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I'm a big fan of John Carpenter, and my favorite amongst his horror oeuvre is his 1982 remake of Christian Nyby's The Thing. It's a masterpiece of claustrophobic paranoia that works just as well as an effects-laden bloodbath as it does a psychological thriller.
|Poster by Daniel Keane via geektyrant|
Here's the setup to my favorite scene in the film. An American scientific team stationed in the Antarctic has been infiltrated by an alien life form that kills its victims and absorbs their dead bodies; it is then able to masquerade perfectly as that victim. After some conflict leaves several members of the team dead, a test is devised to determine who's been compromised and who hasn't.
Working on the assumption that every piece of alien tissue is a single organism, the base's pilot MacReady (a never-better Kurt Russell) figures that if he threatens a blood sample from the alien it will come out of hiding to defend itself. All of the survivors submit a blood sample which Mac will burn with a heated copper wire. I'll let Mr. Russell take it from here:
What makes this scene so effective is that Carpenter keeps amping up the tension without giving any indication of when he's going to spring the trap. You know the jack-in-the-box is going to pop open at some point but there's no indication that there's anything out of sorts about the pot-smoking, conspiracy-theory-spinning Palmer. There's not even any musical cues to prep the audience for it (in fact, there's no score at all during this scene).
In retrospect, it's obvious what's going to happen, but the first time you watch, you're not even remotely prepared for it. The rest of the scene, an effects tour de force by Rob Bottin and his crew, is almost an anticlimax. It's the perfect jump-scare; I've seen jaded horror-hounds, people who treated Cannibal Holocaust like a popcorn movie, flinch during their first watch.