Right, apparently I’m prided on being some sort of film buff. Apparently. But I haven’t watched films most people consider to be out and out classics. Or at least movies I really should have watched already in my 25 years on this earth. This is my attempt to rectify this.
First up, The Thing.
As it appears in countless scariest moments ever lists, I already knew of the big creature feature set pieces in the movie (head spider, stomach mouth) but what I didn’t know was really what the movie was about at all. Aside from, you know, a Thing. What struck me initially while watching it was the overwhelming oppressive feeling the film has, much like Alien. Although with The Thing a lot of it takes place in brightly lit environments, unlike Alien, yet it still feels bleak and inescapable.
Once the thing of the title starts to do its thing the film really hits its stride. I think one of the main strengths of the film is that the Thing of the title is an unseen menace. It imitates hosts and so we never see its true form. Is it an alien? A virus? Both?
"You've got to be f*cking kidding."
After the discovery of whatever the thing is, the film becomes a study in paranoia. As the Thing could be imitating any one of the crew of the outpost we are never sure who could turn at any moment. Where Alien had people fighting against something they could easily see, here all bets are off.
And it leads to one of the tensest scenes in the movie. The blood test. As Kurt Russell’s MacReady takes samples from all the remaining cast and performs a sort of scientific experiment on it. You really could cut the tension with a knife as each member is tested. In contrast to a lot of movie’s today, we, the audience also don’t know who if any of the characters are infected, so we’re just as on edge as they are. And because of that, this scene contains the biggest scare in the movie. I feel anyway. When MacReady tests one of the survivors blood and it jumps out of the Petri dish and forms a solid creature before landing on the floor.
Mistrust is basically the theme of the whole movie. And it’s best presented in the final scene between Childs and MacReady. After seemingly destroying the creature the movie skips to some time later, and we see Childs (who had disappeared earlier in the movie) and MacReady. Again, one of them could be the Thing imitating them. Or neither of them could be. The last line “Let’s just see what happens” is perhaps one of the greatest in film history. The film doesn't have a happy ending, more a downbeat nihilistic one. Ambiguity wins the day as such. A climax where everything gets resolved would not have felt right after the previous 2 hours of build up. And as such, the ending is perfect as well.
Also, I haven't even begun to mention the creature effects in this movie. It's stuff like this that reminds me why I hate CG (Until something like District 9 comes along and reminds me I love it too) but seeing as The Thing was made pre CGI, the practical effects, combined with some ingenious camera trickery, are nothing short of spectacular. Special mention goes to the head spider but perhaps the best and most disgusting effect is when the dog mutates. It's just plain nasty.
Anyway, next on the UFO (that's Unwatched Films Odyssey), is The Big Lebowski.