31 Greatest 1980s Horror Films: Page 9 of 9
1. The Thing (1982)
"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."
Here it is, ladies and gentlemen -- the grand-daddy of them all. The single greatest film to be spawned from quite possibly the most influential decade in horror movie history. Of course, this is only the opinion of one lowly columnist in an endless sea of overly-pragmatic internet writers. Regardless, I can't think of another horror film -- from the 1980s or any other time -- that has inspired me on the same level as John Carpenter's 1982 masterpiece The Thing. From its overwhelming themes of isolation and paranoia to its nail-biting suspense to its incomparable special effects, nothing can touch it. And wouldn't you believe that, coming from an era when Hollywood was still a gold mine of original ideas, it's a remake?
It took eight tiresome years for John Carpenter to secure a directing gig for a major studio. Already made famous with Assault On Precinct 13, Halloween and The Fog, Carpenter was hired to redo 1951's The Thing From Another World for Universal Pictures. The success attained from his previous picture, Escape From New York, motivated Carpenter to cast the almighty Kurt Russell for the lead role of R.J. MacReady... after Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte turned it down, that is. Tough luck for The Dude and Detective Sergeant Jack Cates, because Russell's portrayal of a rugged helicopter pilot turned extraterrestrial executioner remains one of the best characters in his distinguished filmography. Carpenter locked down a humongous figure for The Thing ($10 million to be exact, mega-bucks for a horror film being made in the early-80s), snatched up his script written by Bill Lancaster, gathered his players and headed to L.A. to begin shooting his magnum opus.
The Thing take place entirely in and around an Antarctic research facility and starts off with a bang as a helicopter manned by Norweigan sharpshooters fly after a husky, attempting to blow the little fuzzball's head off. The dog stumbles upon a research facility occupied by MacReady and his assorted team of scientist buddies where the Americans are forced to take out the hostile foreigners opening fire on their camp. The men adopt the animal, completely unaware of what actually lurks under its unsuspicious visage. After locking it up in a kennel with the other sled dogs, Fido splits open, mutating into a creature straight from the deepest pits of Hell. The team is able to torch the creature before it does any real damage, and that's when they discover that the dog was actually an alien lifeform capable of copying any other organism that it comes into contact with. Having been cooped up for who-knows-how-long in sub-zero temperatures thousands of miles away from the rest of civilization, the all-male cast of characters start to wonder just how many of them are still human and which ones may have already been assimilated. In short, it's the worst sausage-fest of all time.
Though Russell kicks a hundred different varieties of ass as MacReady and his co-stars, including Keith David and Mr. Wilford "Liberty Medical" Brimley, fill their roles perfectly, the true attraction of The Thing are its special effects created by Rob Bottin. Bottin was just 22 when he signed on to manage the tremendous workload of constructing the film's numerous beasties, but his incessant labor paid off ten-fold as the movie's monster designs remain a benchmark when it comes to make-up and animatronic standards. Each of the alien leviathans have their own distinct look and are truly the stuff of nightmares; difficult to watch twist and contort into inconceivable arrangements of exaggerated humanoid features, yet simultaneously impossible to look away from. The inexperienced Bottin commanded a squad of 40 other effects personnel, one of which was the legendary Stan Winston, who lent his expert hand when things became a bit too exasperating for the up-and-coming SFX prodigy. In an age where CGI eats up more screen time than compelling characters or discernible storylines, The Thing demands repeated viewings as a reminder that nothing trumps good ol' fashioned practical methods of creating monstrous mayhem.
Along with dealing with the complications that go hand-and-hand with an effects-heavy picture, the cast and crew deserve medals for their boundless patience when it comes to conditions in which The Thing was filmed. Things got a bit nippy inside the Los Angeles soundstages where the majority of interior shots were captured, each of them being refrigerated to 40 degrees in order to simulate a frigid Antarctic atmosphere, but at least then the workers could bust outside between takes and soak in the steamy 100 degree southern California weather. After three months of that business, the crew packed up and ventured to the British Columbian town of Stewart, commonly known as "the snowfall capital of North America," to film the remaining external shots of the research camp. It was there that these brave filmmakers clad themselves in $75,000 worth of winter coats and snow boots to survive the brutal negative wind-chills ravaging the region. I heard that John Carpenter's testicles just recently lowered back into his scrotum after hiding away inside his abdomen for the past 30 years. Talk about dedication to one's craft.
Similar to Ridley Scott's futurist epic Blade Runner, which was released into theaters on the same day in 1982, The Thing was panned by critics, mainly due to its repulsive special effects and particularly downbeat yet appropriate ending. Audiences were still raving over Steven Spielberg's E.T., which had just opened a few weeks prior, and they were in no mood to face the concept that aliens might one day make the trip across limitless cosmic space to obliterate us from existence. But the past is in the past. The Thing is now heralded as an undeniable classic, a sterling example of science fiction and horror skillfully fused. John Carpenter has admitted that his head hangs a little lower with each of his cinematic underperformances, but at the end of the day, the acclaimed director still names this as his personal favorite of all of his films. From one Carpenter to another, I concur -- The Thing may very well be the greatest horror movie ever constructed.