The Thing (1982) / Horror-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive gore, violence and language
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, Thomas G. Waites, David Clennon, Richard A. Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Donald Moffatt, Joel Polis
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Bill Lancaster
Review published February 15, 2004
The Thing is director John Carpenter's (Starman, Big Trouble in Little China) attempt to remake a sci-fi classic, 1951's The Thing from Another World (both based on John Campbell's story, "Who Goes There?", but this is a thing of a different type. Carpenter churns up the thrills and chills, and covers it all in gore, but in this case, he rarely misses a beat in the delivery. The build-up is masterful, as is the quality of the characterizations, which are short but effective, and when it all boils over, there is much power in the performances. There are a few implausible developments here and there, but in the end, it hardly matters, The Thing hooks you in and never lets go, and even when you think you can't look, you find you can't turn away either.
The story starts out in Antarctica, where a group of scientists are bunkered until one day they are disturbed by the sounds of gunshots coming from a Norwegian helicopter, apparently trying to kill a runaway dog. They miss their quarry, and the Norwegians end up getting offed, with no explanation as to what their problem is. Fearing more violence, the American crew travels to the Norwegian camp, only to find some very odd occurrences, including a mangled humanoid body that has normal internal organs. Then, the dog reveals that is is not really a dog, but some sort of alien organism with the power to mimic other life-forms and dominate until it takes over everything around it. The men of the camp are its next intended victims, and soon, no one can trust the others.
Carpenter's creation gets under your skin early and stays there for the duration, as the action heats up and becomes one of the most riveting horror films of the 80s. At its core, it is a derivative film, not only because it is a remake, but it is also very similar to other films to come out in the years before it, including Alien and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but it still manages to hold its own through the fantastic action, Ennio Morricone's (The Untouchables) sparse and haunting score, and the lively acting by all of the performers, with especially memorable performances by Kurt Russell (Stargate, Tombstone) and Keith David (They Live, Final Analysis).
There are a few things that occur to me the more times I see The Thing, the biggest among them is how well it has aged. Although made in 1982, there is something distinctly ageless about it, and save for the fact that the actors look younger, it would be hard to pin down just when it was made. Partially, this has to do with the fact that it's set in the middle of nowhere, and the sets are sparse enough to be just lights and walls in the background. Actually, it's more than this -- it is just a very influential movie, with countless imitators, including The Faculty and Dreamcatcher, most recently. Even by today's standards, the film's gore factor is quite high, with some truly grotesque and convincing creatures to give you nightmares the rest of your life. It's a b-movie through and through, but they don't come much better than this.
©2004 Vince Leo