The Thing About ‘The Thing:’ What Makes it So Scary?

The answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem.
spiderhead in The Thing
Universal Pictures
By  · Published on July 28th, 2017

The Thing is my favorite John Carpenter film. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch Halloween every Halloween and I will always stop everything I’m doing to watch Escape From New York, but The Thing, man, that’s the one for me, it’s as simple as it is complex, as beautiful as it is ghastly and as smart as it is terrifying. It is a wholly successful horror film, one that unfurls at a tension-building pace until it explodes, quite literally, with the revelation of the Thing itself.

But if you really think about The Thing, it isn’t the titular creature that makes the film so frightening. If anything, the creature is a physical manifestation of tensions that already exist between the men of the movie owing to their isolated location, their extreme vulnerability to the overtly-hostile environment, and the sorts of interpersonal issues that arise from long periods in confined spaces. This is why the Thing the creature is so effective: its ability to shift shape into any one of them heightens the paranoia that’s already present in spades before that poor pup gets assimilated.

Just how Carpenter creates this emotional environment, narratively and visually, is the subject of the latest video essay from Ryan Hollinger for his Screen Smart channel on YouTube that analyses specific scenes and shots to prove the point yet again that in horror movies the primary threat isn’t necessarily the antagonist, it’s the people with whom you’re facing the antagonist. Or to put it more colloquially, you don’t have to outrun the bear – or in this case the Thing – you just have to outrun your friends.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist