Fifteen Unforgettable Movie Moments
(a collection of essays from Salon)
"The Thing," 1982
Theater unknown (Times Square), New York City

I'm only guessing in saying that the evening began with Popeye's fried chicken and Budweiser, but it's a good guess. In the long-gone days when Times Square was decrepit, dangerous and ringed with cockroach-infested, odoriferous theaters showing all grades of violent or pornographic cinema, my best friend and I made numerous opening-night pilgrimages there, mostly for horror films. The degree of talk-back and the atmosphere of incipient danger made almost every Times Square viewing experience memorable, but none stands out as clearly as watching John Carpenter's "The Thing," which was both an early-'80s special-effects landmark and also one of the tensest, most electrified horror movies of that era.

If the original 1951 "Thing From Another World" is largely understood as Cold War allegory, it'd be stretching a point to sense a political motivation in Carpenter's remake (despite his clear leftist leanings in other films). But it's ominous, claustrophobic, wintry and scary as shit — all leading up to that incredibly tense scene when the trapped Antarctic scientists agree to undergo blood tests with a live electric wire, to determine which of them is the eponymous shape-shifting alien. The packed, rowdy, half-drunken audience had fallen dead silent as the test moved from one blood sample to another, until a big guy in the last row stood up, pointed at the screen, and announced in a booming voice: "That dude is the motherfuckin' Thing! I bet you a million dollars!"

Well, he was right, of course, and we all fell apart laughing and it was some time before order was restored. I'm not saying I want that level of interactivity at every movie, but somehow the guy hadn't ruined the movie or the scene or the whole experience, not at all. He had just kicked it up to another level. We can talk a lot about the communal moviegoing experience and the emotional and psychological effect of cinema and the way people become immersed in it while maintaining a critical or analytical distance. But for me that moment is like Zen lightning — it explains it all, without explaining anything.

— Andrew O'Hehir

Read more Unforgettable Movie Moments at Salon

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