Each of us have one or more of those pivotal films from our younger years that leaves a lasting impression into adulthood and while I have many I can name, John Carpenter’s The Thing would be near the top for a variety of reasons sparked by memories that come flooding back each time I watch it.
No I didn’t see it in the theater and that may have been due to my age combined with the ratings system prohibiting me from seeing it at the time. Thankfully the film came along at the same time that the home video market was exploding and upon it’s release to VHS it quickly became the film to see for us young teenagers looking to get a good scare. We had no idea just how good that scare was going to be until Richard Masur put that runaway dog from the Norwegian camp into the dog pen with those belonging to the U.S. station. It’s at this point we realized that the F/X were going to be over the top grisly yet utterly amazing in their design and execution resulting in scaring the hell out of us.
I still remember the first time I saw this film. I, along with a bunch of buddies from school gathered in the basement of the home I grew up in to get a look at this Carpenter/Russell film that promised to be an exciting follow-up to their earlier instant classic, Escape From New York. What stands out distinctly in my mind is at some point in the film my Dad quietly came down the staircase and put his hand on the shoulder of one of my pals to see how scary the movie was. This guy damned near jumped out of his skin he was so startled prompting us all to have a great laugh.
I’m going to assume most of you visiting here have seen this film that was pretty much trashed upon it’s initial release by critics yet I think it’s fair to say that most of us (critics included) now look back at it as a classic of the genre and for me one that should serve as a poster child to prohibit the usage of CGI in films of this sort. After rewatching it for the proverbial “umpteenth time” I came away again thinking that I know this is all fake but the extremes these people went through to scare the hell out of us with their imaginations and craftmanship should be commended. On the flip side one of the major problems I have with CGI is the fact that it has no tangible magic. It dates far too quickly while The Thing’s special effects become nostalgic and don’t lose their appeal. CGI attempts to trick us far too often into believing something’s real when in fact it’s frequently no better than an embarrassing cartoon like image. Would you rather watch the wizardry of Rick Baker’s work in An American Werewolf in London or view it computerised if that option had been available at the time? OK, I know, enough on the CGI bashing. But let me add this. I know CGI can be useful when making an outer space adventure but when it comes to a car chase or squibs exploding on an intended victim, it just makes me appreciate Steve McQueen’s joy ride in Bullitt, Gene Hackman’s car chase in The French Connection and Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch all the more.
Now on to spotlighting the cast and some memorable quotes from this amazing Carpenter film that gets better with every viewing.
Kurt Russell as Macready. “I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.”
Wilford Brimley as Blair. “You see, what we’re talkin’ about here is an organism that imitates other life-forms, and it imitates ’em perfectly. When this thing attacked our dogs it tried to digest them… absorb them, and in the process shape its own cells to imitate them.”
T.K. Carter as Nauls. “Which one of you disrespectful men been tossing his dirty drawers in the kitchen trash can, huh? From now, I want my kitchen clean, all right? Germ free!”
Keith David as Childs. “So, how do we know who’s human? If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?”
Richard Dysart as Dr. Copper. “My God, what the hell happened here?”
Charles Hallahan as Norris. It doesn’t matter what actor Hallahan gets to say in the movie, he’s best remembered as the guy who’s neck stretches to the point that his head severs itself from his torso subsequently sprouting spider legs and attempting to run away…………
prompting David Clennon as Palmer to utter the obvious line…. “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding.”
Peter Maloney as Bennings. “How much more of this crap is there?”
Richard Masur as Clark. “I dunno what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off, whatever it is.”
Donald Moffat as Gary delivers one of the best lines in the film…… “I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!”
Joel Polis as Fuchs. “There is still cellular activity in these burned remains. They’re not dead yet!”
Thomas Waites as Windows. “Reach anybody? We’re a thousand miles from nowhere, man, and it’s gonna get a hell of a lot worse before it gets any better!”
Quite often I’m asked by collectors of the cult fan base if I have an original one sheet for this one. And of course when I say I do the next question inevitably is, “Do you want to sell it?”
Not likely to happen any time soon. Truthfully I may have to find a second copy so each of my sons can inherit one because I’ve passed on my love of this film to them.
Lastly the film looks great on the special edition blu ray release from Arrow Video with plenty of bonus features to quench my thirst about the film, it’s genesis, production and growing reputation as the years have passed since it’s release.