Horror-meister John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape From New York) teams Kurt Russell’s outstanding performance with incredible visuals to build this chilling version of the classic The Thing.
In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovers an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. Soon unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaks havoc, creates terror and becomes one of them.
The inhabitants of United States National Science Institute Station 4 (Outpost #31) are happily doing whatever scientists and crew do in the Antarctic, until they hear shots and a helicopter approaching. Some crazy Norwegians enter the American’s camp shooting at and trying to blow-up a helpless dog, which is of coarse pretty much a no-no if you want to get along with your neighbours. One of the Norwegians accidentally blows himself up with a grenade, the other is shot by one of the Americans and the poor dog who survives its ordeal is welcomed into the camp.
The whole episode provides a great talking point for the team, namely what the heck was going on? Cabin fever maybe? Who knows? As the radio is not receiving signals, probably due to the weather or atmospheric conditions, they decide to fly over to the Norwegians base camp to see if they can clear up the mystery about why these Norwegians were going berserk shooting at a defenceless animal. MacReady is given the job of flying out with fellow comrade Dr. Copper in conditions that are less than favourable.
At the Norwegian’s base camp they find that everyone is dead and MacReady discovers they had dug something up out of the ice. It is getting late so they have to make a hasty exit but before they leave they manage to take some of the Norewegian’s research material and a portable video unit to see if this will shed some light on the matter. When outside they discover something has been burnt, an unknown organism that looks freaky to say the least, so along with the other items they take this back with them.
Dr. Blair performs an autopsy on the hideously mutated remains which does not yield anything conclusive. Later on that evening the dog they rescued starts to act rather strangely indeed…
Based on the short story Who Goes There? By John W. Campbell Jr. John Carpenter paints a vivid picture of paranoia and horror that after a slow start has gathered a deserving cult following. It was badly received by critics at the time of its initial release and so had poor reviews, some criticised its violence and gore to the point that one critic dubbed Carpenter a “pornographer of violence”. The overriding elements, for me, above the gore and violence are the good story, acting, and direction, but that’s not to say that the special effects aren’t stunning as well.
The location works really well also, the forbiddingness and restraining quality of their surroundings heightens the overall anxiety. You know that whatever happens to the inhabitants of the camp there’s no running away, the horror has to be faced whatever the cost. Many horror movies fall down on this point, ending up having to use leaps of the faith, as for example, why the assailant magically catches up with those on the run. In this case there is no place else to go. Because of this, MacReady ends up being an accidental hero and assumes leadership out of circumstance rather than desire.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is not the first incarnation of ‘Who Goes There?’ Howard Hawks (one of Carpenter’s favourite directors) directed an earlier attempt to follow the book in movie form called The Thing from Another World (1951). Although it follows on the same lines as Campbell’s book, it forgoes making the monster a shape-changing alien and settles for a man in a monster suit that looks very much like a left over from an early Universal Studios monster feature. Carpenter’s Thing is an all together different beast and this is what makes it a classic sci-fi horror film.
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