THE THING: Does The Quintessential Horror Film Still Hold Up 41 Years Later?

Joshua Stuard takes a look back at John Carpenter's 1982 horror-scifi classic, The Thing, to see how it holds up 41 years later.
John Carpenter's The Thing 1982

John Carpenter’s The Thing holds a special place in the hearts of many horror fans over four decades later. But the question is, does it still hold up?

The horror genre is absolutely packed with amazing and terrifying films. From mainstays like Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises to even the more recent James Wan films of The Conjuring Universe franchise. Though, with the advent of computer-generated imagery (CGI), some horror films just…aren’t what they could be.

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Granted, with the assistance of CGI, some of the scariest and most well-rounded thrillers have taken the spots of the scariest movies yet, such as Sinister and Insidious. However, they struggle sometimes with the introduction of the uncanny valley that is CGI.

So, what do I do? Am I stuck reliving the past with the endless sequels of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and Paranormal Activity? Do I try to go all the way back to the days of Boris Karloff and Universal Studios’ Classic Monsters? Well, no, you don’t. Because the quintessential horror film is right in front of you. In fact…it could even be you right now…

Who Goes There?

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most lauded horror films made within the last half-century, with many in particular citing the film as an inspiration for their own horror films including Quentin Tarantino (who used the film as particular inspiration for his own film The Hateful Eight), J.J. Abrams, Neill Blomkamp, to many others. The themes of isolation, distrust, and absolutely disturbing blood and gore make the film a standout and a benchmark in the horror genre.

The Thing - still 1
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

But would you be surprised if I told you that it not only was a remake, but a novel adaptation as well? The Thing itself was inspired by John W. Campbell’s horror novella Who Goes There? published initially in 1938. The novella was eventually rereleased as Frozen Hell in 2019 in its full form based on new manuscripts found in Campbell’s archive. The novella was eventually adapted to film in the 1951 film The Thing From Another World, which was more or less inspired by the novella but told a different story in the film.

To truthfully and faithfully adapt the novella to screen, Universal Pictures began work on a remake of the 1951 film with several directors, including Tobe Hooper, the director of the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Though it struggled to get off the ground, it wasn’t until Ridley Scott’s Alien was released in 1979 and John Carpenter’s Halloween in 1978 revitalized the project and things started coming together.

The Thing From Another World

For those blissfully unaware of the story of The Thing, let me paint you a picture. The film (and novella) takes place in a research station in Antarctica following a group of Americans who come across the ruins of a vast spaceship that crashed in the ice millions of years ago. In their exploration, they happen upon the remains of a creature and bring it back to their base of operations, accidentally thawing/releasing the creature to wreak havoc on the base.

The Thing 1982 - Still 2
Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

The novella has them free the creature from the ice, while the film shows the aftermath of a previous attempt at assimilation (adapted somewhat successfully in the 2011 sleeper prequel The Thing). Now free, the creature begins assimilating anyone in the base, killing them and genetically transforming them into their exact copies, causing heightened tension amongst the crew until everything comes to a head.

The film particularly plays on the sense of isolation and distrust between the paranoid inhabitants of the research base, leading to very heated exchanges with the group. Ultimately, the group decides to find a way to prevent The Thing from reaching the mainland, knowing that the second it does, the world will fall to its invasion.

Frozen Hell

Obviously, I can talk about the story all day long, but you gotta care about the characters too in order for any weight to be felt with the story. So, let me introduce you to the main players in the film.

First up is the Research Station’s resident badass alcoholic, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell). Man drinks constantly and is always on his toes, the pilot of the station’s helicopter, and the de facto leader of the group once shit starts happening. Along with him is the station’s senior biologist, Blair (A. Wilford Brimley), and chief mechanic Childs (Keith David).

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The three main leads of the film make the film one of their best, with Russell playing MacReady to perfection with that straight-man vibe, David doing his best to be the first African American to survive a horror film (maybe), and Brimley being a sympathetic scientist with a dark twist of the knife.

Though, the main star of the film is, of course, The Thing itself. Portrayed stunningly with the assistance of entirely practical effects done by Robert Bottin off of designs by Dale Kuipers, with the help of special effects icon Stan Winston.

Breathing the Gasoline

One of The Thing‘s most memorable moments is the bleak ending. With the entire film centered around the idea of paranoia and mistrust, audiences had trouble deciphering if the heroes of the film had succeeded in killing the creature or if one (or both) had been assimilated. Theories abound about the ending, with Carpenter even feeding into these theories to tease the fans.

The Thing 1982 - Still 3
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Two theories stand out the most, though they also have easily explainable answers that may discount them for some audiences. The first is the theory that The Thing doesn’t breathe air, so when one of the final characters is filmed in a way that makes it appear that he isn’t breathing, fans immediately picked up on it. Building off of this theory (whilst also being its own unique theory) is the Gasoline theory, involving one of the characters making the other drink gasoline as a test to see if they are assimilated.

Whether one theory or the other is accurate or not doesn’t quite matter anymore, as the film plays out like a whodunnit with cosmic proportions, where the audience is left guessing the entire film about who is and isn’t a Thing

Thawing the Ice

So, what is it that makes John Carpenter’s The Thing such an amazing film? Well, it’s a multitude of things that, when combined, truly make the film a cut above the rest. Does it have a good cast? Yes. Does it have a good story? Yes. Are the characters interesting and likable? Yes…to a certain extent. Is the film a good remake? Yes. Is the film a good adaptation? Yes. Are the kills bloody and gory? Absolutely.

Despite being 41 years old, The Thing stands the test of time with amazing practical effects, a haunting and intriguing story, and a cast and crew that plays their parts well, all to the haunting score by Grammy/Academy Award winner Ennio Morricone.

In conclusion, if you have never watched John Carptener’s version of The Thing before, be prepared. It doesn’t hold back from violent deaths, horrifying visuals, and the continued fear of the unknown.

About The Thing (1982)

The Thing 1982 - poster

Release Date: June 25, 1982
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Burt Lancaster; Based on the book Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
Producers: David Foster and Lawrence Turman
Production: The Turman-Foster Company, Universal Pictures
 Universal Pictures
Genre: Horror; Sci-Fi
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat, and Charles Hallahan

Horror-meister John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York) teams Kurt Russell’s outstanding performance with incredible visuals to build this chilling version of the classic The Thing. In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovers an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. Once unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaks havoc, creates terror, and becomes one of them.

But what do you think? Are you a fan of the film? Let us know your thoughts! Also, for future news regarding Sci-Fi and Horror, stick to The Illuminerdi by following us on social media!

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