Sci-Fi Spotlight: Sci-Fi Horror and the Thing
Science fiction is a broad term that encompasses lots of different styles of storytelling. The biggest division in sci-fi is between hard and soft. The Jurassic park novel being what I would consider hard sci-fi because it focuses so heavily on the science behind making the dinosaurs. “The Three-Body Problem” is also hard sci-fi. Soft sci-fi uses science elements to tell a story but doesn’t explain how any of it works, which is the kind of science fiction most people are familiar with. It’s a lot easier to get into a story that happens to have space ships than reading a science journal that happens to have a hero fighting a villain.
These categories can be divided further into things like cyberpunk, as seen in the Matrix. One of my favorite sub-genres is sci-fi horror. While it’s fun and exciting to see stories about exploring space and all the great things science can do, it’s also great to explore the things we find terrifying about how quickly technology is advancing or even ourselves. One of my favorite sci-fi horror pieces is John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.
“The Thing” has a sort of long history. It’s a remake of a classic film, which was an adaptation of a novel. The original book was called “Who Goes There” and was published in 1938. So, this story has been around for a long time and still really sticks with people. John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is considered a cult classic and is loved by countless people.
“The Thing” is about a group of American scientists stationed in Antarctica. One day they encounter a “thing” that turns out to be an alien. An alien that proceeds to terrorize the crew in its own attempt to escape their isolated location. This is a story that deals with the innate fear of being isolated from the rest of the world and how well we know ourselves and the people around us.
The thing can shapeshift. To avoid detection and to keep people from stopping its plans it takes the form of members of the crew and replaces them as needed. It is capable of imitating people so well that the only way to tell someone has been replaced by the thing is to perform a blood test. This sets everyone at the base on edge. They are thousands of miles away from help and can’t even trust each other because any one of them could be the thing in disguise. So, even if they could get help, that could end up allowing the thing to escape and terrorize the rest of the world.
This is a story that can fascinate people in anytime period. Which is why I think there have been so many different versions. How well we know the people around us and what we would do when confronted with the possibility of evil among us is something that will always concern us as humans. Which is I’m sure why it’s a fairly common theme in the stories we like to tell. The idea of being so truly isolated that there is no hope of help is also a fairly universal theme to explore. I am also a big fan of adding aliens to stories like this.
Of course there are lots of ways to interpret stories about an “other” infiltrating a group. What exactly does this other represent? In films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” the other is communism. The film itself is about Americas growing fear of communism. Which is arguably what “The Thing” is also about.
In “The Thing” the alien acts as a sort of infectious agent. It takes control of and replaces the characters. This can be a metaphor for someone adopting an ideology like communism. At the time “The Thing” was made the Soviet Union still existed and the Cold War was still going on. The film also draws from similar works before it such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. So, in this case you can see the other as some sort of subversive idea that creates turmoil amongst a community.
I have to say that I feel like “The Thing” does a far better job of exploring feelings of paranoia than using its alien as a metaphor. That doesn’t mean I enjoy it any less though. It’s still a really interesting look into the storytelling of the time, the story itself manages to remain relevant despite the passage of time, and it has a bunch of guys fighting an alien. The only real drawback is how violent and gory the film is.
Upon its initial release the film was heavily criticized for how gory the effects are. which is a valid criticism. It is excessive and doesn’t play that big a role in the story. You could tell this story without the gore. Which, if you’ve never seen this movie, might be the most off-putting thing about it. If that’s not a problem for you though I’d recommend giving this movie a shot if you haven’t already.