The Thing (1982)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 18, 2008  | 
DVD
Universal (Australia). Region 2 & 4, PAL. 2.35:1 (Non-anamorphic). English DD 5.1, French DD 2.0, Italian DD 2.0, Spanish DD 1.0, Polish DDl 1.0. English, French, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Czech, Dutch Subtitles. 104 minutes
The Movie
Covert Art
Credits
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, A. Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, Thomas Waites
Screenplay: Bill Lancaster
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
This, to me, is John Carpenter's masterpiece. I cannot think of a better film he (or anyone else) ever made, and I include Halloween in that overview. I'm 36, and I first saw this film in a drastically cut form over 20 years ago on Australian TV, and it still scared me, grossed me out, and made me respect this horror maestro for the genius he is. I loved it then, sought out the novelisation by Alan Dean Foster, and waited until I could own a version of my own. I bought the uncut VHS (which I still own) almost the day it came out, thanks to the local video store run by bikies; imagine my surprise at what I got on this here DVD!

Antarctica 1982: there's a team of US scientists doing scientific things in the South Pole (y'know, it's never explained what the hell what they're doing there – weather research?). Their camp gets suddenly intruded upon by a husky being chased by what would at first have appeared to have been crazed Norwegians in a helicopter – their reason becomes apparent very soon – but considering that that approach does seem to include things like firing at people, and hurling grenades, we have to wonder what they were hoping to achieve.

United States National Science Institute Station 4: we've got a bunch of regular fellas doing their scientific do, and helicopter pilot MacReady (Russell), who we first see playing chess with a computer. Enter the Norwegians stage right, and all bets are off. Basically this is a death warrant for all of our homeboys. This is no spoiler, as the inescapable doom of the creature inside the dog becomes very rapidly apparent. On what is possibly my 100+ viewing of this film, I noticed a bit of directorial genius – you never actually notice who the dog licks, and therefore passes on its DNA to, first because of the arctic suits the men are wearing – is it Bennings? Is it Fuchs? That level of uncertainty stays with us throughout the film – who is human, and who is an alien?

MacReady and Doc Copper fly to the Norwegian's base camp to find out what happened and locate something that they would later wish they hadn't, a sort of mixture of man, dog and alien. The fact that it still manages to be so repellently repugnant some 25+ years later is a testimony to Rob Bottin's amazing special effects, and the general awesomeness of prosthethics over CGI. The carnage and self-slaughter we see at the Norwegian camp is quite clever foreshadowing of what's going to happen back at the ranch, and it doesn't take long for us to realise this.

The Norwegian husky has been given the run of the camp (thus potentially infecting other camp members), but is eventually put into a pen with a bunch of other dogs, and then we see the Thing go to work, and it's not nice. It tries to assimilate the other dogs, but is caught in the act in an eye-popping display of Rob Bottin special effects. On-screen effects with a good budget will always annihilate CGI, and this is a master at the top of his form – but the best in this film is still to come.

MacReady and the other fellas go to check out a site where the Norwegians were excavating, and find an alien spaceship, getting some idea of where the bad guy came from, and where he'd like to get back to. It's about this point where Blair (Wilford Brimley) uses the computer to work out how long humanity has to live, given the intrusion of The Thing, and its apparent desire to assimilate folks and turn them into Things. It's not long folks: 27000 hours and all of humanity is fucked. Blair decides to take steps to make sure that doesn't happen.

Turns out that the "dead" Things are still actually alive, possessing cellular activity, as Fuchs tells MacReady, and which we soon see to be true. Bennings gets assimilated by the rather gooey remains brought back from the Norwegian camp, but before the process is complete, the other camp members find out and the Bennings-Thing gives vent to a defiant inhuman howl (a sound effect that still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up) before MacReady kicks over a drum of kerosene onto it and uses a flare to ignite the motherfucker. MacReady is a take-charge kinda fella, and decides to destroy all of the remaining Things, despite their value to science (in a nice turnaround from the 50s sci-fi films where the egg-heads always try to save the ravening monster so we can learn from it – in true 80s-style, it's survival of the fittest and destroy completely anything that poses a threat).

Blair goes memorably ape-shit (Brimley delivering the line: "I'll kill you!" with as much venom as he can muster is pretty chilling) trying to isolate the base so that The Thing won't be able to get back to society and start assimilating – he kills the remaining dogs – the ones The Thing hadn't already got to, which does not best please the dog handler Clark – sabotages the chopper and the tractor as well, before wreaking irreparable havoc on the radio room. These boys are cut off. And when you're in Antarctica, that's about as cut off as you can be.

