The Thing is possibly John Carpenter's finest work. A gripping tale which follows a band of scientists in the Antarctic who cross paths with a shape-shifting alien intent on consuming them all. This is a genuinely unsettling film which deserves a place as one of the best horror movies of all time.
The Thing was released in 1982 and is both a remake of Howard Hawks' 1951 film The Thing From Another World and a re-adaptation of the John W. Campbell Jr. story Who Goes There? on which it was based. This easily surpasses either with a mixture of incredible visuals and fantastic acting performances.
The film opens intriguingly with a dog being chased by two men in a helicopter as it sprints across the arctic wastes. The men are frantically trying to kill the dog firing off shots wildly and dropping explosives. The dog runs towards the research station which forms the backdrop for most of the film and cowers beside one of the emerging scientists. The two men are screaming desperately but as they are Norwegian the scientists do not understand them. One of the men manages to blow his pal and the helicopter up in his attempts to destroy the dog and when he begins to shoot wildly the security officer at the research station takes him out. Immediately you are drawn into the film and have a multitude of unanswered questions. This has to be one of the best beginnings to a movie ever.
There are twelve men stationed at the research centre and they take the dog inside blissfully unaware of the conseqeunces. Before long it's true nature is discovered as it tries to assimilate the other dogs in the kennel. The horrified men torch it and then Dr. Blair examines the remains. It is unlike anything they have ever seen before and truly hideous to behold caught in some state of change with elements of different creatures evident.
The rough and ready R. J. MacReady takes charge and investigates the Norwegian base. They are able to piece together the evidence gradually that this creature is some kind of crash landed alien with the ability to perfectly imitate any life form it is able to assimilate. This means anyone left alone with the creature for a while could be one of "The Things" and so paranoia ensues.
Carpenter does a fantastic job here building the tension and allowing the story to unfold gradually. The film creates a real sense of horror and revulsion as these men are trapped in an arctic winter struggling to avoid becoming the next victim of this terrifying creature. The direction is excellent throughout and blends suspense with some full on special effects and gore. The result is a genuinely scary and extremely slick horror film.
The acting here is excellent from all concerned. Each plays their part beautifully most of all Kurt Russell as MacReady the real hero of the piece. Richard A. Dysart plays Dr Copper and while you may not recognise the name you would certainly recognise the face of this accomplished character actor. I also thought Donald Moffat was especially good as the frightened old guy Garry. The rest of the cast turns in a similarly accomplished performance.
The interplay between the characters as they try to figure out who is "one of them" is fraught with paranoia and the accusations soon start to fly. MacReady tries to work out a way of testing the men and this leads to a fantastically tense scene which gives you a real jolt. I'd hate to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen this yet so I'll avoid details but believe me you haven't seen anything like this before.
The film works on several levels and could be viewed as a sci-fi tale but the scary scenes are undoubtedly pure horror and I think this is the genre which fits best. The design of the models as the creature is caught in various states of change is superb and very frightening. The film also has its fair share of gory moments and the make-up work here is terrific. Despite the age of these effects they stand up very well by modern standards and they add to the film rather than overshadow it like many of the current special effects extravaganzas.
Carpenter is a master of suspense and this is one of his best so you really can't afford to miss it. A skillfully constructed, genuinely frightening masterpiece this film deserves more recognition than it gets.