“I dunno what the hell’s in there but it’s weird and pissed off whatever it is.”Clark
If you’re talking about timeless classics, it doesn’t get much better than John Carpenter’s The Thing. A take on Campbell’s Who Goes There? and its predecessor Nyby’s The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s The Thing poses one question to which the answer is never revealed…who can you trust?
The film follows a team of top US scientists working in a research facility in the desolate Antarctica, whose studies are suspended one morning when a Norwegian helicopter circles their location, attempting to shoot a Husky dog as it careers below towards the US base. Unnerved, pilot Macready (played by the exceptionally cast Kurt Russell) and Dr Copper (Richard Dysart) set off to the Norwegian research base for answers, where they instead uncover a disturbing extra-terrestrial being, returning with it for scientific analysis.
However, back at the base it is clear there is something amiss with the newly arrived sled dog and after desperate yelps from the other dogs, the crew discover it bursting open as it mutates into a horrifying creature and absorbs the remaining dogs. With the help of a handy flame thrower, crew member Childs (Keith David) scorches it, with the remains taken for further inspection. As their study continues, it becomes apparent that the eponymous Thing can adopt and replicate the form of any living organism, and the team become increasingly distrusting of their peers, uncertain as to who has already been overtaken. With no alternative other than to work together, the men set out to establish who is the Thing once and for all, with the added pressure of destroying it before it makes its way to the rest of the world. One by one the crew are revealed as replications and are set ablaze, with the final showdown taking place between Mac and the Thing, as the pilot explodes the base with dynamite, destroying the Thing once and for all. Or so it seems…
Rather than a feeling of relief, the audience feels uneasy with the inconclusive ending. As Macready is unexpectedly joined by Childs, having been absent for the final fight, the two sit in the snow surrounded by the wreckage. Yet rather than a feeling of comradeship as the two survivors remain reasonably unscathed, there is an underlying tension as, rather than waiting for assistance, or perhaps death, it is apparent that both men are waiting for the other to attack.
As evidenced amongst Carpenter’s filmography, particularly through the widely successful Halloween film series, the director is an artist when it comes to tension building, and in that The Thing is unrivalled. Set in the desolate Antarctica, the crew’s isolation and their inability to communicate beyond their immediate surroundings leads to a suffocating environment of suspicion and fear. With no hope of escaping the US Research Station, nor of rescue, the setting is pivotal in the escalation of tension.
Most noteworthy is the experimental use of materials such as latex and melted rubber – even mayonnaise – all of which were particularly effective in the portrayal of what truly can only be described as a Thing, with complete creative freedom given to the effects team through its ambiguous title and ability to morph into any form desired. Their efforts, led by special effects creator Rob Bottin, created some of the most iconic visuals in cinema history, truly having redefined the genre of horror and gore. Particularly impressive is the timelessness of these effects. With the limitless bounds of modern CGI, creatures beyond our wildest dreams can be created with hours spent in front of a computer, yet the horrifying and disturbing creations made through the months of labour endured by the special effects team for The Thing are still enough to make even those with the strongest stomachs queasy. Its influence on the genre is evident in later works, most recently in the popular sci-fi series Stranger Things, with visual similarities between the Demogorgon and Carpenter’s creature as the Duffer Brothers pay homage to the director’s genius.
Nearly 40 years since its release, The Thing has certainly stood the test of time. Having only been born in 1997 – 15 years after it first came out – it is still one of my all-time favourite films, only proving its enduring appeal.