Retro Scene: 'The Thing' at Texas Theatre

'The Thing'
Kurt Russell in John Carpenter's 'The Thing' (1982)

Retro Scene is an occasional Dallas Film Now feature, highlighting retrospective screenings at area theaters.

The summer of 1982 was a glorious one for a young genre movie fan. It began with ‘Conan the Barbarian,’ moved onto ‘The Road Warrior’ (which raised the bar impossibly high), then the very satisfying ‘Rocky 3,’ the hugely successful comeback ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,’ followed by the amazing blockbuster entertainment that was ‘E.T.: The Extraterrestrial.’

No wonder ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Thing,’ released shortly thereafter, were lost in the shuffle. Both were dark visions, holdovers from the 70s, really, reflecting a bitter taste of disappointment and disillusionment. ‘The Thing’ was criticized sharply for its extreme, bloody violence, which was shocking at the time for mainstream audiences, and disappeared from theaters rather quickly.

Drawn by the lure of John Carpenter’s amazing string of films up to that point (‘Dark Star,’ ‘Assault on Precint 13,’ ‘Halloween,’ ‘Elvis,’ ‘The Fog,’ ‘Escape From New York’), I saw ‘The Thing’ as soon as possible. I was traumatized by the violence — it still gives me shivers whenever I see Wilford Brimley’s arms — and held completely spellbound by Carpenter’s storytelling.

The script by Bill Lancaster is a smart update, drawing both from “Who Goes There?,” the original novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., and ‘The Thing From Another World,’ the first filmed version by director Christian Nyby and producer Howard Hawks. Carpenter keeps the film in overdrive, as far as gut-clenching tension is concerned. Kurt Russell leads a very strong cast, including very good turns by Brimley, Donald Moffat, Keith David, Richard Dysart, and David Clennon.

Carpenter’s version holds up to many, many viewings, never losing an ounce of its power and strength, a disturbing vision that questions whether the human race really should survive — or if it’s already too late for all of us.

‘The Thing’ screens at the Texas Theatre on Saturday and Sunday. All screenings in 35mm. (Details here.)

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