Thirty-one years ago today, John Carpenter’s remake / revision of the science-fiction film The Thing From Another World (dir. Christian Nyby, 1951) opened in theaters across the United States. The Thing (1982) was a box office flop and a critical failure, but later found its popularity in the home video market, and is now considered a modern horror and sci-fi classic. Carpenter took his cues primarily from the novella “Who Goes There?,” by John W. Campbell, Jr., instead of doing a straight remake of that previous feature. The original story is high on paranoia and distrust in the face of an ever-changing alien threat, and Carpenter does an amazing job of taking that sense of growing unease to the nth degree. The tension in The Thing exudes from the screen, ratcheting ever higher as the film progresses and the body count grows. It is one of the best alien invasion films, and one of the last practical special effects extravaganzas, before CGI began flooding the market. But everything I can say about The Thing has been said already, and by more capable people. So here, and over the next two posts, I’d like to share some of my favorite things (ahem) about The Thing, in screencap form! [SPOILERS AHEAD YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED]
Tonight, we begin with the film’s cast. The Thing boasts one of the best ensemble casts, um, ever. If you have to rank ensemble casts in horror / sci-fi, it goes: 1) The Thing; 2) Alien (1979); 3) everything else, and really the first two films are about in a tie for first place. I love ensemble casts in general anyhow, because I like films where everyone has an equal hand in getting the plot from a to b, even if the plot is more or less a riff on “Ten Little Indians,” which is the case for both The Thing and Alien. I also apparently like run-on sentences!
What’s great about The Thing‘s cast is that everyone serves a particular purpose, and everyone gets a decent amount of screen time, or at least a moment to shine in the film. After watching it about four times (no joke, folx) in preparation for these posts, I’ve come to appreciate the film’s smaller, quieter scenes more than the big SFX set-pieces. The cast works incredibly well together, and even though the film’s “star” is Kurt Russell (based on primary crediting), The Thing is decidedly NOT a Kurt Russell vehicle.
So, here they are, in no particular order, the men of US Outpost 31:
Clark, sled dog handler, as played by Richard Masur. Clark is inadvertently responsible for setting in motion the film’s chain of events by taking in the “Alaskan Malamute” imitation.
R. J. MacReady, helicopter pilot, as played by Kurt Russell. You could say he’s the film’s “hero,” but he’s not exactly heroic in any sense of the word. He isn’t really even likable, especially when he kills Clark without knowing if Clark is infected or not.
Bennings, meteorologist, as played by Peter Maloney. Bennings gets shot in the leg within the film’s opening minutes, leading to one of my favorite moments:
Copper, physician, as played by Richard Dysart. It’s not sure in the film if he sabotages his own blood serum test because he’s actually the alien, or if Garry is somehow responsible.
Garry, commander of Outpost 31, as played by the great character actor Donald Moffat. Garry gets one of the best lines in the film, something about being tied to a couch all fucking winter. Moffat’s line delivery there is near-perfect.
Fuchs, assistant biologist, as played by Joel Polis. Fuchs is actually one of my favorite characters in the film, particularly in a scene where he pulls MacReady aside to share some horrifying news about the nature of the alien:
Blair, senior biologist, as played by Wilford Brimley. Blair figures out the alien’s method of taking over the human body, and seemingly becomes the first to crack:
Palmer, assistant mechanic, as played by David Clennon. Palmer is actually my least favorite character in the film, serving as a kind of comic relief that feels out of place. He does, however, get the film’s best line. No fucking kidding.
Nauls, cook, as played by T.K. Carter. Nauls is another of my favorite characters, and I’m always disappointed that at the end of the film, he just kind of wanders off to his doom. It’s like Bill Lancaster, the screenwriter, didn’t know what to do with him. Shame.
Windows, radio operator, as played by Thomas Waites. I fuckin’ love Windows. He’s kind of the everyman in The Thing. He’s the character I most identify with, plus he has some boss shades:
Childs, chief mechanic, as played by Keith David, professional bad ass. Childs and MacReady are the final two men to survive the camp’s invasion, and there is much debate whether either or both are actually the thing. I prefer to think neither man is infected, making for a slightly more tragic ending. Their world is ended when the screen goes dark, whether or not one or both are alien.
Norris, geologist, as played by Charles Hallahan. Norris kind of breaks my heart a little, because he seems like the sweetest of the film’s characters, so when he ends up thinging-out, it kind of sucks a little. I always root for him, although the set-piece surrounding his transformation is probably the most iconic and mind-blowing (even to this day) scene in the film.
Twelve men. Two survivors. Even though I have some favorites among the cast, each one is as important to the story as the next. Except Palmer. Fuck that guy.
For the next post, I’ll be sharing some screencaps showing the use of deep focus or a split diopter to make people or objects in the foreground appear in the same focus as things in the background of a scene. And the following post after, I’ll share some of my favorite little moments in the film that either thrill me or make me smile or warm my little film nerd heart every time I watch.