The Evil Dead (1981) vs The Thing (1982)

This post first appeared as part of the Fortnight of Terror over at the excellent Not Now I’m Drinking a Beer and Watching a Movie, but now I’m sharing it for everyone else’s delectation. Enjoy and happy Halloween!

I first watched The Thing quite a few years ago. Since then I have watched the original Evil Dead for the first time and, having watched The Thing again, it shocked me just how similar the two are; sure, a lot of horror films stick by certain rules and display particular tropes, but the comparison between these two films seemed more similar than most others. The Evil Dead might be more supernatural horror compared to the alien/monster horror of The Thing, but the parallels are definitely there. Spoilers ahead, naturally…

Lead men

Both The Evil Dead and The Thing have pretty strong male leads who have become somewhat iconic in the horror genre. The Evil Dead has Ash, played by the legendary Bruce Campbell, who although doesn’t really stand out for the first third or so of the film, by the end is undoubtedly the hero of the group, stepping up to take care of business when needed. Campbell then become the central figure for both Evil Dead sequels, cementing his role as a cult figure.

evil-dead

The Thing has a similarly strong male lead in Kurt Russell’s Mac. Like Ash in The Evil Dead, Mac takes charge of the situation and has to do the unpleasant thing of putting people out of their misery. This is still one of Russell’s most iconic roles and arguably rivals Campbell’s Ash as one of the most recognisable leading men in horror films.

Isolated location

The Evil Dead’s fabled cabin in the woods is one of the most referenced and copied features of the film. It virtually invented the trope and it has rarely been used to such great effect. The cabin’s location is a forest in the Tennessee hills and, thanks to Sam Raimi’s direction, manages to create a simultaneous feeling of isolation and claustrophobia. It really feels like there is nothing for miles around, nowhere to escape from the evil forces within the cabin.

The Thing is set in the Antarctic at an American research station. Just like the cabin it feels truly isolated; there’s little to no chance anyone could escape without dying in some way, yet the inside of the research station feels scarily confined. The darkness of the Antarctic stretches on forever and the research station might as well be the last place left on Earth.

Mutant-like possession

Upon playing a recording of incantations from the book of the dead, the group start to become possessed by evil spirits. The result is almost mutant-like possession, grotesque and horrifying, exemplified by the budget make up and visual effects. This is ever so slightly comical but nonetheless disturbing.

The mutant possession in The Thing is on somewhat of a larger scale, with more obvious mutations, but it’s still a similar process. The alien parasite takes over each of its hosts one by one, turning each against the rest of the group. Again, some of the effects might seem comical to some, but the practical effects rather than CGI give it a more authentic feel.

the-thing

They have to kill their own

As each of the cabin’s inhabitants becomes possessed by the evil force, Ash has no choice but to get his hands dirty and deal with those who were once his friends. He does so through pretty much any means possible, be it lopping them to bits with an axe or gouging their eyes out with his thumbs.

Evil-Dead-1

Likewise, in The Thing the group have no choice but to end their friends and colleagues once the alien parasite grabs hold of them. Their methods are equally brutal, often involving fire, which lead to some really rather gruesome deaths.

Someone’s held prisoner

One of the lasting images of The Evil Dead is of a possessed Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) locked in the cellar. This is similar to the previous point of the group having to kill their own in that they’re having to take drastic action against one of their friends. It’s an image so important to the film, that it’s also become one of the key images of the 2013 remake.

The-Evil-Dead-1981-Cheryl-Ellen-Sandweiss-possessed-demon-cellar

With The Thing, we also have someone kept prisoner in Blair (Wilford Brimley). He’s locked up by the others after being caught destroying equipment and killing the group’s sled dogs. Unlike The Evil Dead, this character is not kept captive after transforming, but it is Blair who becomes one of the most famous monsters in the film, another similarity to Sam Raimi’s film.

It was their own doing

As is the case with most horror films, most of the bad things that happen result from bad decisions made by the characters. In the case of The Evil Dead, the whole debacle could have been avoided if they had just left the Book of the Dead and the cassette recorder alone. hey could have avoided the whole sticky, blood-curdling situation. Although it probably wouldn’t have made a very compelling film that way.

The Antarctic researchers in The Thing aren’t quite as culpable as the idiots in the cabin, but it still could be classed as their own doing. They take in an infected dog into their research station, sling it in with the rest of the dogs where it transforms into one of the horrific creatures and attacks the rest of its canine buddies. Although they weren’t to know, it was the taking the dog with them that started it all. Arguable but I’m running with it.

