The Thing

(John Carpenter, USA/Canada, 1982)

BY MICHAEL KORESKY | October 31, 2021

The horrible miracle of John Carpenter’s The Thing is that it manages to absolutely terrify the viewer while also being patently, grotesquely absurd. A commonly held belief about horror cinema is “the less shown the better”—the notion that off-screen space possesses the imagination in ways that what’s actually in the frame never could. Essentials as varied as Cat People, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Blair Witch Project bear out this truth, as does Carpenter’s own, largely suggestive Halloween. Yet with his 1982 remake of Howard Hawks’s sci-fi classic The Thing from Another World (itself adapted from the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella Who Goes There?), Carpenter gloriously indulged, with the help of prosthetic-makeup genius Rob Bottin, in one of cinema’s most virtuosic and imaginative displays of in-your-face monster effects. The Thing is a movie about many intangible, inchoate concepts—paranoia, contagion, derangement, and not trusting your fellow man—but it’s also very much about what you do see. And, in perfect H.P. Lovecraft tradition, what you see might drive you to madness.

The most oft-quoted line from Carpenter’s film is “You gotta be fucking kidding.” This is exclaimed, with a kind of wry catatonic shock, by Palmer (David Clennon) following a particularly disgusting incident among his fellow workers at an Antarctic research outpost. After Vance Norris (Charles Hallahan) seems to have a heart attack, Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) tries to use the defibrillator to resuscitate him. However, it doesn’t go as planned: Norris’s entire chest opens into a hollow, gaping wound, which sprouts enormous teeth and closes again, devouring both the machine’s paddles and Copper’s arms. Simultaneously, Norris’s head begins to detach from the neck, green sinew gurgling and bubbling as it crawls of its own volition across the table, oozes to the floor, sprouts spider legs and antennae and begins to scurry around the room. It’s worth detailing this blow by blow, both because of its inherent outrageousness and because the gap between description and visualization of such imaginative, gooey horror is so wide. It simply must be seen to be believed.

Looked back upon now, The Thing is clearly a benchmark of what we now revere as “practical effects.” In fact, 1982 may have been a milestone year for movie makeup and animatronic effects, as it also boasted Poltergeist, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner, and Creepshow. Somehow, Carpenter leaves you aghast and agape while also leaving you breathless from the film’s insidious implications. Anchored by a quintessentially take-no-bullshit Kurt Russell, who emerges as the de facto leader, the isolated, snowbound research outpost feels like a truly end-of-the-world place: nowhere to go, nothing for its cohort to do but distrust one another as they battle an outer-space contagion that is only visible after it attacks and horrifically mutates their former pals and associates. Once it gets in the bloodstream, it resplices your insides and reconfigures your outsides. Unlike the doubles in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, these attempts at replication don’t always come out right. Carpenter’s movie offers up a perfect terror scenario of both mind and body, a viscous, visceral existential nightmare. 🩸


is Editorial Director at Museum of the Moving Image; cofounder and editor of the online film magazine Reverse Shot, a publication of MoMI; a longtime contributor to The Criterion Collection, where he programs the Criterion Channel series “Queersighted”; and the author of Films of Endearment (Hanover Square Press, 2021).

TWITTER: @reverse_shot

How to see The Thing

The film is also available via assorted DVD and Blu-rays, including a new 4K Ultra HD release.
Like a full moon, An American Werewolf in London transformed a young horror director-to-be.

Despite all the Universal, Toho, and Hammer monster movies I’d been introduced to on Channel 48’s Creature Double Feature, nothing had prepared me for the moment when a friend’s older brother popped in a VHS copy of An American Werewolf in London at a sleepover.

By HENRY MILLER | February 1, 2022

(Steven Spielberg, USA, 1975)

No other horror movie has ever matched the elemental perfection of Jaws. There are the avowed summits of the genre, for sure, but even such cornerstones of screen terror as Psycho, The Shining, Carrie, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre don’t quite attain...


BY MICHAEL KORESKY  |  October 31, 2021

Cronenberg hallmarks may ripple through Crimes of the Future, but the director’s transcendent return offers fresh flavors of food for thought.

The opening image of David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future is arresting, enigmatic, exquisite, revealing an enormous capsized ship...

BY JOSÉ TEODORO | June 7, 2022



(Victor Halperin, USA, 1933)

This pre-Code offering packs a lot of story into its typically brisk running time, with several plot threads weaving together a (not always successful) tapestry of spooky and criminal doings.


BY  ANN OLSSON  |  Month 00, 2021


The Keep

(Michael Mann, USA, 1983)

In what could be the fastest-resulting rape revenge movie, a drunken lout brutally forces himself on Ida, the young woman who doesn't return his affections, during a party over Labor Day.


BY  LAURA KERN  |  Month 00, 2021


We Need To Do Something

(Sean King O'Grady, USA, 2021)

Beast is a lot of movies in one package - fractured fairy tale, belated-coming-of-age story, psychological drama, regional horror film - but above all it's a calling card for its leading lady, Jessie Buckley.


BY  LAURA KERN  |  Month 00, 2021