Directed by John Carpenter
Written by Bill Lancaster (Based on the Short Story “Who Goes There?” by John Campbell)
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David
Tagline: We found Something in the ice.
Trivia: John Carpenter’s favorite movie in his filmography.
John Carpenter’s remake of the The Thing From Another World is without a doubt one of the most terrifying and nihilistic films ever made. Like the Howard Hawks original, the remake takes place at an isolated based in the Antarctic where a station of scientists stumble upon an alien that’s able to imitate the forms of other humans and threaten all life on earth. Carpenter brought a Post-Vietnam attitude to the picture: extreme gore and unremittingly bleak cynicism.
Already edgy and claustrophobic from the isolation, the men have no idea what’s in store from them when they pick up a dog from another station. Unbeknownst to them, a horrible shape shifting alien lives inside the dog and will infiltrate their base.
Carpenter never lets up on the tension. First of all there’s the crew themselves: they look like the last remnants of the counterculture, they recall Carpenter’s 1975 film Dark Star, slackers putting in their time with no end in sight. Kurt Russell personifies their ennui as the helicopter pilot who spends his time drinking and playing chess with the computer – a match he can never win.
Carpenter goes into greater detail into what “the thing” is capable of doing to people. The creature creates a hybrid of itself and its host, a monstrous combination that’s both nauseating and depressing. Rob Bodine’s creature effects remain unsurpassed for their grotesque beauty, 1982 was pre-CGI.
Eventually the men turn on each other, uncertain of who is possessed by the creature. In the most memorable scene they must unwillingly submit to a blood test that will determine who is real. It’s an intense portrait of paranoia.
In 1982 the Doomsday Clock stood at four minutes to midnight, the closest since 1953 (in 2016 we are back to three minutes before midnight). With the world on the brink of a nuclear showdown between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1982, a sense of helplessness pervades the film, mirroring the world as two superpowers were prepared to do the unthinkable. It’s no wonder The Thing flopped at the box office (audiences preferred E.T.)
Ennio Morricone’s haunting score is unlike anything else, creating an impending sense of doom. Gallows humor rules the day. Without a doubt, The Thing is a modern horror masterpiece.