not just one creature they had to come up with; each one is new and different from the ones that came before. Very well done.

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“One of us. One of us.”

Also worth pointing out is the final scene of the film. (Skip the rest of this paragraph now if you’ve never seen it.) The Thing’s ending perfectly encapsulates what makes this film great: two guys who can’t trust each other, both starting to succumb to the cold, realize that there’s no way out of the situation, so they decide to share a final drink of scotch. If one of them is the Thing, then you will survive, but you have to go along with the charade until the very end.

The last word is that this is a highly recommended cult film from a cult director. If you’ve never seen a John Carpenter flick, this is a great one to start with. If you are a Carpenter fan, I’m sure you’ve already seen this and can quote the whole film.

Good luck, stay warm, and trust no one.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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