John Carpenter’s The Thing terrified me as a kid. It was one of the few movies that actually inspired fear. Another one that dealt with similar themes was Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which actually caused me nightmares. The idea that something could completely take over your body, as in the Snatchers movie, and look like you, sound like you, but not be you disturbed me greatly. What The Thing added to the body snatcher idea was that it wouldn’t be a gentle transformation, but a painful, Cthulian like process involving tentacles and being ripped apart. This had a way of shifting my worries away from, “What if my mom is a pod person?” to “Oh my god! What if she is and she eats me?”
Outside of what the alien in The Thing could do to people, I think what made the greatest impact on me was the kennel scene. After watching it, every time my dog would put its head down and stare…I’d freak out (I was a very excitable child). I watched it a million times growing up, mostly for that scene, and I forced everyone I knew to watch it as well just to see them squirm. Recently I watched it with my boys, and they agree with me— the CGI Monsters of today’s cinema have nothing on old school physical effects.
This was a remake I adored, although my father was much more a fan of the original, and I suffered through that about as many times. The thing I remember most about the original was the doors. Opening the door, closing the door, one door after another door until finally opening the door revealed The Thing. This version of the story never really scared me, but the constant in and out of one room after another, and focus on keeping the damn doors closed, made me giggle and tease, much to my father’s dismay.
The original sort of followed that old horror rule though, the one we’re always screaming at the idiots trapped in horror films--Don’t open the door! It seemed symbolic of a fear of the unknown and of isolationism, of closing yourself off for safety. It made a lot of sense for the political climate of the time.
Carpenter’s remake was also heavy on the feelings of isolation and of the unknown (though notably fewer doors). I believe the alien in the remake is likely one of the most successfully presented monsters ever, primarily because the characters in the story had no idea how to combat it, what it wanted, how to avoid it, or even which of the other characters might actually be infected by it. You add to that the notion that even your closest friend could secretly be hosting the creature, waiting for you to get alone with it so it could consume you too, and fear and paranoia are inevitable. When you count in that the alien wasn’t CGI or even human-like in appearance, it was easy to suspend disbelief and accept that the creature was a very real threat to the characters.
I’ve recommended this movie many times in the past, and it is absolutely a must see for anyone who loves horror suspense.