(WARNING: THIS POST IS FOR A CLASS ON HORROR FICTION. IT WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS ABOUT THE FILM THE THING .)
A movie this bad is really better viewed through the eyes of Mystery Science Theater, 3000. I’d never seen The Thing before this course, and I can tell you several reasons why I almost wish I had that couple of hours back now that everything is said and done.
Let’s start with the obvious: the acting is pretty bad. I’m not a Kurt Russell fan (nothing against him; he’s simply not in the kind of movies I generally go see), but he was without a doubt one of the shining stars as far as talent was concerned. Many of the actors sounded as though they were battling for best performance in a B movie. Did the director not have time or film to try those shots again?
And then there’s the script. I had no idea who was who most of the time, nor did I understand how characters came to their “scientific” or “logical” conclusions about the nature and goals of the monster. This script left a lot of information to be desired. Time after time I paused my player and said, “Wait, what? Who’s missing, now?”
Speaking of the characters, I didn’t know anything about them. What was the importance of their presence in that area? How many times had they been there before, if ever? What, exactly, were their expertise? Who was waiting at home for them? They were nobody to me, even by the time the credits rolled, and so I had a hard time accepting them as real people. Not one guy missed his kid or wanted to leave a letter for his wife?
Do I even need to mention the classic, stupid, horror film decisions the characters made, such as dragging an unidentified monster back to the shelter just to perform an impossible (and ultimately incomplete) autopsy that was never part of their job?
I could go on and on. It was a silly, confusing film, and I couldn’t help thinking that I would have enjoyed it much more if it were being mocked by a bored guy and his robot friends.
But there’s no denying that this is well known. As I’ve explained already, I’m not a Kurt Russell fan, nor do I make a habit of consuming every horror film that comes my way – and yet, I knew of The Thing. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had heard of it many times. There are fans out there.
So what is its lasting power?
There’s no question about this; it’s the monster.
For all of its many, many flaws, The Thing has an absolutely awesome monster. “The thing” is disgusting. It’s scary. It creates believable tension among the characters. It has cool powers that allow it to take new, more horrifying forms as the show progresses.
I learned two important lessons from this film:
First, Kurt Russell’s not a bad actor (though his 80s hair makes him look a bit like a lion cub). He managed to hold together a film of pretty weak performances with his own, fairly believable work.
Second, an excellent monster and some popular Hollywood names will save a movie from the doom of B-or-lower-status.
To tell the truth, I had fun watching The Thing. Though I almost wish I had those two hours back, I find – amazingly – that I’m kind of glad I saw it. I laughed most of the time, and once or twice I winced as the monster flicked its tentacles or grew spider legs out of a victim’s head. Honestly, what more do we want from horror films than a good, silly time, seasoned with moments of impressive monster magic?
I’m actually going to recommend this movie. Play it in the background at your Halloween party, and have a great time. It won’t disturb you or give you nightmares, but you’ll get to sit with your friends for a couple of hours and make some good jokes.
Carpenter, John. The Thing. Universal Pictures, 1982.