The Thing at Forty
John Carpenter’s The Thing opened forty years ago in a box office crowded with science fiction films, and failed to win acclaim. Since then, it has been recognized as a classic horror film. This review explains why audiences have kept coming back to The Thing by examining the kernel of the real around which it wraps. It starts by considering the ways in which Carpenter’s film returns to its sources and continues to reverberate. Next, it argues that the film’s narrative returns us to an unnamable trauma. The story holds, but it is interrupted by moments of sheer visual enjoyment. At the same time, the film’s practical effects return us to the cinema of attractions. By returning us to its own history, to those traumas that stand beyond the reach of art, and to the history of cinema itself, The Thing keeps viewers watching, and watching again.