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The Thing (1982)


When you’re stuck in an Antarctic research base over the winter, the only people you can really trust to help you if there’s trouble are your fellow researchers. But what if there’s something there that can imitate anything perfectly? If that happens, you can’t trust anyone… even yourself.

The Thing is a science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter, ostensibly a remake of The Thing from Another World but actually a more faithful adaptation of the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., and serves at the first part of Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy (followed by The Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness). It stars Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Charles Hallahan, Donald Moffat, and some stomach-churning monster effects by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston.

The Year: 1982. The Location: an American Antarctic research station, manned by a small team of scientists. As the researchers are getting ready to batten down the hatches for the coming winter, they are accosted by a scientist from a nearby Norwegian station, trying frantically to kill a fleeing dog. The Norwegian is hysterical and disoriented, shooting wildly, and the Americans are forced to kill him for their own safety, and adopt the dog. When they investigate the Norwegian camp looking for an explanation, they discover the place is trashed, its personnel variously missing or dead, with evidence that the Norwegians had found something bizarre under the ice. Analyzing the uncovered remains, the research station’s medical examiner comes up blank, except that the hideous, inhuman creature possessed a complete set of humanlike internal organs. It is not long, though, before the researchers discover that the creature is not completely dead, and possesses the ability to assimilate and imitate any living creature it encounters. Remember the dog? Yeah. It soon becomes clear that with this shapeshifting alien on the loose in their station, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell who is an ally, as the harsh Antarctic winter closes in on all of them…

Paranoia fuel FTW! This tale of unknown malevolence closing in on an isolated group of individuals is further proof that John Carpenter is a genius of horror. The story is tight and nerve-wracking, building the tension as the hours of increasing uncertainly creep by, until you can’t even be sure if MacReady (through whose eyes we largely view the story) is not the Thing. The idea that close friends, family, or even colleagues might have been seamlessly replaced by this malevolent creature whose motives are impossible to guess is the ultimate in paranoia, used in movies ranging from Invasion of the Body Snatchers to Terminator 2, but The Thing offers a claustrophobic twist: you are trapped there with this creature, and it is trapped here with you. Such unrelenting uncertainty leads to desperate reactions to flush out the traitor, the imposter, the Thing pretending to be your friend, until ultimately you reach a “nuke it from orbit” solution: destroy everything and hope it is destroyed too.

The creature effects in this movie are striking and well-done. Created in an age long before CGI was even plausible, the animatronics and puppetry required to bring the Thing to life were designed by Rob Bottin, celebrated master of body horror, with the dog-Thing created by Stan Winston, celebrated master of just about every other kind of monster. The effects are visceral, meaty, and cheerfully gooey, nauseating and terrifying audiences with the mishmash of barely-recognizeable shapes forming in an amorphous pile of Thing – maybe this head reminds you of a dog, or that face reminds you of one of your colleagues, while this limb might almost be a batlike wing. On the other side of the coin, three effects that really stand out are the chest-mouth, the spider-head, and the exploding blood (which is likely to make even the most jaded horror-hound dump his popcorn in a neighbor’s lap). The acting is exemplary as well, considering how many key plot points are dependent on in-universe uncertainty, and a number of scares and twists were kept hidden from the cast until the “boo” moment to allow them to react genuinely.

If you like your horror movies paranoid, your settings claustrophobic, and your aliens weird and pissed off, absolutely grab a copy of The Thing. Watch it with friends and with the lights off.

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  1. Ray
    04/13/2011 at 4:50 pm

    I really thought Kurt Russell was great in this movie and this was pretty early on in his career. Reading your post reminded me of all the crazy stuff this movie showcased. I heard from people I work with at Dish Network that they are actually making a prequel to this movie which I am pretty excited about. That alone gives me reason to see this movie again just so I am all caught up. I just saw that it’s going to be on this Friday so I’ll just stream it to my phone while I am on my lunch break with my Sling Adapter.

  2. 05/14/2011 at 11:42 pm

    Great horror film that keeps the suspense going the whole time, and not once does it delve into 80’s lane cliches. Good review, check out mine when you can!

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