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The Thing (1982)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE THING (1982)

Starring: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, Joel Polis, Richard Dysart, Donald Moffat

Written By: Bill Lancaster, John W. Campbell, Jr. (short story) Directed By: John Carpenter

The Short Version

Vastly underappreciated when it hit theatres, The Thing has since come to be recognized as a classic.

It’s dark, it’s paranoid, and it’s brilliant.

Even thirty years later, The Thing is still one of the most effective suspense horror flicks out there.

Rob Bottin’s creature effects are nothing short of spectacular, and still beat most modern stuff.

Any science fiction and/or horror fan should own The Thing.

The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDAR COLD PACK CHEESE FOOD.

Tasty and ready for a cracker.  Or you can mold it into any shape you want.  Hmm…


Pairs Well With...

J&B SCOTCH WHISKY.

Mac seems to think it’s the perfect way to warm up during the cold Antarctic winter, and who am I to argue with that kind of logic?  “I'm tired, Fuchs.  I just wanna get up to my shack and get drunk.”

“Why don't we just wait here for a little while… see what happens.”


On June 25, 1982, the constellations aligned in Hollywood.  Two movies were released that day which would open to tepid reviews from both critics and fans, but which would later come to be hailed as all-time classics.  One of those movies was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.  The other was John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Though it definitely carries an awareness of and reverence to 1951’s The Thing (From Another World) – which is indeed one of John Carpenter’s favorite movies – this incarnation of The Thing is much less a remake of that film than it is a reimagination of how to adapt the short story upon which it was based: John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?”  At the end of the day, though he does create an animal all his own, Carpenter chooses to be much more faithful to the source material than his predecessors were.  The end result is a dark, chilling tale that is now rightfully recognized as one of the greatest science fiction/horror flicks ever made.

We start with a teaser shot of a flying saucer speeding toward the Earth, after which we’re treated to a very retro and very cool title card straight out of the drive-in era.  Enjoy the grin from that, folks, because it gets dark awfully fast.

Roll straightforward credits to the tune of a very John Carpenter-esque minimalist score by Ennio Morricone.  Then… snow.

You’ll eventually realize that when the caption tells you that you’re now in Antarctica during Winter of 1982, you’ve flashed forward 100,000 years from the time you saw that flying saucer out in space.  As the camera focuses in, we see a dog running across the snow and ice, and a Norwegian helicopter chasing it.  As if the ominous music wasn’t cue enough, you can tell something is wrong by the fact that there’s a guy in the helicopter desperately trying to shoot the dog dead.

Soon enough, the dog finds the shelter of an American research station, the denizens of which are aroused from various bits of tedium by the approach of the helicopter and the sound of gunshots.  As the Americans rush outside to see what’s going on, the helicopter lands, and one of the men inside pulls a grenade… which he promptly drops into the snow.  The guy with the rifle has the good sense to run before the chopper blows up, taking the other gent with it.  With that said, he’s barely distracted by the calamity behind him, still intent on shooting the dog.  When an American gets in the way, he shoots the American.  This, of course, leads to the Americans shooting the gun-toting Norwegian, and the Americans are better shots.  While the unhurt dog takes shelter behind his new friends, the Norwegian drops dead.

Now, had any of the Americans been able to understand the pidgin Norwegian that had been screamed at them, they might have caught on to the warning that the dog isn’t really a dog, but rather a… thing.  But they’ll find out soon enough. 

And then they’ll start dying…

It still floors me to think of the cold shoulder this movie received when it was initially released, for without question, The Thing is one of the most effective horror movies of all time.

Seriously, folks.  There is nothing at all wrong with this movie.

Start with an awesome script.  Going back to the essence and content of the original short story and bringing on some twists of its own, this screenplay gets to the heart of what makes paranoid elimination horror creepy and fun and then takes it to the next level.  Just because someone was the killer in one scene, that doesn’t mean that the killer isn’t someone else – or several someones – in the next.  For all of the viscera and all of the gore, this is without question a psychological thriller that does not let up, ever, from the moment the horror hooks go in until after the credits have rolled.  And that all starts with the screenplay.

