Triple Feature of Terror: John Carpenter’s The Thing!

Wilford Brimley was a versatile actor!

I have seen John Carpenter’s The Thing too many times to count, so at this point it’s tough to say how this movie affects me. I don’t even jump during the scary parts any more. However, I can tell you the way it affected me the first time I saw it.

I did not see The Thing in the theater. I saw it on HBO back in the mid-80’s. It was dinnertime, and I polished off a chicken pot pie while watching this movie. God’s honest truth, I didn’t eat chicken pot pie again for another decade.

When I rewatched The Thing this morning I ate toast with butter and strawberry jelly, and that went down much better. I’m not sure what to say at this point. Years ago, I read Alan Dean Foster’s movie novelization, and can still recall details of the author’s scientific explanations. The Thing internally blocks all oxygen to the brain, so the person suffers oxygen death. Even back then, I recognized a great example of handwavium when I saw it!

Let’s see…The Thing is the best remake of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness that’s ever been made. No offense to John W. Campbell, but the monster of this remake is a Shoggoth, right down to the eyes. I don’t know why Lovecraft the writer gets short shrift here, because he wrote some brilliant science fiction, and At the Mountains of Madness (which is science fiction) is one of the best things he’s ever written.

The Thing is an influential movie. Peter Watts wrote a sequel for Clarkesworld, which you can find here. There is a manga called Parasyte that uses the same concept, except the parasytes gobble up the person’s head and then control the body. The main character applies a tourniquet to his arm when the parasyte invades, so the lil’ bugger eats his arm instead and we have a symbiotic relationship. They should have made a sitcom!

What else…the effects are good. I liked the characters. I kept expecting Wilford Brimley to tell everyone to relax and dig into a hearty bowl of oatmeal. Garry, the head of the base, dyes his hair but leaves his snow white eyebrows untouched, which is a nice actor’s touch. And I loved MacReady’s sombrero! The characters don’t do too many stupid things until the end. The Thing itself is brilliant and almost certainly survived the final blast. The creature that attacks MacReady at the climax is the Dog Thing that escaped at the beginning of the film, not the Wilford Brimley Thing.

How can I not mention the original Thing, the best movie ever made about a blood-drinking space carrot? Carpenter must have liked the movie also, because that’s the flick the little kids in his movie Halloween are watching. Nowadays if a character in a horror movie watches a horror movie, it’s always The Night of the Living Dead.

Anyway…James Arness, who played the aforementioned bloodthirsty space carrot in the original Thing, also played the state trooper in the 50’s classic Them, the best movie ever made about giant ants. Why do I mention this? Because it’s the third and final link in the Web of Nostradamus!™ The original Them starts with the image of a young girl walking down the highway clutching a doll, and James Cameron recycles the same image in Aliens, his sequel to Alien. Guess he liked the movie too!

4 Replies to “Triple Feature of Terror: John Carpenter’s The Thing!”

  1. I always learn something new when I read your blog. I did not know they made a sequel to this movie but then again I was little when this came out (shh I know I’m dating myself here). I think it’s interesting how the things we do, say, or write can influence someone’s imagination. I laughed when I saw MacReady in the sombrero. I felt like he was a reluctant hero and he only took action because no one else would.

  2. Hey, great references, I too have thought of HPL when I watched THE THING and the Parasyte manga, I thought only I had read that stuff! Ha ha! That is a wacky manga fer sure. I still love THE THING as non-HPL though because Carpenter is a great talent. I remember him being interviewed one time and saying that if the MPAA was not a problem he would have made a movie that was so scary it would have driven people mad so maybe he WAS reffing HPL in there somewhere. 😉

  3. Hey George,

    I’ll admit that I wasn’t aware of the Lovecraftian connection. Maybe that’s because Lovecraft to me is kind of like Tolkien and fantasy. I love stories that take on that aesthetic and that theme, but I haven’t read enough of the originator to talk about them in earnest. From what I have read of Lovecraft though the movie does have several of signs. The hard to define monster from the cosmos and the nihilistic and futile struggle of humanity. And while I have not read Parasyte: The Maxim I have seen the anime, and, while watching this the inspiration was clear.

    And I think how people know Wilford Brimley is sort of a sign of their generation. You’re reminded of oatmeal, I’m reminded of diabetes.

  4. I can’t BELIEVE you ate actual squishy food while you watched this. I was eating licorice and had to stop because of all of the whippy growth things that popped up when the monster transitioned a victim. I put them aside immediately. I did notice the similarities with MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, but wondered if I was being too critical of modern cinema. I didn’t know about the sequel though. I’ll have to check it out.

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