Kurt Russell - MacReady
Wilford Brimley - Blair
Donald Moffett - Garry
Keith David - Childs
Richard Dysart - Doc Copper
John Carpenter - Director
David Foster - Producer
Bill Lancaster - Screenplay
Dean Cundy - Photography
Ennio Morricone - Film Score
John Carpenter's remake of The Thing has the unfortunate legacy of being a box-office dud when it was released in the summer of 1982. The most prominent reason given for its lack of audience was that it just happened to have been released at the same time as E.T., Poltergeist, Tron, and Star Trek II. Fortunately, the film's reputation has grown considerably over the years and it is now considered a science fiction / horror classic (as is Blade Runner, which was released that very same summer and languished just as badly at the box office as The Thing).
Rather than simply remaking Howard Hawks' science fiction classic The Thing from Another World (1951), Carpenter went back to John W. Campbell's original short story "Who Goes There?" which featured a shape-changing alien--something that technical limitations prevented director Christian Nyby from realizing back in the 50s. And, in fact, one of the primary criticisms of the film is that it relies too heavily on special effects. But the use of special effects is incredibly imaginative and there are long stretches of the film where the creature lies in wait, refusing to show itself, a technique which Carpenter uses to increase the already overwhelming sense of claustrophobia and paranoia.
The film begins with twelve men stationed in Antarctica. Suffering from boredom, things begin to become interesting when a Norwegian helicopter flies into camp chasing a dog, with the single-minded intent of killing it. The helicopter blows up and the dog is taken in by Richard Masur as the stoic animal handler, Clark. An expedition out to the deserted Norwegian station reveals that a discovery they had made--frozen in the ice--is now on the loose and attempting to get to civilization in order to replicate itself. The film combines the isolation of space in Alien--replaced by the frozen wastes of the South Pole--with the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as the men quickly realize that the Thing is able to become an exact copy of whatever genetic material it can find--most frequently, the blood of its victims.
Clark puts the animal in the pen with the other dogs, and they become the Thing's first victims. (Interestingly, Clark would be the only death in the camp not caused, directly or indirectly, by the Thing when he is shot by MacReady.) Suddenly everyone is suspect, and Kurt Russell as MacReady devises a way of determining who has been replicated by the Thing. Unfortunately, even the smallest part of the alien is deadly and can spread to infect more victims. The unrelenting tension is only briefly relieved by the gruesome scenes when the thing is revealed--as heads and chests rip open, teeth appear, and insect, spider, and lizard parts sprout from every part of the being.
The ensemble cast is tremendous as the characters fight, distrust, and betray each other--and die horrible deaths as the creature assimilates them one by one. In addition to Russell and Masur, Wilford Brimley is the angry scientist, Blair, who destroys the radios and helicopters so that the Thing will not be able to get to civilization. Keith David adds his usual intensity as the mechanic, Childs. The roller-skating, super-cool cook, Nauls, is played by T.K. Carter, and Richard Dysart is the hapless doctor of the station, Copper. Radioman Windows, played by Thomas G. Waites, and senior man on the expedition Garry, played by Donald Moffat, round out the cast.
Ennio Morricone's eerie electronic score perfectly heightens the tense atmosphere without being intrusive. The screenplay by Bill Lancaster provides strong dialogue and an excellent sense of pacing, and very believable comedy relief to lighten the non-stop barrage of fear. Dean Cundy's icy, blueish-gray cinematography gives the camp an other-worldly feel that accentuates the character's isolation. The special effects by Rob Bottin and Stan Winston were initially dismissed as gratuitous during the film's theatrical release, but there is a real thoughtfulness and creativity that went into each of their creations.
But in the end, it is John Carpenter's vision which makes the film so compelling for viewers. Continuing on from his success in Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980), upon completion of The Thing he would go on to film Stephen King's Christine (1983) the following year. Carpenter's other films include Escape from New York (1981), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), They Live (1988), Prince of Darkness (1987), and In the Mouth of Madness (1995).
--A HISTORY OF HORROR
A selection of The Thing related films.
Find The Thing on eBay.com
A selection The Thing related books.
A History of Horror
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