Scifi/horror is such a trashy genre, I love it. The grossout monsters, the gore, the bloody hallways. The conventions of horror are given an alien gloss, and the results can be fantastical but brutal. What if we went back to the roots, deconstructed the intersection of these two genres? What if we were after something more than shock, but a deep chill in your spine?
You might watch The Thing wide-eyed, disbelieving what’s on the screen. That head tore itself off the body and grew spider-legs. Those dogs have tentacles. It’s a true vision of hell, a great horror story pushed to its fullest potential by a master of the genre and craft.
The tension mounts with each moment of distrust and paranoia against the faceless Antarctic landscape. It’s a unique site for an alien invasion, and the alien itself of course is unique, and one of the most terrifying in cinema history. Not only for the before mentioned mutations, but for its very nature in surviving by assuming identities. Your best friend may be a monster out to get you, and because this is scifi, we need to learn about this thing before we can deal with it.
Yet, it’s always a ‘thing.’ It’s not a xenomorph, or a yautja (extra points if you get that one), it’s a goddamn thing. In the end, we don’t know anything about it, just enough to -barely- survive. This makes it perfect for horror, as we know just enough to know nothing — its predictability is limited to ‘it’ll be scary.’
The idea is that this alien isn’t a predator, and in order to survive, it can’t just murder you, because it’s kind of small (which is what the remake got slightly wrong, although you can hardly blame it for trying something new, especially when the result was so good. It’s just that logically, it doesn’t hold up). So it has to take people over, using the flaws in human culture to spread.
The devastation it wreaks on the crew is made all the more palpable, the alien menace is sold so because of the acting and writing, too conventions stereotypically lacking in scifi. But this is a great script, and John Carpenter knows how to cast his movies. Just between Kurt Russell and Keith David — that’s enough for me.
But what’ll stick with you, even when the dizzying effect has worn off, is the effects. Again, that solid premise fully made. Rob Bottin’s alien, with guest effects done by Stan Winston, is always great to look at, a classic image of science-fiction that keeps me coming back to the frozen waste.