Ambiguous-ish endings

If I haven’t spoilt the films enough for you already, then this is where I well and truly kill them off. With the ending of The Evil Dead, it appears that Ash has seen off the evil spirits by tossing the book on the fire. However, just before the credits role, we take the POV of something slaloming through the woods towards the cabin. Ash then turns around in horror as whatever it is, seems to attack him. Cut to black.

The ending of The Thing is similarly ambiguous. The last remaining monster has apparently been destroyed, along with much of the research station, and only Mac and Childs (Keith David) are left, sharing a bottle of scotch as they lie there with the camp burning around them. There is much debate as to whether the the Thing had indeed been eradicated, whether it was still alive somewhere, laying dormant or whether Mac or Childs were actually infected by it. We’re left to make up our own minds as to what the outcome is.

So there we have it: my comparison of The Evil Dead and The Thing. I might be reading far too much into their similarities, and feel free to tell me if you think I am. Also, if you can think of any other horror films that fit this structure, then let me know.

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25 thoughts on “The Evil Dead (1981) vs The Thing (1982)

  1. Popcorn Nights says:

    Awesome. Not a horror fan by any means but I do really like these two films – absolute classics of the VHS era! Nice summaries of both Chris.

    • Thanks very much Stu! Yeah I’m not the biggest horror fan either and to be honest, not the biggest fan of The Evil Dead. I much prefer The Thing.

      • MojosWork says:

        I watched Evil Dead about 2 years ago out of obligation to see what I was missing. Near the end, I literally threw up. I’ve never had a movie make me retch before. I can’t explain why it happened, but basically, it was just so bad I puked, and I mean that with the utmost respect to the film…if that makes any sense at all. Anyway, I laughed for about 10 minutes with vomit on my chin because I found it hilarious that Sam Raimi had that kind of power over me.

      • Haha, well that’s quite the reaction! I don’t know whether it’s a good or a bad thing that a film can make you have such a reaction! It is pretty gruesome though, no denying that! Apparently the remake is pretty damn gruesome too.

  2. jjames36 says:

    I saw The Thing once but don’t remember t half as well as I remember The Evil Dead (because I adore the Evil Dead), so I’m not certain a cogent argument in favor of or against your comparison. All I can say is it seems like a strong case, on its face. Great work!

  3. I think Evil Dead is more iconic, but they’re both pretty timeless. I’d have to say Evil Dead.

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Both are classics of the 80’s, but I’d have to give it to The Thing. For some odd reason, I just feel like since its more of a serious horror movie, that the tension all wrapped up into that is deserved and a whole lot better than Evil Dead’s craziness. However, that’s no hate whatsoever on Evil Dead itself, it’s just a matter of being compared to the Thing. Nice post! Happy Halloween!

    • Thanks Dan, hope you had a good Halloween. I’d go for The Thing too. Obviously it had a bigger budget but I agree it was more of a serious horror. Evil Dead is a very important film though, I just don’t think it’s aged that well.

  5. Well observed and well argued piece here Chris. It’s great to get a fresh reading of two classics of the genre. Well done.

  6. Nice, Chris. I saw both of these films for the first time this October, so it’s a real treat to see this compare-and-contrast between them. Hadn’t noticed so many thematic similarities.

  7. ruth says:

    Believe it or not, I actually have seen Evil Dead a while ago. Well suffice to say I’m not keen on seeing it again nor its sequels, ahah. Haven’t seen The Thing yet though, not sure I want to find out about its similarities. Even just looking at the pics here scares me! 🙂

  8. Dan says:

    Interesting comparison given that I’ve never associated such similarities between them before. They are both brilliantly executed films – perhaps the things that make them similar are based on their director’s fantastic grasp of the genre and what their audience wants. That they also appear very different in concept and execution shows just how good each movie is (as well as highlights the talents of the respective directors).

    • Yeah I definitely think a lot of the similarities stem from the directors’ grasp of the genre. There are aspects I’ve mentioned which are present in many other horror films too, some of them are just standard horror tropes.

  9. I loved both, but I think I prefer The Evil Dead. It’s a great bland of cheese and camp whilst managing to be chilling with horror elements to it. I still find the film creepy purely because I feel so sorry for Ash, can you imagine being in his position? No thank you! If you can accept this film for what it is, then you’ll be in for a fun ride. Yes, the film is cheesy, but there are some chilling moments. Examples being the zombie screaming from the cellar door, it’ll send shivers up your spine.

    Nice post!

  10. table9mutant says:

    Hmm – interesting! Well, I definitely prefer The Thing of the two. Great post. 🙂

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