by Michael H. Hanson
Over half way into John Carpenter’s 1982 horror/sci-fi motion-picture masterpiece, THE THING, near the end of the Second Act, comes a now legendary scene that film critics and fans alike have declared ‘supremely suspenseful,’ one that arguably ranks right up there with Private Pyle’s murder-suicide in Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET,
the penultimate three-way Mexican standoff in Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE UGLY,
and the Viet Cong imprisonment Russian roulette confrontation in Michael Cimino’s THE DEER HUNTER.
Over two days after first reconnoitering the Norwegian Antarctica Camp ruins and alien space ship wreck, the surviving Americans at Outpost 31 are now held captive by a dynamite-waving flamethrower-packing helicopter pilot and ex-Viet Nam vet, R.J. MacReady. This character, played with wry cynicism by actor Kurt Russell, faces his one-time colleagues with all the fear and suspicion of Senator Joseph McCarthy stuck in a room with Lenin and Stalin. He suspects that a few or many of these men have been killed and duplicated by an Alien lifeform recently removed from the ice and thawed out.
Four male suspects are securely tied to chairs and MacReady allows a fifth, Windows, to assist him.
In a moment of surprisingly clever and creative reasoning, MacReady theorizes on the true nature of the invading species, “Watching Norris in there gave me the idea that every little part of him was a whole. Every little piece was an individual animal with a built-in desire to protect its own life. You see, when a man bleeds, it’s just tissue. But blood from one of you Things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive. Crawl away from a hot needle, say.” It’s a statement that, in 1982, unknowingly and ironically resonated with the fear and uncertainty surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic that was rapidly beginning to spread across the USA in what would soon kick off a wave of terror.
And so, like Los Angeles homicide detective Columbo whispering about pocket watches in a yacht club, or Hercule Poirot glaring at a train car full of multi-national dilettantes, MacReady proceeds to mildly exsanguinate his captive audience and in a series of eye-widening moments starts testing blood samples by stabbing Petri dishes with the hot glowing end of a stretch of copper wire.
The character of Windows… human… MacReady himself… human… the dead bodies of Clark and Dr. Copper… human and human… MacReady prepares to test Palmer’s blood. Childs accuses MacReady of murdering the now proven human Clark earlier.
Garry says, “This is pure nonsense. It doesn’t prove a thing.”
In a brilliant moment of audience distraction, MacReady replies, “I thought you’d feel that way, Garry. You were the only one who could have gotten to that blood. We’ll do you last” and then pokes Palmer’s blood sample with hot metal.
With a loud squeal the blood congeals into an amorphous shape and leaps upward and down onto the floor where it quickly scurries out of the shot!
THE THING has been revealed!
It is Palmer!