The Thing (1982)
December 25, 2015 12:31 PM - Subscribe

A research station in the Antarctic is infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien... uh... thing that assumes the appearance of the people it kills.

This is a selection of MeFi Horror Club, details of which can be found here.
posted by brundlefly (37 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is one of my favorites. I prefer it to the 1951 The Thing From Another World , even though bother were based off of Campell's Who Goes There? (text).

The atmosphere, the realization that while the Thing is the enemy, so too are the others who are ostensibly on your side, the paranoia, the long tracking shits and silence and stillness, the practical effects ... It's a great, great movie.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:38 PM on December 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

A perfect ending, as well.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:22 PM on December 25, 2015

This is one of my favorite movies ever and the very first DVD I bought, and I watch it every Halloween without fail. I was just thinking about it earlier today, actually--I remember putting it on once while our late lamented calico cat was in the room, and she stood there riveted to the screen during the opening scenes with the dog. (Then the people showed up and she lost interest.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:28 PM on December 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

In the wayback days before Nightline ran after Jimmy Kimmel -- probably the late '80s, early '90s -- the ABC affiliate in Cleveland would run a late night movie after Nightline. I think they ran The Thing like three times a year. Even with all the gore gone, all the profanity gone, and ads for local car dealerships and pizza places every fifteen minutes, this movie is still compelling as hell. That's a powerful movie. It's better with the good stuff in it, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:34 PM on December 25, 2015

Peter Watt's has a great companion short story from the point of view of The Thing. And it's free online.
posted by bswinburn at 9:19 PM on December 25, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is a wonderful horror movie. It still holds up so well. It's a master class in creeping horror, from the instantly-gripping and intriguing opening scene all the way through. It also has some of the most effective canine acting ever captured on film, the dog-Thing walking slowly through the base is so, so unnerving. Plus, while I am not a fan of jump scares, the blood testing scene is an exception, the tension heightened by the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound of the wire scraping the glass in the petri dishes, and then the frantic men all tied to the couch together with what turns out to be the Thing. Such a relatively simple scene, yet so sympathetically panic-inducing. We have our suspicions about who or what is the Thing at any given time, sometimes we're right, sometimes we're wrong, but keeping the audience in the dark along with the characters some of the time is so effective, as are the scenes where the audience knows what or who the Thing is, but the characters don't. Very few horror movies are so well-thought-out in terms of finding the most effective way to keep the audience unnerved. And you learn just enough about the Norwegian storyline that happened before the film starts to be fascinated and want to know more. Far too few horror movies leave you wanting more the way The Thing does.

And as always, the commentary track on the DVD with Carpenter and Russell is awesome entertainment!
posted by biscotti at 7:26 AM on December 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

The spatial stuff in this movie is so good. (Probably necessarily because of the detective element.) The station's living block, with the long central hallway and doors off to the side, is kind of inherently scary in a real way. Something could be happening, waiting, in any one of those rooms. Modern horror would fuck it up and just have it all be about "make a scary looking hallway", but the station feels just real.

That doesn't necessarily mean that things seem to fit together perfectly—the underground part seems unbelievably large and not connected to anything, and where really are the kennels from the outside area?—but that's not as important as the definite feeling that things are in places, and things have some kind of off-camera location.
posted by nom de poop at 7:57 AM on December 26, 2015

When my husband was working in Antarctica this was a favorite movie to screen on holidays, as I recall.
posted by town of cats at 9:26 AM on December 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

I was a bit surprised that this hadn't been posted to Fanfare already. It's my favorite film and the movie that made me want to make movies. This was Carpenter at the peak of his powers. If nothing else his eye for composition is phenomenal.

Side note: There's a lot of this film in The Hateful Eight. Kurt Russell, blizzard (including rope lines to get from building to building), isolated situation, paranoia... and Ennio Morricone actually repurposes some unused music he composed for The Thing!
posted by brundlefly at 1:46 PM on December 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is playing as a late night movie at the local Alamo Drafthouse in a couple of weeks, and I already have my ticket. I'll be going alone, because my wife can't handle (a) horror movies, or (b) animals specifically being harmed in movies, so this one just won't fly for her. And you know, normally I don't think twice about it when she vetoes something, because she knows her own tastes and I don't need her to like all the same stuff I do.

But this movie in particular, I really wish that I could in good conscience ask her to watch, just because it's so astoundingly well crafted, and she's missing out. But I can't, because she SHOULD miss this one out. But still, I wish, y'know? Because she IS missing out.
posted by Ipsifendus at 2:26 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also one of the greatest lines in film.

