These effects are employed in the film to create the alien being during its transformations and are, almost without exception, truly astonishing. Making extensive use of puppets and prosthetics, the film makers have brought to life an entity of utter strangeness and have created several profoundly disturbing and inventive sequences. The feelings of apprehensive nervousness the director cultivates throughout the movie are raised to absolute horror when he shows the alien's grisly metamorphoses and its terrifying weirdness.
The movie does not, however, rely exclusively, or even primarily, on these horrific special effects for its evocations of feelings of terror. The sense of oppressive claustrophobia and anxious paranoia the director arouses as he depicts the characters' growing awareness of the nature of the alien being they have encountered and the threat it poses to them are far more effective at engendering feelings of dread than are any images of deformed monstrosities, however ingenious they may be.
Moreover, The Thing's scenario is among the best ever used in a horror film and by itself is capable of stirring up real feelings of fear in the viewer. Having learned that the alien they have encountered is able to mimic any living being with which it comes into contact, and that it can perfectly replicate the behavior of whatever person or animal it has replaced, the men of the Antarctic research station realize that any one of their companions could be an alien imitation. The protagonists are thus isolated from the rest of the world, unable to trust one another, and faced with an enemy they cannot distinguish from their friends.
The feelings of dread provoked by this scenario are generally increased by the performances of the film's players. While the quality of the acting is never superb, except for the occasional awkward moment, it is more than competent. In fact, most the actors acquit themselves well. Wilford Brimley is particularly enjoyable as a scientist whose sanity deteriorates rapidly when he realizes the danger the alien poses to the world.
The Thing is among the most tense, genuinely disturbing horror films I have encountered. While it is not a masterpiece, it is an extremely enjoyable movie.
Review by Keith Allen
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