The Thing (1982)
The Thing is a masterpiece. It sits amongst the horror classics of the early 80s, standing tall alongside The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, An American Werewolf in London and Day of The Dead. It is a film that is still excellent today, barely dated, and is as shocking, terrifying and compelling now as it was when it was first released.
An American Antarctic research team watches in confusion as a foreign helicopter crew chases a lone dog across the Antarctic tundra, trying to destroy it with grenades and sniper rifles. During this excessive overkill attempt, the Norwegian crew comes to a violent end and the dog survives. The research team takes the hound into their base and helicopter pilot R.J. McReady (Kurt Russell) investigates the destroyed Norwegian base, finding dead scientists and a bizarre inhuman corpse smouldering on a fire. He quickly realizes that the dog they willingly befriended is more dangerous than anyone could imagine. Containing a deadly creature capable of replicating the physical and mental form of anything it comes into contact with, the Antarctic crew find themselves in a paranoid nightmare where anyone could be infected, and no one can be trusted. With no rescue coming and Humanity’s future at stake, it is up to the remaining team to destroy this otherworldly monster before it’s too late, and everyone becomes The Thing.
Directed by the twisted mind of 80’s John Carpenter, The Thing is inventive, intelligent and has been ripped off a thousand times and never bettered. There have been TV episodes (The X-Files “Ice” being the most obvious), films, computer games, comics and novels that have shamelessly stolen from it since it emerged in 1982. Thankfully no one has had the gall to remake it. Yet.
Inspired by sci-fi novella Who Goes There? By John W. Campbell Jnr, The Thing is a much closer adaptation of Campbell Jnr’s work than The Thing From Another World (1951, and often mistaken for The Thing’s source material). Screenwriter Bill Lancaster uses the same characters as the novella, along with the general concept and the majority of the key moments (the dog mutation, Blair’s incarnation, the blood test) to create a finely crafted sci-fi horror that is solidly character-based, tense and immensely disturbing.
The Thing sits amongst a spate of classic Carpenter films released at this time, with The Fog and Halloween just preceding it. Sadly for us all, something went horribly wrong with Carpenter in the mid-90s, but The Thing still remains as a highlight in his legacy; a terrifying, paranoid horror that is smart, charismatic and thoroughly enjoyable. Rarely is a scene wasted, each one seamlessly pushing the plot forward or saying something pertinent about Humanity and the nature of trust. With an intelligent script and swift pacing, it is immensely re-watchable. The paranoia is palpable throughout – clever glances and guarded performances bring a constant tension that will keep you guessing the entire film. The Thing features some excellent work from its small cast of males, with Carpenter favourite Kurt Russell shining as the lead, whose performance is understated but very effective.
Apart from McReady’s ancient-looking chess computer and Blair’s hilariously advanced infection prediction machine, The Thing has dated brilliantly – Rob Bottin and his crew’s special effects are still difficult to match now, with hideously effective stop-animation mixed with live effects that are stomach-churning and shocking even by todays Saw-like levels of grotesquery. Vance Norris’s spider-head is especially memorable, scuttling along the floor of the medical room with creepy tenacity.
Almost universally panned at the time, The Thing is now seen as a classic, and rightfully so. It is action-packed, brutal, bloody, intelligent, thought-provoking and truly horrifying. With a subtle, menacing score by Ennio Morricone and direction from Carpenter at his very best, this is as near as you can get to sci-fi horror film perfection. Truly brilliant.