The Thing ★★★★★

Watched as part of the July 2018 Letterboxd Scavenger Hunt
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10. On the afternoon of 10 July 1913, the hottest air temperature on the Earth's surface was recorded at Death Valley - 134 °F (56.7 °C). If you don't think that's scary enough, watch a horror movie set in a snowy backdrop.

It was a couple of weeks ago that I watched John Carpenter's Escape from New York for the million and fourth time in order to fulfill one of the tasks of the June Scavenger Hunt; so for July's, I thought I'd go ahead and pick an exhaustively-watched Carpenter film again for one of the tasks, this time arguably the best film so far of his career, 1982's The Thing. A statement like that is obviously a bit of hyperbole -- there's actually something like a half-dozen Carpenter films that all tie for "career best," one of the reasons he's so well-loved and his films have such a long shelf life -- but as someone who has a soft spot for anamorphic celluloid genre movies of the late '70s and early '80s when I was a pre-teen, The Thing scratches that sweet itch in a way that few other Carpenter films do, absolutely one of the best-looking movies of his career and perhaps the purest story-wise besides Halloween.

A remake of 1951's The Thing From Another World, the film has a super-simple concept at its heart; thousands of years ago, a malicious space alien crash-lands in Antarctica and goes into hibernation in the deep ice, to be eventually woken up by a team of shaggy countercultural scientists in our present age, at which point we learn that the alien thrives by taking over the DNA of nearby creatures and perfectly mimicking them (uh, until the point when the body explodes and the Lovecraftian creature reveals itself, that is). That essentially makes this a ship-in-a-bottle drama, which Carpenter exploits for full paranoid effect; with their sole helicopter crashed, and with the group not equipped for a military venture, and with the harsh conditions forcing the team inside their small compound, and with no one knowing which comrade at any time might actually be the alien in disguise, this leads to a frantic, violent, bug-eyed freakout of epic proportions, led by a steely Kurt Russell who, like in Escape from New York, was happily using Carpenter's role offers as a way of transitioning into gritty adult stardom, after previously typecasting himself as a genial family actor through a series of '60s Disney movies as a teenager.

As with all of Carpenter's movies, this will not be for everyone -- one of the things it's known for is its groundbreaking practical effects, so be aware that this is one of the grosser movies you'll ever see -- but for those looking for a tight, tense thriller that uses its landscaped setting and small budget to extreme advantage, it'll be hard to find a better example than this, a movie that cuts Carpenter's natural drift towards cheesy side moments down to almost zero. A great introduction to Carpenter for those who are just starting to explore him, even better if you make it a Saturday-night double-feature with Halloween, the two most sober films of his career.

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