The Final Scene looks at the last few minutes of some of the most well-known movies of the past fifty years. This week, it's John Carpenter's horror masterpiece, 'The Thing'...
In any good horror movie, the way it ends is as just as important as making a convincing atmosphere where the fear and terror can percolate. The best horrors, however, understand that you have to walk out of a cinema and still feel like the terror is with you. Wrapping up a horror movie into a neat little bow never works because we want to sustain that feeling of unease for longer.
'The Thing' is up there as one of the most talked-about endings in horror. Specifically, the question has always been which of the two remaining characters - Kurt Russell's MacReady or Keith David's Childs - was actually the nameless alien creature incognito. The theories are legion. The bottle MacReady hands Childs is actually gasoline. There's a glint in MacReady's eye that tells you he's an alien. MacReady and Childs are both the alien, and it's the alien discussing its survival with itself.
There was a sequel game - which was endorsed by John Carpenter - that saw the player discover Childs' frozen body and MacReady helping to defeat the final boss, a giant tentacled alien. Even cinematographer Dean Cundey had worked out a system where, if the human characters had a glint in their eye, they were human and not one of the aliens.
Kurt Russell, meanwhile, has a much more contemplative answer. In an interview with HuffPo, Russell explained that "John Carpenter and I worked on the ending of that movie together a long time. We were both bringing the audience right back to square one. At the end of the day, that was the position these people were in. They just didn’t know anything."
That's really the essence of 'The Thing'. The horror wasn't in the graphic, disgusting-looking alien who could take on a formless shape. The horror was in how paranoia completely eroded any kind of humanity in them. When we see Childs and MacReady meet one another, one's immediately suspicious of the other. Even in the way MacReady greets him - "Where were you, Childs?" - tells you that it's not going to be end with a simple answer.
Because the alien is so insidious, and has the ability to hide with a human face, means that we can never know if it survived. After all, the base is on fire and there are only two people left - but which of them is the Thing? That's the horror. Even if they both said they're not it, would we believe them? And isn't that what makes it all so disturbing, that we can't trust anyone?