Halloween Special: John Carpenter’s The Thing from a horror novice

Yeah. Title pretty much should tell you all you need to know about this experiment of mine.

See, it’s Halloween but I don’t trick-or-treat anymore. Don’t even really get dressed up – I generally just stay at home and hand out candy for the kids.

This year, though, I wanted to do something different.

Now, as the title may have clued you in, I hate horror. I hate it with a passion.

The crappy horror is… well, garbage in the extreme. Physical/body horror doesn’t interest me, and poorly done psychological horror is just a snorefest.

The good stuff, say, Midnight, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, that sorta thing? I don’t like being that thoroughly creeped out. It’s just not for me.

Tonight, though, I plan to watch John Carpenter’s the Thing. It’s been a few years since I’ve watched horror, and it’s the first time I can remember knowing that it’s a horror movie going in. I also know the general plot (and the ending, too) so there’s no huge surprise. I’ll give horror another chance to impress me.

This part was written up BEFORE watching the movie, but as I said, I know the general plot and have even seen a few clips from it. I’ve even watched Atop the Fourth Wall’s reviews of the Thing comics, where Linkara talks a bit about the movie. Everything from here on, though, is going to be post-movie stuff. So keep in mind: Spoilers maybe probably.

Well, I know what I’m doing for Halloween next year.

The Thing is a masterpiece of a film, with very few hiccups, and even the few it does have are tiny. It’s a very suspenseful story, well crafted and well told. The actors all turn in decent performances, the sets and enviornments all look… ‘real’, i guess the word would be.

I tend to judge a film’s quality in large part by how often I think of it as a movie instead of something happening in real time, and let me just say: I only thought of it as a movie twice throughout the whole film, and that was to gush over how awesome it was. Everything happening on-screen felt visceral and amazing.

What makes this film brilliant isn’t what it shows us, though: It’s what it doesn’t show us. This is a film about paranoia and mistrust, and it helps instill this feeling in the audience by never showing us everything. At any given time in the movie, one character or another isn’t going to be on-screen, meaning that we’re never quite sure who to trust. This is helped by the film’s many jump-cuts that pull away right as something important to the truth is about to happen – the audience is rarely clear on what happened in a scene where a character is isolated, and our minds are left to fill in the blanks. There’s one instance where a character we’d been following for the past few minutes suddenly turns up dead, apparently through suicide. However, the last we saw of this character (i don’t remember his name, sorry) he’d just found MacCready’s shredded jacket, pointing to MacCready as being one of the Things.

In addition, each character behaves is as reasonable and intelligent a manner as one could ask of a human being under the circumstances.  However, since (again) this entire scenario breeds paranoia and mistrust, the characters still make mistakes and behave erratically at times. That’s okay, though – they’re afraid, it’s easy to understand why (for instance) Windows runs from the group to grab a shotgun or why MacCready threatens to blow everybody up.

There’s a bit of an apocalyptic theme to the movie, too, since the titular Thing could potentially doom all life on the planet. However, this theme is kept in the background so that the conflict is small and personal. Like MacCready says, “nobody trusts anybody anymore”, and our focus is kept firmly on that.

And that ending… just… THAT ENDING. Perfect.

All in all, a fantastic movie, and one that gets my recommendation. Kudos, Mr. Carpenter, I no longer hate horror out of hand.