1982 - R - 109 Mins.
|Director: John Carpenter
|Producer: David Foster and Lawrence Turman
|Written By: Bill Lancaster
|Starring: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Thomas Waites
|Review by: John Ulmer
"I know I'm human. And if you were all these things, then you'd just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn't want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It'll fight if it has to, but it's vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it's won."
Will someone just... hold me.
John Carpenter's "The Thing" is one of the most entertaining sci-fi/horror films ever made – fast, clever and purely exciting from start to finish.
Set in the Antarctic, the movie focuses specifically on a group of American scientists. We are given no introduction to their mission, but are thrust into their existence when a pair of seemingly crazy Norwegians appears at their base camp, chasing an escaped dog. The Norwegians are killed, and the dog finds its way into the American camp, which is when things really start to get crazy.
It is soon made quite clear that the "dog" is actually a shape-shifting alien organism, which manifests itself upon the physical form of its victims – in other words, it begins to eat the Americans, and imitate them so well that the remaining humans cannot discern the difference between their friends and enemies
The pack of scientists, led by MacReady (Kurt Russell), begin to fight for their own survival, using wits instead of brawn. If the Thing is indeed amongst them, then how are they to go about revealing it? How many Things are there? How can the Thing be killed? Can it be destroyed at all?
Thirty thousand years ago a spacecraft plummeted to Earth, and was frozen in the Antarctic ice. The Thing tried to escape but ended up frozen. Thirty thousand years later, the Thing was recovered by the Norwegians, who unknowingly released it from its icy prison.
"The Thing," is similar to Ridley Scott's iconic "Alien" (1979). However, "The Thing" – for all practical purposes – came first as it was based on the short story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr. (writing under the pseudonym as Don A. Stuart). The film was originally adapted as a feature production in 1951 by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby. The result was "The Thing From Another World," an unarguable classic. But to be fair, it bore little resemblance to the short story, and Carpenter's remake does it more justice.
The idea of the Thing being able to adapt the physicality of anyone is what essentially makes this movie so great, and is the most vital link to the short story. In 1951 the special effects were simply too poor to reasonably portray the shape-shifting organism, but thirty-one years brought many advances in SFX.
Creature effects artist Rob Bottin does an excellent job of turning what could have easily become a cheesy gore-fest into a startlingly frightening (and realistic) mess of blood and fear. The Thing, although never actually taking one specific form, is constantly seen in a morphing stage, and the effects are simply superb. They still pack a punch today.
Ennio Morricone's score (nominated for a Razzie Award at the time) is a bit too electronic and tinny, but nevertheless haunting.
With a thought-provoking and untypical ending, "The Thing" is unconventional Hollywood at its best. It comes as no surprise that, at the time of its release, "The Thing" performed poorly in theaters while "E.T." – released the same year and featuring a much kinder alien – became a record-breaking box office hit.
Carpenter is notorious for having a very uneven career – from his amazing "Assault on Precinct 13" (1976) to the magnificent "Halloween" (1978) to the disappointing and silly "Escape from L.A." (1996), "The Thing" remains his very best motion picture. It is still one of my favorite horror films. It is a daring and ingenious thrill-ride that is simultaneously unique and chilling – a genuine relief for film buffs tired of the same old horror knock-offs. This one, at the very least, is genuinely unpredictable.