I’m sure most everyone has seen John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) by now, but if you haven’t, here’s me saying you probably should. I make a point of watching it every year or so. There’s not many films that compel me to watch them so often, but I just can’t get enough of Carpenter‘s approach to this premise. And it’s a simple one: a group of men work at a research outpost somewhere in Antarctica where they encounter an alien life form that imitates other living beings perfectly. Its intentions are never made clear, but its presence doesn’t bode well for the Americans (or the Norwegians for that matter).
No, the Norwegians punch their tickets at the very beginning of the film, because they fail so miserably at chasing down a simple dog. That dog is then taken in by the American research team. It’s not just a dog, however, and even after watching the film dozens of times, I still find myself hoping the Norwegians would do a better job of wasting it. Instead, they go digging after a live grenade in a pile of snow.
Things proceed to go south from there as members of the American team are slowly replaced by untrustworthy alien copies. It’s a great move for the film to have considerable lapses in showing who is where at any given time. The characters don’t know who’s still human and neither does the audience. This greatly enhances the sense of paranoia that is exuded by The Thing. It’s a central theme and it works perfectly against the Arctic backdrop that provides a lovely touch of the Lovecraftian. In a catchy use of deduction McReady (Kurt Russell) says: ‘I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human.’ Under any circumstances he must have felt uncomfortable assessing such a situation, but looking at the frozen wasteland surrounding him, he must have despaired. From the safety of your own easy chair, these are wonderful feelings to experience vicariously.
Apart from being a great psychological horror film, The Thing also offers a lot in terms of special effects. The ‘thing’ looks utterly disgusting and totally convincing even three decades later. I always preferred practical effects over CG and this film is a great example of what can be achieved with traditional methods. Still, it’s rumored Rob Bottin (responsible for effects and make-up) worked so hard on this film he had to be admitted to a hospital by the end due to sheer exhaustion. It shows though, there’s no better looking monster movie than this one. The film also has a number of beautiful matte paintings, most notably one where the American crew visits a large excavation in the ice that suggests the outlines of a vast alien spaceship. Call me old fashioned, but I think that small hint of something truly alien is more evocative than all of Pandora and its wimpy blue inhabitants combined.
The poster (the one above here) actually inspired my latest revisiting of The Thing, even though it’s part of the promotion for a different film; the prequel that’s coming in October. This new film will cover the events that befell the rest of the unfortunate Norwegians, but it’s probably going to be more of a remake. Now, upon its release, the original 1982 film didn’t do all that well, but has managed to gather quite the cult following in the years since then and is considered hallowed ground by now. Trying to remake such films will always be met with skepticism or outright aggression. My guess is that in order to avoid accusations of being a simple remake, the producers chose to focus on the Norwegian side of the story. The addition of an American character would then have this new cast speak a lot of English (instead of Norwegian, which doesn’t sell that well). In all fairness, the film deserves a chance. It’s not like we’re drowning in good science fiction horror films and Carpenter’s version of the film was a remake itself after all. Furthermore, this new iteration is Rated-R! That has to count for something. So we’ll see what happens.
You can view the trailer here.