John W. Campbell, Jr.'s novella "Who Goes There" was adapted to great acclaim in 1951 into one hell of an Sci-Fi Horror thriller set in a North Pole almost as cold as the war that informed its zeitgeist. That film was the original The Thing from Another World!
However, Campbell's THING was something much more than a stalking extra terrestrial hunting down the isolated crew like the title characters of IT! The Terror from Beyond Space and Alien! Campbell's THING was an amorphous, shape shifting stalker who could be anyone or any... thing within the frozen science station its prey inhabit. Imagine some bleak version of And Then There Were None where the victims can't escape due to the nightmarishly harsh surroundings, yet have to do something because The Thing is preying upon them. Meanwhile the Villain is more than merely one of your supposed allies, but might be a different one of your allies every time. Or more than one of them... or all of them...
And that's The Thing!!! Whereas in the 1951 adaptation such elements were only touched upon, the 1982 version makes this amazing and dangerous feature of the title monster the focus and one of the main reasons for paranoia! True, this film from thirty years beyond the original had thirty years of special effects innovations under its belt... but could it really be any good? How could this be anything but another Alien clone and a definitive B-Movie? Possibly because Universal Pictures hired one of the early film's biggest fans to direct it! He was fan enough to feature scenes from the original film in his big break motion picture. Still not sold? Well, the film featuring the original's scenes was Halloween and the director was no less than John Carpenter!
Yep, folks, still in the phase when he seemed to be able to do no wrong by the critics, from his student experiment Dark Star to his tense exploitation flick Assault on Precinct 13, the man was churning out unlikely critical (and usually commercial) hits like beers from that factory in the beginning of Laverne & Shirley!!!.
Would The Thing be his first big failure? Absolutely not! It's an excellent and tightly paced Sci-Fi/ Action Thriller with more horror in each drop of blood than in most terror anthologies, man! Carpenter pulls some incredible moments from the screenplay by Bill Lancaster and constructs a scary web of mystery, deceit, treachery, paranoia and very real danger around every corner.
After a telling teaser opening that features a UFO hurling toward Earth before the credits burn onto the screen, the main plot seems to kick off mid-story.
A Norwegian helicopter chases an agile sled dog across the frozen tundra, shooting at it, hoping to kill the damned thing.
Well, the American Camp that dynomutt flees to has no clue. All they know is that a couple of non-English speaking gunmen are blowing shit up and shooting at dogs and dog-faced Americans alike, so they react with predictable grouchiness to the scenario.
Smoked Norwegian is only good when we're talking about Salmon, but that endangered doggie is as releived as a reelected incumbent just after Super Tuesday. After all, he's now under the care and protection of the American Arctic Research Station's crew!
Speaking of which...
The true beauty of The Thing is that it remains a challenging mystery throughout its 109 minute runtime. As was so effectively handled in Alien, the real scares come from what we don't know or can't quite see. The truth is, once The Thing itself starts to do its... thing... we never know quite what we're looking at, who or when... not to mention why. As the investigation proceeds and gets increasingly desperate, each answer leads to more mystery and each clue leads to treachery, suspicion incredible tension.
This is, of course, where Carpenter shines through. He is more than a director of horror films or science fiction films, John Carpenter is a master of Suspense and like some of the best suspense films out there, The Thing builds the tense mood to the point that the very audience can feel the same paranoia that each character feels. Again, any one of them (or more than one) might be The Thing at any time, or The Thing could be just about anything else it needs to be to survive. This is far beyond the mystery that anyone could be the killer. Anyone could be human one moment and a whole different animal the next time you see them.
In truth, this might frustrate many viewers who are looking for clear answers and resolution. The Thing poses questions and works so well, in part, because of its ambiguity, but you're not likely to find any easily wrapped up, pre-packaged endings here. Further, while this film is transcendent, working as an alien invasion, sci-fi thriller, action movie, horror flick and mystery suspense story, it's hard to imagine those who can't sit through Aliens or Predator really popping up the corn for The Thing. After all, there aren't even any women in this one (though Adrienne Barbeau can be heard as the Computer Voice).
Dismissing this fine film would be a shame, however, as Carpenter's blending of Genres ensures that no one genre can define him in this film or a lot of his others. Best of all, he uses his skills as a writer to interpret the screenplay and director to make the film feel so threatening, shocking and tight. On the other hand, Carpenter, a renaissance man of a filmmaker, actually utilized Bill Lancaster's screenplay without rewriting it and shared the musical scoring duties with the great Ennio Morricone (Carpenter goes uncredited on the soundtrack). Further, though outdated today, the special makeup and effects still look great and were absolutely cutting edge for the time. This, of course, makes sense, as the effects crew sports names like Rob Bottin, Bill Sturgeon and the incredible Stan Winston!
It's all around a great film, micromanaged by Carpenter when needed and power-shared with other greats when appropriate. It follows some great traditions (including the original The Thing from Another World) and manages to set up a great many of its own (though not an original film in and of itself, The Thing has been imitated and parodied throughout all kinds of media!
Sadly, a great percentage of its audience was found well after its theatrical run, as a much more benevolent alien visitor outshined The Thing at the box office, in a film called E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. That said, the critics were right and The Thing succeeds at everything it sets out to do, and succeeds in earning at least Four Stars out of Five! Not everyone can do what John Carpenter did with this film, as the many imitators and followers have shown. The Thing not only stands as a great example of what an inventive director can do with a smart script and a talented cast, but also counts as one of the best films of its kind... hardly the B-Movie it could have been. So until I show as many faces as Carpenter (though with significantly less talent) and I become known as something more like "The Ever Lovin' Blue Eyed Thing", I'll see you in the next shape-shifting reel, Sports Fans!!!
Man, the Thing got a REALLY COOL Parking Space!
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So I'm typing this while Titan Find, aka Creature (1985) is on and right when I'm writing about the original Thing from Another World the chick in this movie gets the idea to rip off that film to electrocute the Creature just like the "Carrot from Outer Space". I don't know whether to be annoyed or impressed!
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