John Carpenter’s The Thing is by far one of my all-time favorite horror movies. Its the movie that got me back into the horror genre during college and got me thinking there is much more than a monster to make a movie scary. Its that good to the point I feel one single analysis can’t do it justice. It needs to be seen to be believed to know just how all the tension and craft is perfect. I can’t think of another time when I felt so satisfied with a horror movie like this. There’s a lot to talk about but I will try to cover what works so well.
I guess I should start by saying its based on John W. Campbell’s novella titled Who Goes There, which depicts a group of scientists in Antarctica that are trapped with a alien that can assimilate and mimic its victims. It was later adapted loosely into The Thing from Another World where the beast was humanoid but was able to grow limbs back and be something close to a walking vegetable. But the strange thing is that this adaption takes place in the North Pole as opposed to the novella’s South Pole placement. Unfortunately, I was unable to get time to view this version but I have heard before its been highly praised as a science fiction classic. Perhaps next year I will get the chance to bring a deep review but for now, let’s discuss the 1982 adaption.
Its funny how John Carpenter’s take really reflects the darker aspects of the novella by not only being set in Antarctica but also having the creature being able to assimilate its victims. The creature effects were done by Rob Bottin and he really pushes the limitations of what practical effects can do. When the Thing starts to shapeshift and “devour” what ever it comes into contact with, its absolutely disgusting. Instead of seeing its true form, we can a hint when it starts to consult its various forms. There are times when it forms into a blob of organs and times when it mutates into such nightmarish forms that are far too horrific to even mention here. In short, the creature is nasty while being a show stopper at the same time. You really have to admire just how much effort was put into the anamatronics. Gore fans won’t be disapointed.
The characters we get are also interesting too. Carpenter regular Kurt Russell leads the team of scientists as MacReady who is not only anti-social but alienates himself a lot from the group. Is it out of fear for tolerance among the group or is he bad at socialization? That’s what makes his character interesting. As cold as the snows and ice of Antarctica gets, so does his thoughts on humanity and doomed he feels about it later. At the very least, he plays it smart knowing that anyone could be inhumane. Even himself. Expectations are played so much that we wonder if he’s truly alien himself or just to those around him.
Some viewers of today might be uneasy to see an all male cast instead of something more co-ed like Alien but I think it works. The fact these guys have been out of society for so long raises the stakes when the creature appears. Being out in the tundra could drive one insane seeing how little interaction there is out there. The pace of the movie is slow on first watch but on repeated viewings you start to realize its part of the atmosphere of the film. It sets you in the mood considering how chilling and cold a place like this can really be.
Its a much darker film and its a nice change of pace seeing the original 1951 version set in the suspense well. But it does make some reference to the original movie as some form of sequel which is more interesting itself when they discover the remnants of the alien are from a Norweigian camp site. This is a really great scene from the movie as our characters look through the burnt down base. We don’t need flashbacks or an explanation. The images of fozen corpses and a block of ice where the creature burst out of is all we really need.
Speaking of which, its interesting we never get to see the Thing in its true form. There are hints along the way with how huge and twisted it looks but we don’t know if its trying to form into what it really is or just constantly morphing. There was originally a bigger climax that alludes to its original form with the use of stop-motion animation by David Allen and it does look impressive But unfortunately, most of the animation was left on the cutting room floor when John Carpenter felt the effect was too obvious and less seamless with the Rob Bottin puppet. In the final cut, a few seconds remain but the full sequence can be seen on the DVD as a bonus.
Perhaps the less said about this one, the better because this movie is too good of an opinion. Its a pity it didn’t do well at the box office and I can understand why. With today’s movies and TV shows relying on darker elements, its fair to say that The Thing was way ahead of its time. Over time, it has grew a better appreciation with home video sales and given the audience it truly deserves. What else can I say but this one is a true must watch.
Now there hasn’t been a sequel to this outside of video games and comic books but there was a prequel that came out in 2011. There were many proposed ideas before then to give it a franchise feel like an abandoned Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. At first, I was hyped considering how much potential there was. This one was set before MacReady and the gang find out about the Norweigan campsite and also show what happened. I was even impressed to hear there would be English and Norwegian dialogue thinking it would get a foreign horror film feel. Well, I was unable to see it theaters but by the time I was able to rent it, I found myself to be really underwhelmed.
Not only does it answer questions and shows what happened at the campsite but it demystifies the Thing as a monster that is beaks and tentacles. It doesn’t explain its reason for being on Earth which is good but at times, it seems to appear too often than it should. In John Carpenter’s take, the Thing appeared not as frequent as the viewer was kept in suspense wondering who the alien would take next. In the prequel, the creature seems to pop out for no reason at times. Most notable is when a group is escaping in a helicopter and for no reason the Thing morphs out of its disguise and kills the crew. Why not wait till it goes to the base or why even bother transforming now? It doesn’t make any sense.
I expected the effects work to be CGI and was surprised to hear how at times they would use practical effects in certain scenes. Unless they blended the two well, all I say was mostly computer effects all the way. Shame seeing how great the effects in John Carpenter’s film were compared to this one which becomes more of a generic haunted house and less of an intense thrill ride. The characters are honestly forgettable to me. Outside of having a female in the group, that’s really about it. And the Norwegians I mentioned become easy “red-shirt” bait in the second half. Wouldn’t it been more interesting if they were all NOT American to heighten it? Its sounds ambitious but you never hear of a foreign film made by an American studio. It also doesn’t help we certain story elements that I feel harm the intense nature. Going inside the spaceship it came in really robs the mystery of the creature and I wasn’t a fan of seeing what many speculate as his “true form” near the end.
But the final nail in the coffin of crap is how THIS prequel is called The Thing. No subtitle or anything added on. Just “The Thing.” Its clear they wanted to cash in on the Carpenter classic and nothing else. Even weird is how at times I feel like I’m watching a remake of the Carpenter film and less of the prequel trying to be its own movie. It recycles everything from the dogs being assimilated to even the infamous blood test scene. Why bother labeling it a prequel when you do stuff like this anyway? Unlike how the original builds character and tension, this one just rushes the story to answer questions than give us time to take in the atmosphere or get to know a character before they are killed off. Its about as fast as how the Thing moves way too swiftly in this one. Bottom line, skip it. Stick with the Carpenter film for something truly chilling and really on the edge of your seat terror.