Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: June 25, 1982
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
CINEMTOGRAPHY: Dean Cundey
WRITER: Bill Lancaster
MUSIC: Ennio Morricone
In 1938, writer John W. Campbell, Jr. wrote a story called “Who Goes There?” about an outpost in the Antarctic that finds a crashed alien ship in the ice. An alien is discovered that is soon revived and it is revealed that it can take on the shape of any animal or human that it meets. Soon, paranoia sets in as the men at the outpost have to try and figure out who is still human and who is an alien.
The novella has gone on to be the inspirations for later films such as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. The novella itself was adapted into a feature film in 1951 as “The Thing from Another World”, though it told more of a generic monster story with James Arness starring as the Thing. As a fan of the novella and the original film, director John Carpenter decided that he wanted to remake the movie and stick closer to the original source material.
Like the story on which it is based, 1982’s “The Thing” is high on paranoia as the characters try to figure out who the alien is currently imitating. The movie is also high on blood, though most of it comes from the Thing when it begins to transform. Beautifully grotesque creatures emerge as a result of these transformations and a huge shout out goes to Rob Bottin who created most of the creature effects practically and to Stan Winston for creating a giant dog creature during one of the film’s sequences.
The movie features an all-male cast, but this actually makes sense as it is mostly men that could be found at these outposts at the time. From a narrative standpoint, Carpenter also wanted to avoid the female lead cliché that was established from previous horror films.
The cast lead by the always dependable Kurt Russell as helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady. What starts out as a film that focuses on all of its characters quickly shifts its focus to MacReady as the responsible lead character that has to deal with people who don’t quite trust him. Russell gives you the impression that MacReady is both a reluctant leader and a man who knows that they are probably not going to make it out alive.
The rest of the cast is great as well, including Keith David as the skeptical Childs and Wilford Brimley as the paranoid doctor Blair. One thing that all the performers are able to pull off is just how scared they are with the situation they are in. You quickly see who will probably crack under the pressure and who will step up to the plate.
In comparison to other films from Carpenter, it doesn’t get much better than this. “The Thing” does a great job of making the audience itself paranoid about who is real and who isn’t. Also, the ambiguous ending is also the best possible way he could have finished the movie and appropriate for the film’s overall paranoid theme.
The film also looks better than anything else Carpenter has done before and you can definitely tell that this was when he was at the top of his game. I often have a soft spot for “Halloween” because that was the film that absolutely scared me as a kid, but at the end of the day, I must admit that “The Thing” is superior horror entertainment and a movie that is just as effective today as it was when it was made.