A Classic Lesson In Crafting Atmospheric Horror
When it comes to crafting a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere to rival that seen in Alien several decades earlier, the only classic horror that really comes to mind is John Carpenter’s The Thing. With a contained story about a shape-shifting alien and a couple of handfuls of characters to play with, The Thing manages to sustain its tension, building up to a climactic finale that leaves the film dangling on an intriguing, unsettling note.
Isolated in the icy wasteland of Antarctica, The Thing begins with a crashed helicopter and a group of research scientists, led by Macready (Kurt Russell), investigating a nearby Norwegian research centre. Once there they find the base empty save for one incredibly creepy Alaskan Malamute. Without giving too much away, it’s quickly revealed that all is not what it seems and what transpires is a story suffocated in tension and suspense as a shape-shifting alien invades their base. Although The Thing becomes a little clichéd with its big practical effect finale and eventual reveal of the monster itself, the final scene of the film is one that will certainly go down as one of the most intriguing in film history.
The Thing is one of those perfectly crafted films that manages to do a lot with very little. While the film does suffer from dated visual effects and a slightly overlong opening, the bulk of the film manages to maintain a decent level of suspense with the best performance coming from one of the creepiest dogs ever captured on film. While this may sound odd and unintentionally derogatory to the rest of the cast, these silent scenes with the Alaskan Malamute creeping around the base are among the best in the film and seriously unnerving.
Some of this tension is helped by the overall mood of the film which remains claustrophobic throughout. A combination of the isolated Antarctic setting, pockets of well worked silence and a general uneasy paranoia as it’s revealed the alien is a shapeshifter make The Thing one of the more frightening horrors out there. This masterful execution of atmospheric horror is something that hasn’t really been replicated that effectively since and will be the one element of John Carpenter’s classic that helps it stand out from the plethora of other horror films out there.
While The Thing may lack the gore and constant scares other horrors in this era have in abundance, The Thing more than makes up for this with its profound masterclass in atmospheric horror. While the film takes a while to get going and some of the filming, acting and visual effects do feel a bit dated now, there’s no denying that John Carpenter’s The Thing manages to craft an incredibly compelling film worthy of its status as one of horror’s scariest offerings.