The Thing About the Thing

As part of my MFA program, I’m taking a class on monsters in the horror genre. I watched the movie The Thing, directed by John Carpenter, as an assignment for that class. The below blog post may contain spoilers.

I was unimpressed by this movie. In a way, it reminded me of a story we read earlier this semester, Rawhead Rex. Something I noticed in Rawhead is blown up even larger in The Thing: blood and gore and shock value do not equal a good horror story.

In this movie, an alien known as simply “the Thing” massacres a group of researchers in Antarctica after being dug up from 100,000-year-old ice. The Thing imitates other creatures, presumably so that it can kill them for no apparent reason. It doesn’t seem particularly interested in eating the other creatures; it just likes to imitate and kill in odd ways.

It annoyed me that the biology of the creature seems to change with each person it infected. For some victims, all the inner organs remain intact. For others, the organs seem to be replaced by green stringy stuff. In one scene, the doctor is using the defibrillator, and the monster suddenly develops teeth in its torso to bite the doc’s arms off. According to other scenes, the monster needs time to imitate a being, yet it can suddenly develop giant torso teeth at will. I ain’t buying it! It seemed as though the monster’s biology in each scene was selected for maximum gross out, as opposed to being based on telling a cohesive story.

When the blood-and-wire test proved one of their group was infected, the infected person started to bleed from the face, as if proving the point. He made no immediate attempt to run or kill. Instead, he got all gross. What was the point of this except shock value? I love horror that is intelligent, and I found no sense in this moment.

Let’s jump to the climax scene: The Thing emerges from the floorboards in all its glory. It has tentacles, a human head, random face teeth, and half of a dog all combined in one being. The combination of parts in the scene didn’t scare me; rather, it made me cringe because of its sticky, slimy grossness. All those parts would make sense if they each put up a fight. The dog and face teeth could bite. The tentacles could strangle and pull. The human could … I don’t know. But do something.

Instead, in an anti-climactic moment, MacReady blows the whole thing up without much of a fight on the monster’s part. So as far as I could see, the monster’s appearance at the end did nothing but gross me out.

This movie gets glowing reviews. I believe it’s a cult classic. But it didn’t work for me. Gross is no substitute for scary.

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5 Responses to The Thing About the Thing

  1. Sara Tantlinger says:

    The Thing definitely grossed me out too, but even so I did still like the movie, probably more so for Kurt Russell’s character than a lot of other things. The scenes where they find the spaceship and the destroyed Norwegian camp were interesting. I liked all the other characters, even though sometimes they seemed like 2-D characters that could have done with more backstories and development.

    • Alicia W. says:

      I did enjoy the scenes in the Norwegian camp. I felt the tension there, and the gore came across as intriguing to me, rather than gratuitous.

  2. Dan Fiore says:

    I can completely see where you’re coming from on just about everything you said. But… I still just love this movie. I guess nostalgia goes a long way–this has been a fave of mine since I was a kid. Plus, it’s such a product of its time, and I guess that’s part of the charm for me. Also, in regard to what you posted on my entry, I’d agree that the film doesn’t seem too interested in the actual psychology of what’s going on. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the remake, but I’d be curious if it takes a more realistic approach to the material. But this, 1982 The Thing? This is a movie all about making things happen, getting characters moving around doing stuff, I think. It’s as much an 80s action movie as it is horror in some respects. Just one of those movies that hired interesting looking people and let that carry all the character weight. But, agh, I love it.

    • Alicia W. says:

      I kind of wish I’d watched this movie two decades ago. I feel like I’d like it better in that case. I haven’t seen the remake, by the way. This is my first experience with any variation of The Thing.

  3. Vanessa says:

    I have to agree with everything you said in your post. I hadn’t seen this movie before so I don’t share a lot of our classmate’s nostalgic feelings toward it. There’s a different between scary and gross. This movie went for the gross angle and threw out any sort of cohesive nature in regards to their monster. I’m fine with not getting an explanation who/what/where/when/why on the monster, but having it change tactics, biology, and no clear explanation for what it was doing since it didn’t eat people and only killed them bothered me. It felt like every scene was written by a different horror writer because the monster from the previous scene didn’t match the monster in the current one.

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