When a Man Bleeds

Manor Vellum
7 min readFeb 24


By T.J. Tranchell

Art: Matt Ferguson

Upon its release, John Carpenter’s The Thing was a box office and critical bomb. The $15 million budget for the movie met a $19.6 million return in 1982. Carpenter gave audiences the quintessential cult classic; what was seen as a failure has become a revered film and hallmark of sci-fi horror for its production design, characters, and those glorious practical effects. One of the reasons movies like this can take time to find the proper audience is because there is often more going on than what we see on the surface. Just like the hidden nature of the alien creatures, The Thing offers us a look into a patriarchal culture that requires certain roles still to be met.

The Thing has an all-male cast, instantly establishing the patriarchal culture that will drive the film. Men are in charge here and the manliest men are the only ones who could survive such harsh conditions, even without the introduction of an alien menace. That’s the first assumption the film asks us to make in order to establish who is leading this bunch of misfits. The problem for these men, however, is that they still require traditional female roles to be fulfilled.

The crew members of Outpost 31

Among the members of Outpost 31, some men are explicitly feminizing in order to fill certain roles. Nauls, played by T.K. Carter, is the dishwasher and primary cook and is in charge of the laundry. At one point he says, “Which one of you disrespectful men been tossing his dirty drawers in the kitchen trash can, huh? From now on, I want my kitchen clean, all right? Germ-free!” His tone and style of dress are not only feminine but could also be considered a type of queer coding. The pinks and purples, along with the tightness of the clothes, could be considered feminizing.

Similarly, Richard Masur’s portrayal of Clark shows him to be more sensitive, especially when caring for the outpost’s dogs, which soon become the first victims of the alien species. There are no children at the camp, of course. Clark’s “mothering” role is directed at the dogs. A closer viewing of the movie shows that Clark only speaks when spoken to and rarely answers with more than one or two words at a time.

T.K. Carter as Nauls

Other characters are more implicitly feminized. By the time the foreign entity has been discovered, MacReady (Kurt Russell) has been established as the apparent alpha male of Outpost 31. He wasn’t in charge, but he definitely takes charge (in some ways, MacReady is a reflection of Sigourney Weaver’s early portrayal of Ripley in Alien, but that topic is for another day). One relationship stands out. Fuchs (Joe Polis) is largely inactive for the majority of the film. He’s just sort of there but not doing much, similar to how many women characters are used in film. Fuchs is also seen as highly submissive to MacReady during their direct encounters. One conversation goes like this:

Fuchs: [whispering] I have to talk to you.

MacReady: I’m tired of talkin’, Fuchs. I just wanna get up to my shack and get drunk.

Fuchs: Mac, it’s important.

MacReady: What is it?

Fuchs: Outside.

MacReady: It’s 40 below zero outside.

The conversation not only highlights Fuchs’s submissiveness, but MacReady’s final response is a borderline “dad joke.” They are in close proximity, like parents who need to argue but don’t want to fight in front of the kids. Additionally, listen to how Fuchs’s name is pronounced. It’s not a stretch to hear “fucks” when the character is being addressed. This pronunciation can be heard as degrading and continues the pattern of Fuchs being shown as less of a man than others in the outpost.

Joe Polis as Fuchs and Kurt Russell as MacReady

Outpost 31 relies on traditional masculinity to operate, and even though some of the men do fulfill the roles of women, that doesn’t mean they are valued. Scholar Barbara F. Reskin noted that “[A]lthough femaleness is not always devalued, its deviation from maleness in a culture that reserves virtues for men has meant the devaluation of women.” There are no women in The Thing, so the roles traditionally fulfilled by women still have value, but the men who fulfill them are devalued because they have taken on the traditional duties of women. Indeed, the closest we get to a female is the computer chess voice of Adrienne Barbeau. The acknowledgment that the only “woman” is disembodied and subservient is an early clue to how other feminized characters are treated in the film.

These relational dynamics continue even as the crew is being overtaken by a foreign invader. Reskin continues in her work, stating that “Dominate groups differentiate subordinate groups by physically isolating them…” and that “men will respond to women’s challenge in the workplace by emphasizing how they differ from men.”

Richard Masur as Clark and Jed as Dog Thing

Once the crew is made aware of the invader, the subjugated men become the targets of paranoia, particularly Clark who spent time alone with the “dog” that introduced the invader into the population. Blair (Wilford Brimley) is kept locked in an outbuilding after becoming hysterical and Fuchs is killed while separated from the rest of the men.

These fears of femininity and feminization correlate with male fears of reproduction and childbirth (see Alien again). So, we have to ask if the monster is “female.” Aviva Briefel, in “Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film,” claims that monsters gendered female undergo a representation of menstruation before beginning their rampages. I argue that representations of childbirth serve a similar function. As noted, we’ve seen this before in 1979’s Alien. The horror begins when a male is impregnated by the “face hugger” alien and later dies during “birth.” “It is precisely the fact that horror seems to originate from within the woman’s body that allows for a generalized identification with the monster, one that draws in male and female spectators alike,” Briefel argues. “Critics tend to insist on the female monster’s status as an ungraspable Other, whose abject body defies comprehension or identification.”

Charles Hallahan as Norris Thing

Carpenter takes this one step further during the attempt to resuscitate Norris (Charles Hallahan). After receiving a jolt from a defibrillator, Norris’s torso opens up into a tooth-lined cavity reminiscent of vagina dentata, a male fear found in many cultures. Karen L. Pliskin referenced this fear in her study of herpes transmission. “Like the castration complex, vagina dentata myths affirm male fears of sexual intercourse, where the hidden but powerful vagina — whose opening is a metaphoric mouth ready to devour the powerful and visible penis — can render men impotent with its teeth.” Hidden fears, fears of the unknown, drive The Thing’s terror and nothing is more unknown and hidden to men than women.

These fears ultimately lead to the destruction of most of the outpost’s crew. Childs (Keith David) and MacReady are the last two survivors. The film’s ending leaves the state of these two men ambiguous. It is likely that one is infected. Is it the film’s alpha male MacReady, or Childs who has been bossed around like a little kid for the entire movie? Carpenter left it vague, and the debate continues over the ending. What we have seen here, however, is the need for feminine roles to be fulfilled even when no women are around. 🩸


Briefel, Aviva. “Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film.” Film Quarterly, 58.3 (Spring 2005):16–27. Web. JSTOR.

Pliskin, Karen L. “Vagina Dentata Revisited: Gender And Asymptomatic Shedding of Genital Herpes.” Culture, Medicine & Psychiatry 19.4 (1995): 479. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Reskin, Barbara F. “Bringing the men back in: Sex differentiation and the devaluation of women’s work.” Gender & Society 2.1 (1988): 58–81. Web. Google Scholar.


T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween and grew up in Utah. He has published the novella Cry Down Dark and the collections Asleep in the Nightmare Room and The Private Lives of Nightmares with Blysster Press and Tell No Man, a novella with Last Days Books. In October 2020, The New York Times called Cry Down Dark the scariest book set in Utah. He holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Central Washington University and attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 2017. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and son. Follow him at www.tjtranchell.net or on Twitter @TJ_Tranchell.

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