Blair is restrained, doped up with morphine and locked in the tool shed. Doc Copper comes up with the idea for a blood serum test to determine who's human and who's a shape-shifting arsehole from outer space, but The Thing is one step ahead of our homeboys at every turn. Everyone's level of trust has dropped significantly. Paranoia reigns supreme.

Gary, the station boss steps down, due to mistrust, and so MacReady becomes the boss-fella. The tension by this stage of the film is tangible. If you can't feel it, there's something deeply wrong with you. The Thing is a film that stands on its characterisation, and the actors really do give it their all in trying to convey hostility, paranoia and fear – they're aided quite admirably by the confined spaces they have to act in and the dead white expanse of Antarctic wasteland that surrounds them.

For me, this is the pivotal, defining moment of the film. MacReady torches the blood bags the Thing destroyed and looks at a group of fellas in goggles and masks who look barely human, and says: "I know I'm human, and if you were all these things, you'd just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn't want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It'll fight if it has to, but it's vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it, and then it's won."

Gary, Copper and Clark are to be sedated, as the most likely candidates to be Things, and Fuchs is to come up with a new test to determine who's still human. It's martial law, folks, and MacReady is enforcing it at flame-thrower-point. Fuchs takes one for the team, and MacReady is suspected of being The Thing, leading to two of the film's most memorable set-pieces. MacReady gets back into the building, after having been abandoned by Nauls, the cook, who believes him to be a Thing, and basically threatens to kill everybody with dynamite, if they fuck with him. Norris, one of the scientists, has a heart-attack and when Doc Copper tries to revive him, oh, brother… I won't spoil the scene for you, but this is totally outrageous splatter, and if you haven't seen this, you need to, just for its pure awesomeness. Rob Bottin deserves a medal for these special effects.

MacReady has the idea that every part of these Things is a whole entity unto itself, and so decides to draw some blood from everyone, and stick a red-hot piece of wire into it – if they're human, nothing will happen, but if they're a Thing… Again, movie magic occurs, and kick-arse splatter, too. Gary gets the best line of the film at this point: "I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!!!"

Blair has gone AWOL, and the film moves into the final, apocalyptic, reel, in an effort to destroy the monster at all costs. Watch it and love it. Carnally.

Obviously this is a film based not only on the fifties monster flick it was named after (nominally, at least), but also the John W Campbell Jr short story out there too. However, this film still remains one of the greatest horror films of all times for one reason – it actually scares you. You think about how many films can seriously do that, and you can probably list them on one hand not using all of your fingers.

This is a film that was killed at the box office by another film about an extraterrestrial, albeit a more friendly on with a glowing fingertip and an extendable neck. Mind you, even though The Thing never made its success at the time, what it re-couped as a video rental more than vindicated the movie's goodness. A cult film indeed.
Video
An average 2.35:1 presentation, though the excellent photography from Carpenter, via his DP Dean Cundey, makes it tolerable. Cinemascope rocks my world at the best of times, but in the hands of a master, it absolutely rules. The transfer is non-anamoprhic, and loaded with aftefacts including frequent aliasing, and print damage. Black levels are poor, and the image was so soft at times it was hard to seperate foreground images form background images.
Audio
The 5.1 track is superb, no other word for it, and Ennio Morricone's score – an exercise in understated tension – just adds to the claustrophobia and dread. Intense.
Extra Features
The feature-length commentary with Russell and Carpenter is worth listening to, if only for the fact that it's two good mates having a bit of a yarn and having interesting stories to tell. There's also an 80 minute doco called "Terror Takes Shape", which is definitely one for the fans, including all kinds of interviews with all the key players, cast and crew. This is feature-length and definitely worth your time watching, if you're a fan of the film – as you can probably guess, I am. There's also a production background archive, which is a text-based thing, and not terribly interesting. As is the Cast Production Photographs extra. We also have Production Art and Storyboards, location design, production archives, outtakes, post-production, production notes, text bios of the cast and film-makers, the theatrical trailer, and a link to Universal's official website.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
A masterpiece of claustrophobia, paranoia and tension, The Thing is possibly the best horror film ever made. There's zero levity, awesome dead-pan straight acting, eye-popping special effects via Rob Bottin that would shame modern day SPFX guys, a taut script and direction that would equal anyone's you'd care to throw at me. Downbeat, depressing and grim, this is a true horror film; The Thing is a truly horrifying experience, and one that will stay with you long after the disc has stopped spinning. Basically, if there was a 4-way horror movie punch-up between this, Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Argento's Suspiria, and Cronenberg's Videodrome, I don't know which one would come out on top, but that's how good this film is – it stands with the others I've mentioned, and it stands proud.

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