I knew what this would be before I clicked on it.
posted by brundlefly at 2:28 PM on December 26, 2015

I had watched it shortly before the Horror Club announcement; my tweets from that night:
Thoughts on The Thing, 1: MacReady's cowboy hat is not accidental. He's the Clint Eastwood type who steps up when things get bad.

Thoughts on The Thing, 2: the Hawks version is a communism-scare allegory; the Carpenter one trades in cancer fears. "One little speck."

Thoughts on The Thing, 3: the VD poster in the background of the blood test scene. "THEY AREN'T LABELED, CHUM."

Thoughts on The Thing, 4: the movie very efficiently establishes claustrophobic isolation. Radio contact is unreliable; helicopter risky.

Thoughts on The Thing, 5: GREAT DOG ACTING by the Norwegians' dog.

Thoughts on the Thing, 6: Blair's computer simulation is nonsense technology in service of storytelling. Could have been omitted? The computer nonsense is a visual short-cut to what Blair writes in his journal; we hear that read aloud in a later conversation. (Although the animation of cellular assimilation: CANCER, right?)

Thoughts on The Thing, 7: There is SO MUCH SMOKING in the early life-on-the-base scenes.

Thoughts on The Thing, 8: The matte paintings of the crater & spaceship, and their integration into the shots, are still amazing craftwork.

Thoughts on The Thing, 9: It's so bleak! The Thing survives freezing; it survives burning ("there's still cellular activity"). It survives. So we must conclude: it'll survive this despite all MacReady's efforts; he's slowed it a little is all. Mankind still doomed.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:49 PM on December 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

[and in retrospect, my "it's about cancer" idea was probably inspired by the "I shared my flesh with thinking cancer" line in Watts' story; and its use as the title on Artw's MeFi posting of it...]

the underground part seems unbelievably large and not connected to anything

Yes, it always feels like a switch to an entirely different set; and do Antarctic bases even have basements anyway?

Rewatching it, it's striking how sparingly and sparsely the music is used. It's so essential and memorable, but most of the scenes are unscored; often the scored shots act as interstitials between story beats.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:01 PM on December 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Rewatching tonight. It really is a tight bit of film making. I'm probably going to have to watch the 2011 prequel eventually, just for completionism.
posted by figurant at 9:58 PM on December 26, 2015

In an alternate universe the prequel would be a half-decent but forgettable horror flick. That is has to be compared to a masterpiece does it no favors. Also, apparently the prequel sported a ton of really cool practical effects that were ditched in the end in favor of CG. Which fucking blows.
posted by brundlefly at 1:21 AM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

The script and the acting and everything just works, but it wouldn't be the masterpiece it is without those 1981 special effects. This is one of those movies that makes it seem like visual effects have actually regressed in some ways since CGI took over. If they made this movie today there would pixels flying all over the place and it's not unlikely it would be 50% less scary as a result. You'd be all caught up in the story and then a scene would turn into a video game bossfight. Rob Bottin's squirmy rubber monsters have such a tactile quality, they glisten and scuttle and flop around. It's the corruption of the flesh, and that corrupted flesh seems all too solid and real.

The X-Files and Deep Space Nine both did an episode where they pinched the blood exam scene, and even though there was no mistaking where they got it from it was still scary as hell. I haven't checked, but I bet TV tropes has a whole page for scenes like that. And I bet those scenes almost always work, too. If a show does a scene like that and it's not scary, it's probably a pretty hopeless show.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:37 AM on December 27, 2015 [5 favorites]

That X-Files episode uses establishing shots that are just plain grabbed from THE THING. I don't mean duplicates. I mean they used the actual footage.
posted by brundlefly at 10:25 AM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I routinely hold up The Thing as the greatest creature FX ever achieved in film. Practical effects were the Way.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:52 PM on December 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

figurant: "Rewatching tonight. It really is a tight bit of film making. I'm probably going to have to watch the 2011 prequel eventually, just for completionism."

The prequel isn't terrible or even bad but it's completely forgettable.
posted by octothorpe at 1:05 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The prequel is so weird. Like: Who is this movie for? It's a vestigial organ of a movie. A thorough "reimagining" would have been just fine, considering the '82 movie is itself a remake.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:08 PM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is funny, the 1982 Thing is a model for how a remake can expand and build on the original and the 2011 version is almost a perfect example of how disposable most recent remakes have been (cf. Robocop and Total Recall).
posted by octothorpe at 5:49 PM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yeah, those SFX. The first time I watched it, I was split between absolute horror at what I was seeing and fascination at how they did it; now it's mostly fascination, given that I know that it isn't just CGI. The other thing in retrospect is realizing how desperate MacReady & Co. are to be using those flamethrowers, knowing that they're destroying the environment that's keeping them alive.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:51 AM on December 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The seventies and early eighties were really a golden age for those analog makeup effects. People like Rob Bottin, Dick Smith, Rick Baker and were doing amazing work in films like Altered States, American Werewolf in London and The Howling.
posted by octothorpe at 7:30 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

The prequel isn't terrible or even bad but it's completely forgettable.

