The Thing is Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None as a creature feature in an Antarctic research station, and I had such a blast. I’d never seen a John Carpenter movie before and have no idea what had given me the impression that this one would not traumatize me in the least, but whatever it was was right! This is not the sort of horror movie that frightens Tarras. The scariness takes two forms: ice-bound existential dread (my ideal environment, zero scared), and mesmerizingly intricate practical effects (candy apple red and animatronic, zero scared). Even after things got gloppy, I was still thinking about how much I would like to be at a polar research station, chipping off chunks of ancient ice to put in my whiskey and riding the wave of societal breakdown as everyone starts to get way weird out in frozen isolation.
Honestly, minus the part where a mutating alien life form is wreaking havoc among them, The Thing makes this environment look pretty darn chill, no pun intended. Like, incidentally, no one behaves as if they’re actually in painfully freezing temperatures. After one truly outrageous cowboy Elmer Fudd situation he wears for his flying scene, Kurt Russell absolutely REFUSES to cover his lush billowing hair with a hat, even in temperatures he’ll later claim will soon be at 100 degrees below zero. Early on another character opts to just break a window in their South Pole rec room in order to shoot out of it. It’s really all of it rather dumb I think we can admit, a Prometheus situation in which a bunch of supposed scientists behave as if they have never heard of a safety precaution, ever, in their lives. I mean forget hats, none of them even puts on a mask or something when confronted with any of these non-terrestrial horrors!
Because this is a movie where such kind of concerns just do not matter, which I find lowers the stress level completely. Only one thing is going to kill them and it is the plot. The Thing isn’t interested in how to survive this, it’s interested in how it will dole out the deaths. Which is not to say this march of doom is disinterested in drama, it is 100% about drama: the drama of trying to guess which of these 12 men you know nothing about might secretly be the Thing.
It’s also about 1982. It’s about the neon pink glow of flares on snow, the skinny young cook rollerskating down the concrete halls, Kurt Russell’s hair, which I already mentioned because that’s how much this movie is about Kurt Russell’s glorious hair. It’s about brainstorming who would inevitably be cast today in a big budget remake (the man with the dogs: David Harbour). It’s about delighting over elements from this movie that you now recognize were being referenced in other things you’ve watched: the Changeling blood test scene on the Defiant in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a bit of that Davies era Doctor Who episode where David Tennant gets trapped on a shuttle with people who are getting possessed, a whole ass homage on the first season of The X-Files when Mulder & Scully go to that Alaskan research base.
And I love that this iconic schlocky polar horror movie ended the way it did. I have enough goodwill at this point to even believe that the Thing functions as a metaphor for whatever “monstrous” societal element you want to argue for. Why not! Woohoo!