Directed by John Carpenter
The action all starts with a dog running across the snow towards an Antarctic research station. A lone dog is racing across the snow in an attempt to get away from a pursuing helicopter firing at it. Murderous intent towards a seemingly harmless creature helps to set the tone. If that dog was dangerous then what else could be a threat? The best horror movies always start simply. What a great choice.
The investigation progresses and after taking a trip to the Norwegian station, they do quite possibly the worst possible move and bring back the deformed burned thing that they found outside of the Norwegian station. Not too long before they saw a dog try to absorb other dogs and they decide to bring back something that looks like it was in the middle of absorbing something else? I guess if they hadn’t there would be no movie. Horror films-even the good ones-are generally built on stupid mistakes. The creature begins to spread eventually nobody is sure who is real and who is a copy.
You can call this movie a remake or reimagining, but it takes the basics of the film that came before and gives us a fresh spin. It turns the creature into an intelligent and shape shifting paranoia inducing monster. Best of all, John Carpenter masterfully makes your mind do most of the terror work for him. That is true genius right there.
This was my first exposure to Kurt Russell outside of a Disney film. I think I saw The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes long before I ever saw this. I didn’t even see Escape from New York (a classic) until years after seeing this movie. His performance here instantly made him one of my favorite actors. And he has never failed to deliver since.
Pilot, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) is the hero of the movie. The term “hero” could be a bit generous here but he’s the one that seems to understand the situation the best. He understands what kind of threat it is, and he has a good idea of how to handle it and he’s mentally strong enough that it doesn’t break him. He’s just trying to survive an unbelievable situation. And he is a sharp contrast to what we see in Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley).
Blair breaking when he realizes the threat the creature poses is just one of the highlights of the film. He sees the situation and he just can’t deal with it. He knows exactly what they’re facing and loses all hope and decides to do what he can to prevent the being from getting to civilization. Both are extremes and both are very human reactions when faced with a significant threat.
The fact that the creature can look and act like anyone it copies makes you doubt who is really human no matter what. It’s something that’s lasted through successive viewings for me. I’ve watched that movie many times over the years and still find myself questioning who is and isn’t am imitation. The only exception to this is Grimes. From the first time I ever saw it I suspected him of being an alien imposter. That’s the only one that has ever been clearly telegraphed in my opinion. The rest can go either way even up to the very end. You could see Childs being an imposter and maybe even McCready. The films paranoia infects you that much.
An Antarctic research station is a great setting. Here the rooms are kept small and tight. You feel claustrophobic just seeing them on the screen. And there is the barren snow-covered scenery. It’s stark and foreboding. You feel as if there is nowhere to run. The characters can’t go outside to escape. There’s no crossing the snow to make it to safety because the nearest place was where the creature came from. You go outside and you die. You stay at the station and you die.
But the main reason that this movie succeeds is because of practical effects. Before computer effects were all the rage or were even possible with any amount of realism, every monster or blood squid or other bit of weirdness you saw on screen had to be done in reality. The Thing is high art in the world of horror film special effects. Everything looks so good. Every shot involving the creature or someone transforming is jarring and horrifying.
The high point of every effect they do is when they are trying to save the man that had a heart attack and he turns out to be an imitation. While the room is burning, his head pops off and skitters across the floor. That was all done with practical special effects. That is one of my all-time favorite horror scenes. Your jaw just drops every time when you see it.
If you have never seen this film, I must ask why? It’s a classic. It delivers on thrills and scares. The story never takes the easy route that horror often does. Most importantly, it makes your mind scare you. It’s a masterpiece of paranoia in that realm. This is exactly how you should reboot a film. And it is a perfect example of science fiction horror. John Carpenter is one of the greats and he proves it here.