I find it hard to be really scared by horror films. I’ll feel tension, but I never get into the mind set of being legitimately scared. There are other ways horror films get under my skin, though, and a film that does that in spades is John Carpenter‘s The Thing.
I’ve heard people condemn The Thing for just being a gore-fest and, while it has a lot of amazing gore effects that are still effective to this day, its real strength in terms of provoking fear is a total and unrelenting sense of claustrophobia and suspicion.
The Thing is a loose adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? and it follows Kurt Russell and his team, who are part of an American research station in Antarctica. After coming into contact with a disturbed member of a Norwegian research team, they investigate their camp and end up releasing an alien entity that has the ability to masquerade as any member of the team before turning into numerous grotesque creatures that will eat them alive.
The Thing thrusts us into an environment of tension and stress. There’s an atmosphere of frustrated masculinity, with a group of guys cooped up in a frozen wasteland in a small research bunker. They’re angry and fed up and it just serves to add to how easily this group falls apart and turns on each other. The atmosphere building is all used to push your suspicions into overdrive. The alien entity could literally be anyone – the film makes it especially clear to us that even our protagonist isn’t necessarily someone into whom we can place any trust.
I can’t remember many movies that have kept me consistently on edge with every character. The strange and bizarre actions they commit could either be ruses by the alien entity or just the breakdown of sanity, which is something these men were on the brink of even before they had to deal with doppelganger alien body horror.
The culmination of this tension manifests in the blood test scene. It’s the single best jump scare in the movie and one of the best jump scares of all time. You have no idea what to expect or how the entity is going to react, leaving you on the very edge of your seat and biting your nails in fear. The scare comes at an odd enough time that no one could possibly not get spooked, and if you say you weren’t, you’re a liar.
That’s what’s great about horror movies like The Thing. It’s hard to be scared by a bizarre creature effect alien. It’s so unreal that I can’t physically feel fear of it, but if you create an atmosphere of tension, infighting and people breaking down, you can have me thoroughly terrified. With a cold barren wasteland, cold metal halls and cold people, this is a movie that has no problem giving anyone the chills.
And if that hasn’t sold you, Kurt Russell is just a bad ass in this movie. See for yourself…
Did The Thing affect you as much as it terrified Patrick? What film frightened you in the most? Let me know in the comments section.