The Thing (Horror, Science Fiction, 1982) (18) D: John Carpenter W: Bill Lancaster (Screenplay) John W Campbell Jr (book) P: C: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, TK Carter, David Clennon, Thomas G Waites. 1h 49m. USA.
Synopsis : In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor (Richard Dysart) lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one.
TAGLINE : What you fear most… is among you/ When man is the warmest place to hide.
A masterpiece of horror that transforms an 1938 novel from the original lumbering monster, icy psychological creepshow into a full frontal explosion of guts, gore, sinew and other substances, that managed to help a whole new genre of horror breakthrough in the early 80’s. Long gone were the blustery castles of hammer horror classics, horror was taking a turn and it was heading straight into a chest cavity rather than going for the heart.
Back in 1938 John W Campbell Jr, penned an astounding science fiction story under the name of Don A. Stuart and stunned a small audience with his unusual tale Who Goes There!?. Since then it’s been adapted many times as The Thing from Another World (1951) and a lose but great link to Hammer Horror escapade, Horror Express (1972) and while they play heavily on the psychological horrors, the Thing (1982) was the primary tearaway in the direction of putrid science.
The film plays on all of the traditional aspects of the original story that I will explain but it also really pushes the boundaries of modern special effects. They are bountiful but intelligently places and very experimental for the time. Carpenter transforms the original monster from a Frankenstein (1931) style lumbering monster into what the original book depicted, a shape shifting alien running amok in an military arctic base whose every cell is a living creature.
The basic plot is.. a group of scientist in a remote arctic station are under attack from an unknown being from another planet who can transform into any one of them. the film quite literally starts of at running pace, the classic opening of the dog running through the snow and it’s arrival at the base that kicks off the bloodshed. Thing remain intense as the team become aware of their alien foe, tempers and suspicions run high and there is a ton of accusations and conflict mixed with technicolour gore. Suddenly your friends might no be your friends, but instead they might be the monster.
While the original is a superb movie, the effects are of course limited to the skills of the time. After the intro scene of the dog running through the snow and some clashes of character between the scientist, and McCready vs the Chess Machine (gotta note the machine is voiced by Andrienne Barbeau). The film takes a dramatic change when the dogs face explodes and an arm with an eye tried to pull itself through the ceiling. It shocked audiences back in the 80’s and despite watching the movie over 100 times it still gets a reaction out of me. This only kicks off a spectacle of tentacles, giant teeth, mangled body parts, that might not seem all that unusual today but this is coming to a generation who had hammer house of horror ghouls and caped vampires to contend with, suddenly they are are getting alien juices in their faces, it was truly terrifying.
There are many interesting quirks, for the horror fans it has to be the effects. When chest cavities start to open up as a tooth filled mouth and heads grow legs and run away, the film is a psychotronic tapestry of gory fun. But what can’t be ignored is the chilling ending and constant guessing on who the alien is. In a similar way to Blade Runner (1982) fans are often looking out for those little clues to suggest who had contracted the virus and when.
Considering this film is set in one of the least habitable areas on the planet, there wasn’t a lot to be done with sweeping landscapes, what could be done was covered in the opening scenes when the dog is being chased down and on an excursion trip to the frozen Norwegian (Swedes) base. The base itself is amazing,the final stages of an epic struggle are frozen in time and in ice as if a picture was taken and left for the American team. While it’s graphically damning and curious, we can clearly see the base has been partially burnt out and team members have slit throats while holding razors, we don’t really understand why until it all starts kicking off.
Careful attention is payed to the screenplay in this sci fi mystery. it has curious little scenes interjected at high octane moments that hint at whereabouts of the Thing, but you do have to piece things together especially at the end. One of the wonders of the thing is that while clues are given as to who the thing may be, it’s still often a shock when it decides to reveal itself, not only as to who isn’t who they appear to be but also the fucking insane creature developments that sprout out when the alien is cornered. As with all of John Carpenter’s films this one boasts one of his deep pounding electronic soundtracks, it masterfully orchestrates this bleak isolated films heartbeat. It also raises the fears and tensions that this confined base is experiencing. When the shit starts kicking off, you’ll notice something strange scuttling in the corner of the room, this is often the monster making a break for it. It’s strange to look back on it but for most of the film the creature is right in front of us.. but you just never know.
Kurt Russell returns as a slightly more chilled Snake Plissken, equally heroic and majorly pissed the fuck off. He’s great for this type of role,and successfully manages to give enough for a team effort to fight the thing while keeping his wits about him for some self preservation. MccReady really is my hero, possibly more so than Snake.Along side him there are several very strong characters, including the Keith David as Childs, possibly the only other character as pissed off as McCready and the ultimate ancient aliens stoner Palmer played by the multi talented David Clennon.
I honestly think that Carpenter was having a Palmer inspired smoke while coming up with the wild ideas on how this creature could split up and explode out of dogs heads and all the crazy shit going on with the thing. It really hammers home the idea that the “thing”has visited countless planets and life forms and has all of their memories and survival tactics at hand in its biological arsenal, as with a similar creature in Horror Express (1972) It’s hard to understand how such a creature could die or be disposed of. I also find it quite funny that these amazing specimens managed to crash land or get left behind.
While it cannot be ignored that the basic plot for this movie centres around a group of scientist battling against a creature that can break itself down to a molecule and infect others and take over bodies and duplicate itself, it’s worth mentioning that it’s also a massive struggle for survival of both creatures. it’s more prevalent in Horror Express as the creature communicates and details its plans, but ultimately it just wants to survive and return home. The scientist are more concerned with science things and assumes that it wants to take over the planet.
You’ll need a fairly strong stomach to get through this film, for me it’s a great one to watch with friends, often falling into long deep conversations starting with “if i were the thing how would you know?” you’ll be amazed at how much the people around you really take in about you, and this is what makes the film extra special, the thing had to mimic each person so perfectly that their closest friends couldn’t ever tell. How fucked up is that!!??
Truly one of the greatest 80’s horror movies and will certainly remain a cult classic for some time. Fair enough it’s a remake of a film based on a great book. But it made bold jump from psychological sci fi horror to a intense gore filled psychological sci fi horror action nightmare! I will never fall out of love with this movie and it’s characters it’s simply amazing and I can’t praise it enough. I would recommend watching the original movie and reading or listening to the story Who Goes There,I hope you find them all as rewarding and inspirational as I do. As for the prequel I’m not sold but I will rewatch it and review it at some point. It honestly scared the bejsus out of me as a child and some aspects of it still scare me today, it might not totally frighten audiences today but it is still a great action movie and shouldn’t be missed.
R: Blutgletscher – Blood Glacier (2013), Horror Express (1972), The Thing (2011), Alien (1979)
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