The Thing

The Thing ★★★★½

NOTE: Much better review here.

The Thing stands as one of my all-time favourite sci-fi/horror films. Hell, I'd even consider it the best thing that John Carpenter ever did. This was my first ever exposure to the director's work, as well as Kurt Russell, and since then I've always been a massive fan of both of them.

Based on the science-fiction short story "Who Goes There?", it begins in Antarctica, where a seemingly harmless husky dog infiltrates a U.S research facility, later exposing itself as a hostile extra-terrestrial organism that has the ability to assemble and imitate any living being. As it slowly begins to terrorise the crew residing there (consisting of helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady), they begin to distrust each other, not knowing who is being imitated or when.

MacReady is brilliantly played by Russell. He and Carpenter were one hell of a team, and this film is one of the best examples of that. He is believable as a hardened but normal guy finding himself up against an all too real alien threat. The same can go for the rest of the cast really, who for what they lack in development still feel like real human beings in a deadly situation. As for the Thing itself, well it keeps itself in the hidden most of the time, but when it's forced to come out, shit goes down hard.

The Thing simply doesn't just imitate it's prey, but mutates it in some of the most grotesque and bizarre ways imaginable, be it dog or human. Some would call Rob Bottin's practical effects work dated by now, but I'd disagree. The mutations (limbs, organs and all) are gory as shit, and are as satisfying to watch as they are horrifying. Sure some of it looks a bit comical at times, they are still very well done for the time and manage to hold up pretty well by today's standards.

Very few directors can stage atmosphere as well as Carpenter does. His use of the cold Arctic landscape further emphasises the crew's helplessness from the outside world, especially once their communication gets cut off (in an attempt to prevent the Thing from reaching civilisation). Combine that with the extremely eerie synth score by John himself, Alan Howarth, and Ennio Morricone, and you have yourself some truly unsettling ambience.

The Thing was sadly unappreciated on release. Maybe because everybody had E.T. fever or something, who knows. Regardless, I think it's reappraisal couldn't be more deserved. For it's grotesque special effects, the atmosphere and the creepy music score alone, it is one of my all-time favourite sci-fi flicks of the era.


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