I am on record here liking it well enough, but to be honest, four years on I can recall essentially nothing about it. There is a scene are some scenes (?) inside the space ship, and we (maybe) see the creature coming out of the block of ice leaving behind the big ice bathtub sort of thing seen in the Carpenter movie. Without going to IMDB to check, I cannot recall anyone in the cast other than Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and when I try to picture her, I can only see her in Scott Pilgrim.

But the 1982 Carpenter movie is nearly perfect and it should be required viewing for anyone who insists that remakes always fall short of their predecessors.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:31 AM on December 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

As if the movie isn't great enough, there is this little musical number, which always makes me smile.
posted by miss-lapin at 7:10 PM on December 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

The video game that came out a few years ago is also worth tracking down in you're a fanatic for the film. It's hardly flawless, but it's trippy to walk around those sets and they have a kind of interesting gimmick where the other characters get gradually more freaked out and if you have to keep doing stuff to calm them down or things get ugly.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:17 PM on December 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I love that Watts story so so so much that I would give you a few days salary if you could edit reality such that it had a different and less unfortunate last line.
posted by phearlez at 1:41 PM on January 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

ricochet biscuit: "But the 1982 Carpenter movie is nearly perfect and it should be required viewing for anyone who insists that remakes always fall short of their predecessors."

I wouldn't consider it a remake, per se, though. It's the second film that was based on a short story, but it really isn't a remake of the Hawks one at all.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:33 PM on January 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

So thanks to this post I finally watched this movie. I had started it once before but didn't finish; I think I got at least as far as the computer animation, but most of what was after that seemed new.

I'm not really a horror or thriller movie watcher. I startle easily and want everyone to make it through the story. I enjoyed this, though, maybe since there was a lot of quiet suspense more than straight-up gore (though there was plenty of that). Lots of weird "I'm not sure that would actually happen" moments, with the cold and its effects, but never took me out of the film.

Really enjoyed them investigating the Norwegian camp. I love doing "archeology"-type exploring in video games, where you come to a place or across some data and try and piece together what happened.

Last scene came on just as the sun was setting this evening.
posted by curious nu at 5:41 PM on January 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't consider it a remake, per se, though. It's the second film that was based on a short story, but it really isn't a remake of the Hawks one at all.

True enough. I was speaking inexactly, in the sense of a second or later film adaptation from the same source material. There are second-plus cracks at adapting a prose original (The Maltese Falcon, The Fly, True Grit) that are notably different from and better than their predecessors and are essentially new adaptations rather than remakes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

After rewatching the Carpenter one last night, I undertook an encore viewing of the indifferent 2011 prequel today, with an ear on the director & producer on the commentary track. For everyone who finds themselves in my camp for the prequel -- not bad but kind of unnecessary -- the producer drops a hint or three about how hard they had to fight the studio to get ti to where it is. Previous visions for it had it being a straight-up remake but with more explosions and CGI, then a sequel where the main character would be MacReady's brother trying to deliver a case of J&B scotch to MacReady (which is how the new story connects with the old). To hear him tell it, the studio was so very much not on board with a female lead, or having the Norwegians occasionally speak in Norwegian with subtitles.

I guess we should count our fortunes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:00 PM on January 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Watching my new Blu-Ray copy of this and it just looks so great. Carpenter doesn't get enough credit for his visual composition but he just rocks the wide-screen in this.
posted by octothorpe at 12:55 PM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

The deepest of dives into this movie, including a 1999 interview with Carpenter and voluminous ancillary materials.
posted by rhizome at 7:15 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm a huge fan of The Thing. It's my favorite horror movie (and possibly even movie, period) of all time.

I've recently gotten the opportunity to go to an event for the film's 35th anniversary at a convention next year, and I'm very excited.
posted by thedarksideofprocyon at 4:32 AM on December 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fun fact: while the Norwegian pilot's dialogue in the opening scenes isn't subtitled, it roughly translates to "Get the hell away! It's not a dog! It's imitating a dog! It's not real! Get away, idiots!"
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Mrs. Example and I are going to see this on the big screen for Halloween tonight. It's the 40th anniversary restored edition in 4K, apparently. I'm really looking forward--I've only ever seen it on cable and DVD. (I was only 11 during its first theatrical run, and it would have been a bit...intense.)
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:03 AM on October 31, 2022 [3 favorites]

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