One of the joys of having a work experience student join the STACK team is the opportunity to expose them to classic movies. This week, Tom Mackie was sat in front of two bona fide must-sees that he’d never seen – John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Steven Spielberg’s Duel (1971). Did he love them both as much as we do? Read on…

THE THING (1982) – Directed by John Carpenter

John Carpenter delivers a slow burning, gruesome tale involving ten US researchers stationed in Antarctica, as they battle harsh conditions and intense paranoia to eradicate an insidious, parasitic alien that has begun duplicating members of the team.

One thing that stood out to me was the ambient white noise that blankets this movie, and the constant howl of the harsh Antarctic wind that’s used in lieu of instrumental music. This use of sound creates a cold, fearsome atmosphere that sets the tone of the film – an icy, hypnotic trance that glued me to my seat and made my toes numb. Together with the bleakness of the snowbound locale, the effect is nothing short of terrifying.

As we follow the antagonist, R.J Macready, the presumed ‘good guy’ or hero of the story, I found myself beginning to doubt whether even I could trust him. The escalating distrust among the characters, juxtaposed with the bright lights and dark night, the red flares and crimson blood on the white snow, creates a sense of unease that never dissipates. Moreover, Carpenter creates the sense that although the characters seem to be making progress in eliminating the ‘Thing’, they don’t really stand a chance.

As a first time viewer of this classic horror film, I now understand the love for this movie, which transcends decades, and why it is so highly celebrated in the horror community. The Thing is an absolute thriller! And despite running just short of two hours, it never really reaches a conclusion, resulting in fan theories and speculation over the fate of Macready and Childs that are still debated today.

DUEL (1971) – Directed by Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s 1971 debut feature Duel is a unique and terrifying survival story that follows an innocent salesman driving for his life from a ruthless and relentless truck driver who will stop at nothing to murder him. This film, by far, is one of the most creative I’ve seen in the thriller/horror genre, and thoroughly deserving of its ‘classic’ status.

The antagonist is not an alien, nor is it a monster, but a huge, menacing, rusty truck, and it is incredible just how horrifying this piece of machinery can become through the magic of Spielberg’s cinema. The endless canyon country roads of California, the long, drawn out ‘action’ sequences between David Mann’s red Plymouth Valiant and the evil truck, and David’s inner monologue escalate the insanity of the film – even I felt a little psycho during the scene at Chuck’s Café.

This film is a psychological thriller, and like David, we find ourselves becoming more and more afraid of the massive truck, and it’s the low, monotone growl of this beast of a machine that contributes to the slow building of suspense. The relatively short 85-minute run time is exhausting to sit through; as fast-paced as its mechanical villain, Duel leaves the viewer – me included – in need of a serious lie down.

Duel completely reimagined the horror genre, with the use of a vehicle and not a living creature as the monstrous antagonist – a genius idea that not many would be able to pull off. Spielberg, however, succeeds admirably and delivers the movie that catapulted him into his illustrious career.