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Logline: At a research station in Antarctica, a group of men fight for survival against a shape shifting alien that assimilates anything it touches.
In 1982, after a successful streak at the box office, John Carpenter was approached by Universal Studios to direct an updated version of The Thing from Another World (1951). Though not well received at the time of its release, John Carpenter’s The Thing has become a cult classic and is rightfully considered one of the greatest horror films of all time.
One of the key differences between the 1951 film and the 1982 version is that Carpenter’s alien is able to shape shift and assume the appearance of whomever it comes into contact with. Carpenter hired 23-year old Rob Bottin to realize the amazing creature effects seen in the film. The effects, which are quite gruesome and not for the squeamish, are remarkable and still hold up to this day. Cinematographer Dean Cundey’s lighting does not receive enough credit and was essential in making the creature effects look as good as they do in the film.
Whereas the 1951 film deals with the fear and paranoia of communism albeit subtly, the 1982 film focuses on the fear and paranoia of the men, none of whom trust one another. The Thing is very much an ensemble piece with Kurt Russell leading the all-male cast. Nearly all of the actors were New York stage performers prior to the film and all of the performances are top notch. Before shooting began, Carpenter insisted that Universal provide the cast and crew two weeks of rehearsal on a soundstage. This allowed the actors ample time to perform and get to know one another before the cameras started rolling. As a result, the performances are enriched and one gets the sense that these characters have known each other for quite some time. The Norwegian dog in the film, who was half wolf/half malamute breed, is amazing. Jed gives what must be the single greatest animal performance in the history of film.
On a purely visual level, The Thing is stunning. Each scene is beautifully directed and there are some gorgeous shot compositions. The score, composed by the great Ennio Morricone, seems to take a lesson from Carpenter in its subtlety. In fact, Carpenter himself is responsible for some of the film’s musical cues. Regardless, it is a great score.
The Thing is a highly rewatchable film. This can be attributed to the great characters and performances, impressive direction, wonderful creature effects, and because it’s so much fun to watch. The film has not aged a bit and moves along at a breakneck pace. In a film full of memorable scenes, my favorite sequence is the blood test. The suspense and tension in this pivotal scene are high. Even after having seen it multiple times, I am still yelling at the screen.
The Thing is one of the few instances in which the remake is far superior to the original. The Thing marked the first time Carpenter worked on a big budget film. It is baffling that the film was not well received at the time of its release by critics and audiences alike. The Thing could not compete with Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extraterrestrial, which had been released several weeks beforehand. The Thing has since become one of the most celebrated films of Carpenter’s career and may beat out Halloween (1978) as my favorite Carpenter flick. The Thing is nothing short of a horror masterpiece and one of this film buff’s personal favorites.
Rating (out of ****): ****
Warning: Clip contains spoilers.