It goes without saying that The Thing is a seminal work of the horror genre, and for me, it’s not only Carpenter’s most definitive work, but my absolute favorite horror film. I first saw it when I was 6 (yes, my parents ignored the rating system). It scared me so much, I actually shut the TV off before finishing. I developed a fear of dogs for the next 5 years. When I was 17, I finally finished watching it, having climbed the ladder from Goosebumps, to X-Files, to more prominent and obscure work. However, The Thing (it’s monster) was my gateway into the genre.
For many, The Thing is mainly known for its incredible special effects and monster design by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston. So, in an effort to cast another laurel at its feet, I’ve taken the liberty to create a top 10 “things” list from The Thing… a list of the different shapes, monsters, and “things” that The Thing becomes. So let’s light the wire, and see who is who.
10. The Blair Thing
This is one of the only fully-formed imitations—a perfect, convincing replica of a host. It looks like Blair, it might even talk like Blair, but it isn’t Blair, and that’s what is so horrifying. There is no emotion or expression of remorse when it drives its fingers through Garry’s cheeks and kills him. For the first time we see The Thing is as just as cold as the bodies it leaves behind.
9. The Frozen Thing Creature
Nothing is more frightening and Lovecraftian than the fear of the unknown, and the Frozen Thing is exactly that. We’ll never know what it looked like; whether it looked vaguely human, or like some other abomination of extraterrestrial life. Did it have a twisted face like the others? Or was the form so inconceivable, it goes beyond description? I suppose we’ll never know, and would we want to?
8. The Thing Monster
The Big Cheese; the number one nacho; Big Kahuna; el jefe. At the end of the film, MacReady comes face to face with The Thing proper, but even then its form is a mangled gory mess of reptilian appendages, and tentacles. Perhaps more impressive, however, is that Bottin decided to infuse all the other “things” into this one. The mangled dog head bursts out of its chest; the corporeal body is more human; hair like Windows; and all beautifully swathed in slime. It’s ferocious, fast, and not something you want to fuck with.
6. The Palmer Thing
Fans have dubbed this “thing” as the Copper Chopper for obvious reasons. When Copper tries to revive Norris with a defibrillator, his stomach opens up into a giant mouth, revealing jagged teeth, then tearing off Copper’s arms. In that same breath, a geyser of yellow and green slime erupts from its chest, revealing a scrawny, half-formed Norris imitation that looks more fetal than human. Then, as MacReady torches it, Norris’ head slowly tears itself from the body; and using its tongue as a grappling hook, it hides beneath a table. The Norris Thing is probably one of the most memorable incarnations, and for good reason.
5. The Norris Thing
Also known as The Copper Chopper, this Thing was the one that killed Copper by having its stomach open up, to reveal teeth, then chewing off his hands. Now that is kicking ass and taking names. Not to mention, once this happens and slightly deformed Thing rockets out of his chest and attaches itself to the ceiling. Now, this is still part of the same entity and the only way I can describe it is to compare it to a human-spider-thing, but if you want the visual just look beneath the paragraph. The Norris Thing monster is one for the books and it killed one of my favorite characters… Norris, the naive one.
4. The Bennings Thing
I’m very partial to minimalist horror. It goes without saying that the special effects are outstanding, and the decision to slowly reveal The Thing’s corporeal form is what lends the film its unsettling milieu, but for me, the most terrifying thing is the implication—the implication of what lurks beneath the skin. When the team finally catches up to the Bennings Thing, it’s transformation is almost complete. Then as it hopelessly turns to confront its fate, it reveals a set of horrifying crap-like hands. At that moment, we know that it might look like Bennings, but it’s not… it’s something gruesome and otherworldly wearing his likeness, and that is a haunting notion. Then, it lets out a plaintive, haunting moan before its torched. It reminded me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The scene is spooky and frightening for sure, but its also tinged in cynical melancholy, and sets the stage for how the whole film will feel.
3. The Blood Thing
Though it may be small, it packs a punch. This little clump of sentient blood cells scared the hell out of me, and is perhaps the only real effective jump-scare in the whole film. Even when it splatters across the floor, the individual droplets squirm away. Ripped directly from the pages of the original novella, the Blood Thing shows us that no part of The Thing is dead… that everything is independent and sentient. It’s a scary concept—the grave implication that even the blood, on a cellular level, is lethal.
3. The Double-Faced Thing
Yes, we are taking a trip back to the Norwegian camp where it all started. While not living when it’s first discovered, the Double-Faced Thing monster has become just as iconic as the Norris Thing and the Dog Thing. The body is vaguely human, bent over and upside down, and with a frozen death mask of two warped heads tearing away from each other. The sight is downright ghastly. Serving as an eerie forewarning of things to come, the implication is steeped in fear that whatever they exhumed from the ice is capable of unspeakable things. Implied horror resonates so profoundly. The frozen aftermath of an alien attack is more alarming than seeing the alien first hand. The Double-Faced Thing represents the limitless horror yet to come.
2. The Head-Spider Thing
I choose to believe this is a separate entity from the Norris Thing, a monster that on all accounts works as though every component to the Thing acts separately. When the Norris Thing is torched, its head rips off the body, and hides under a table. Spider-like legs then burst from the upside down head, and two eye stalks emerge out of the neck. It tries to scuttle away, but MacReady is ready with the flame-thrower. Setting aside the visual, this is the most animalistic the Thing has ever gotten. The destructive act of tearing away from the body, adapting to the new environment with insect-like precision, and limping away reveals that the Thing, for all its terror, is still just an animal. Also, I have arachnophobia, and this scene made me scream. Indeed, there is no other words to describe it than what Palmer says… “you gotta be fucking kidding.”
1. The Dog Thing
Going into the final The Thing’s monster appearance, I must admit bias. When I first saw the film, the dog kennel scene scared me so much, I stopped watching. My mind was too young to accept the shapeless mass of teeth, eyes, and pulsating flesh. I recall seeing tendril-like veins wrapping around the dogs; a fleshy blossom of teeth and tongues; and a big gaping mouth. Whatever was in the dog kennel was marred by shadow. Up until that moment, I never thought horror could be so undefined, and the lack of form and reason rendered me almost to tears. I’m thankful I never made it to the point where they started shooting the dogs, and torching the Thing, but up re-watching it, I was stunned by how nihilistic and graphic the opening scene is. The Dog Thing sets the stage for the rest of the film, and it starts so innocently with man’s best friend betraying that humanly trust. Out of all the Things, the Dog Thing is the hardest pill to swallow… that even the most innocent of creatures aren’t off limits.
Part of The Thing’s monster ingenuity and success was its reliance on groundbreaking practical effects. Bottin and Winston ran the gauntlet from puppets, to models, to claymation, which made the film more tangible. It was real in a way. These things existed, and if they could be brought to life from the twisted dreams of Hollywood effects wizards, what could be lurking out there beyond the stars?
Here is some behind-the-scenes details found at Far Out Magazine.
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Last Updated on January 25, 2023.
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