The Thing (1982)
A group of researchers in the Antarctic are stalked by a shape-shifting parasitic creature which has been buried under the ice for thousands of years.
Easily one of the best creature features of all-time and light years ahead of the Howard Hawks’ movie “The Thing From Another World” on which this film was based.
The casting of the movie is faultless. Kurt Russell excels as the de-faco leader of the group and Wilfred Brimley is fantastic in the role of the only slightly mad-scientist who realises early on that if this “thing” gets out, it really could be the end of the world. Donald Moffat (some of you will know him as the President from 1983’s “The Right Stuff”) is great to watch as head of security, Garry, who comes under extreme suspicion later on the in the film. The script is fast, comic strip like and full of the macho-type bullshit you’d expect from a group of men isolated in the Antarctic.
The camerawork here is top-class and I really love the shots of the interiors of the research base when nothing is going on – so barren and frightening yet managing to be normal at the same time (just like those times when for some reason you find your own kitchen absolutely terrifying) – which gives the film a very realistic feel and has the audience looking for signs of menace in every single scene. Carpenter had used similar-type shots to much the same effect in both the opening credits of “The Fog” (1980) and through much of his best movie, “Halloween” (1978).
Surprisingly, Carpenter doesn’t score this film himself but uses the excellent film composer, Ennio Morricone. Carpenter’s influence over the score is however obvious – the slow-pounding synths are one of the eclectic director’s hallmarks – and the result is most effective in building tension across the piece with almost perfect pacing to the whole picture.
The special make-up effects in some of the set-pieces are literally ‘eye-popping’ and have aged very well indeed (as have the effects in many movies which used state-of-the art prosthetics at the time); keep an eye out for the ‘spider-head’ scene and the notorious dog-morph sequence. But the film, although famous for its creature special effects and gore factor, is actually primarily about paranoia and the most frightening (and well-acted) scenes involve no creature but only the dark-side of human personality – the emotions of fear, jealousy and suspicion.
Much of Carpenter’s work focusses on how individuals respond in isolated and extreme siege-like scenarios. “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) has his protagonists held up in abandoned police station; “Prince of Darkness” (1987) imprisons our heroes in an ancient church whilst “The Thing” (1982) traps our cast in the iced landscapes of Antarctic – and it is this movie, in my humble view, which gives the most mature treatment of such a theme.
Overall, an adult horror thriller which is expertly executed – and what an ending! It may not be quite as good as 1979’s Alien but it breathes the same air. Crack open a beer, grab some crisps and this is a perfect film for a night in. enjoy.
hotdog rating: 9/10
A re-make is due for a december 2011 (UK) release. Fingers crossed of course, but I somehow doubt it is going to come close to Carpenter’s 1982 picture.