An Antarctic research team is terrorized by a shape-shifting
alien organism that takes the appearance of everyone it kills.
The Thing (1982)
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Donald Moffat, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan,
Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Joel Polis, Thomas G. Waites
Remake of 1951's The Thing from Another World
Based on the novella Who Goes There by John W. Campbell Jr.
One of the things (no pun intended) I love about watching movies over is that, depending on what’s happened in the world or on a personal level, something in a film can hit you differently than before. I will get back to that thought soon enough. What can be said about John Carpenter’s The Thing that hasn’t been said before? It is one of his best films in my opinion, and a master class on crafting tension, fear, and paranoia that sill has an impact 40 years later.
We’re in Antarctica, a continent separated from the rest of the world and devoid of civilization. This is the perfect setting for a story about a creature from another world that can imitate most any other living thing and it’s not here to go trick or treating with the crew of Outpost 31. We know from the opening that something has come from space (this is the same approach that Predator would adopt) but we don’t know what it is or what it wants. A helicopter is chasing a husky across a barren snow-covered landscape, why? The passenger leans out and starts shooting, why? The dog makes it to Outpost 31 where the crew have gathered outside having heard gunfire. The helicopter lands and a man gets out shouting in a foreign language (the lack of subtitles keeps the viewer as in the dark as the crew watching this scene unfold before them), clutching a grenade. He pulls the pin and, in his haste, loses his grip and drops it deep in the snow where it explodes, killing him and the pilot. Members of the outpost put out the fire and now have questions but no one to answer them. Two of the men, MacReady (Russell) and Doc Copper (Dyson), take off in their own chopper once they learn where these men came from. What they discover is a destroyed base of operations, some camera footage, and a man that took his own life; slitting his wrists and we see his blood has frozen into icicles. That effect as well as so much more is the work of Rob Bottin (credited as Roy Arbogast in the film) and his work still gives me the creeps, they’re that good. His creature design is the stuff of fucking nightmares. The facility was once a base for a Norwegian team that found more than they bargained for and tried, in vain, to stop it once they figured out what was happening. What the crew of Outpost 31 don’t know is that they are already fucked, whatever it was is already there. Once the seeds of doubt are sown, the film becomes about how these men can trust each other to fight the monster among them and survive. There are so many memorable monster moments in this flick and I would be a shitty fan if I didn’t talk about them just a bit because they seem to come at a time when we have been lulled into some false sense of security and the monster comes out to wreak havoc. Like when Doc is examining Norris and his stomach opens up to reveal a giant fucking mouth that chomps his arms off and his head detaches and turns into some weird spider critter with eyes on stalks like a crab. Seriously, nightmare fuel! Or earlier in the film when Clark (Masur) puts the husky in with the other dogs and they know something’s wrong and we soon find out that there is some THING else in there and ropy tentacles and purple goo start flying all over the place, it’s shear madness. Though it is minor, and not as memorable as the blood test scenes and the others I’ve mentioned, the scene between Nauls (Carter) and Palmer (Clennon) as they watch shows on tape resonated with me differently this time around. The look of utter boredom and contempt on their faces is relatable to all of us in some degree after going through 2020 locked in our houses for almost a year. Both men are tired of the monotony of even relaxing to watch TV because they’ve seen it already and the isolation only makes it worse.
I’m still amazed this movie bombed on its initial release. Now it has been given its due as a true classic and one of the best remakes, if not the best. To this day, there is a continued debate on who is human at the end. Is it Childs (David) or MacReady? What was in that bottle of scotch he handed to Childs? Kerosene or good ‘ol J&B? Is Childs’ breath not showing up? Does that mean he’s the Thing? I tried to keep track this time around and I still couldn’t figure it out. The fact that Carpenter himself has remained tight lipped only adds fuel to the fire. Seriously, hunker down with some friends and put this on…you’ll see who your friends are after that. Or maybe they were never your friends at all…
The Thing is one of the most memorable horror films ever, due to its insane special effects that still hold up over any remake or reboot. I put The Thing on the same pedestal as Halloween and Escape from New York as one of Carpenter's best and most out-there films. This film set the bar for horror special effects, and frankly I don't think it's been beat yet.
The alien creature in this film is quite possibly the most terrifying villain ever put to film. It can take the shape of any living organism, mimicking anybody it kills. When it changes shape, it erupts into a mess of exploding flesh and sickening slimy entrails that clearly John Carpenter had a lot of fun creating. It's the creature that makes this movie but a lot of the horror comes from the feeling of isolation and mistrust that the movie creates. No matter how many times I watch this movie, I always seem to forget who the monster is, which makes it a mystery every time. It's awesome.
The Thing is an awesome horror film and a benchmark in special effects. It takes what could have been a conventional monster movie and turns it into something you will never forget. Leave it to Kurt Russell to be the one man who can stop this thing, and by the end of the film, you're not even sure he did. It's a truly frightening film that still looks great after all these years.