Put that screenplay in the hands of the man who defined the modern slasher genre, and he does it all of the justice it deserves and then squeezes out a little more.  He takes the creepy edge that he gave to Halloween and brings it literally to the end of the world, taking the paranoid isolation of the Antarctic on as an additional character and then, incredibly, giving that character even more depth.  The script was already unrelenting; Carpenter creates an atmosphere that makes it merciless.  Most of the time, horror films are designed to give an audience a moment’s pause followed by a reassuring sense of relief when it’s all over (and indeed, some pressure was put on Carpenter from other sources to do the same here).  With The Thing, however, John Carpenter stands his ground, and creates a horror piece that is truly scary, truly chilling, and that leaves the audience still shivering as the end credits roll to Ennio Morricone’s bleak, minimalistic score.  It may not have been the popular choice in 1982 when the world was all giddy over aliens that chased after Reese’s Pieces, but the test of time has proven that John Carpenter’s talent and integrity are what wins the day.

And while Mr. Carpenter handles the atmosphere and guides the men, a young gent by the name of Rob Bottin makes the impossibilities of an alien monster that can literally become anything into plausible reality.  His creature and makeup effects are nothing short of spectacular, and even today, they’re beyond creepy as hell.  There is never anything silly or goofy or “off” about his creatures, but there is always something twisted, chilling, and in-the-bone scary about them.  Place these effects from thirty years ago side by side with the computer generated tentacles of today, and there’s just no contest.  Rob Bottin’s physical effects win, hands down.  The autopsy scene, the spider head, the grotesque half-transformed versions of the Thing that are just wrong in a deeply grotesque, mesmerizing, Lovecraftian way that slices right past of suspension of disbelief and goes straight for the part of the audience that goes “ew” – these takes what was already a brilliantly written and directed psychological horror piece and make it an equally effective work of visceral horror.

Without question, The Thing truly is the total horror package.

Bringing it all home is one hell of an amazing cast.  In a film where you never really know who the heroes are – if there in fact are any to be found at all – a great ensemble is key, and once again, The Thing delivers.  Kurt Russell (Escape from LA) wears the role of Mac like a well worn pair of work boots, theoretically taking charge while never overshadowing the talents of those around him.  Keith David (Marked for Death) is a spot-on foil for Russell, bringing a presence that easily allows him to go toe to toe with the film’s major star and even win.  Richard Masur (Fire Down Below) plays Clark the dog handler with an intensity that makes his part far bigger than even this script does on its own, and even if you don’t recognize Wilford Brimley (The Firm) without the mustache (which is especially odd given the amount of facial hair being sported by others here), you’ll definitely recognize the weight that he brings to the part of Blair, the man who figures things out first.  Keep going down the line, and there just isn’t a weak link to be found.

Have I mentioned that there really isn’t anything at all wrong with The Thing?  I still mean it.

Even people tasked with remaking it almost three decades later came to the same conclusion, and actually convinced the studio to see it their way.  When even Hollywood can be convinced to bow to the integrity of a truly great work of filmmaking art… that’s called “something special,” folks.

And that, in the end, is what John Carpenter’s The Thing is: something special.  Easily one of the top ten horror films ever made, and one of the top two or three science fiction/horror hybrids, this is a flick that is truly greater than the sum of its parts, and which even its signature creature could not hope to imitate.

Bottom line, John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the greats.  Period.  You need to have this movie in your permanent collection.  Exclamation mark.

And by the way, for those of you who might still be wondering, 27,000 hours is just a shade over three years.  If you’re wondering why I bring that up, call it just one more excuse to see this movie.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, February, 2012


More From The Bar! | Alien | The Thing (2011) | Christine |



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