I’ve never been a big fan of body horror. My parents did their best to shelter me from seeing scary movies as a kid, and the horror movies I saw with friends in high school were very mid-2000s and far from good. For the better part of my late teens/early 20s, I caught up on a lot of the classic horror movies I missed out on in my younger years, a lot of them involving bad things happening to the body. Up until this point, my exposure to these films was brief clips that still managed to linger in my mind. Scenes from films like Dead Alive (Braindead) and The Fly seeped into my brain and never left, leaving a very unpleasant mark. It wasn’t until college that I faced my fears head-on and willingly took a course dedicated to studying and watching horror movies. One of those movies was John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Now as a slightly older person, I have a deep appreciation for body horror films. My fear of 80s and 90s practical effects hasn’t totally worn off, but there’s no denying the sheer artistry behind it. There’s a lot to admire in The Thing as it does more than just deliver extremely horrifying and memorable effects. It’s a well-constructed, atmospheric film that blends sci-fi and horror together seamlessly. Set in an isolated research lab in Antarctica, a research team falls prey to a shape-shifting alien who kills and assumes the likeness of its victims.
Kurt Russell leads the cast as MacReady, an everyman who spends a good part of the movie chugging whiskey and looking rather mopey. As the story progresses, he evolves into a leader and comes up with a plan to destroy the creature once and for all. The rest of the crew is a typical ensemble of personalities, similar to the crew in Alien. When things start to get hairy and people start getting picked off one by one, the paranoia and distrust begins to settle in. It’s not just the mystery of who the “thing” could be, but the ultimate human reaction to the situation that makes the story so captivating. It’s certainly an eerie tale made much more horrifying by the practical effects.
The shape-shifting alien is a grotesque sight to behold. The effects created by Rob Bottin are truly horrific and take many forms. Its first appearance in the dog pen is only the beginning, and it’s quite a gross beginning. As it starts to take over team members, its nature becomes even more demented. Despite it coming out in 1982, the effects hold up tremendously upon re-watch. It’s quite a reminder that nothing beats practical effects.
Amazingly, The Thing was critically panned when it first came out. Deemed as too dark, depressing, and lacking humanity, critics failed to see what so many value it for now. Yes, it’s gross, that can’t be denied. It does, however, present an interesting conundrum, and the characters and their actions are realistic enough that the tension created becomes quite tangible, making it a captivating watch. In terms of the body horror, even the most squeamish can learn to appreciate how much hard work and creativity went into making those effects as shocking and long-lasting as they are.