Movie of the Week: John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

John Carpenter directs Kurt Russell, Keith David and Wilford Brimley in this sci-fi body horror mystery where a remote Antarctic research base finds itself infiltrated by an alien who absorbs and replicates its prey indistinguishably.

Ennio Morricone’s doom laden score is beating like a dying heart. A gorgeous huskie races across the unforgiving white. A hair smothered helicopter pilot pours melting ice and blended scotch dregs into his chess game’s harddrive. I’m in now but I wasn’t always. As a teen Carpenter’s finest didn’t get me. A notorious flop on release, this like Blade Runner (they were released on the same weekend) saw its reputation grow once it hit VHS and telly. It is almost easier to see why The Thing failed even though I prefer it. A desolate, often silent then earsplittingly loud and always pessimistic, film that explodes in bursts of nauseous shock and dread inducing fatalism. Like Guinness and whisky, you need to grow your tastebuds into a flick that is essentially beardy, paranoid middle aged men bellowing at each other for 90 minutes. Who is human? Who ain’t? Do the copies even know if they themselves, or which of each other, are alien? It is 12 Angry Men with dynamite and shotguns. Death on the Nile where Poirot prefers kerosene to monologues. Ostensible hero R.J. MacReady ain’t no bastion of good in a white suit; reluctant, self serving and only sometimes one thought smarter than a creature that has survived eons. Listen, I love Kurt Russell in this but I cannot for the life of me think why he wants to burn the entire outpost down in the third act (spectacle aside). The Thing can survive freezing to death, humans can’t… UNLESS!?… The transforming monster FX work are gloopily mind blowing. Rob Bottin, just 22 at the time, uses every animatronic technique in the book and then camouflages them in slathers of Vaseline, skewed lighting and elliptical movement to convince you heads are becoming space spiders and organs are becoming snarling dog foetuses. Case closed for the defence of practical effect over CGI. Your honour, this is the final argument against folks who instantly write off any remake of a beloved genre film too. And having said that, I’m even quite perversely fond of the Mary Elizabeth Winstead prequel / remake. “Yeah, fuck you too!”


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here

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