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Old 20th September 2022, 06:23 PM
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The Thing (1982) ★★★★★

Based on the book ‘Who Goes There’ by John Campbell Jr. and a remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World, The Thing stands as both a seminal work in the career of John Carpenter, a perfect exercise in psychological terror and one of the rarest of rare things, a remake superior to the original. Perhaps calling it a remake is a little bit of a stretch as although they are based on the same source material, the two films are very different. Hawks’ version only takes the barest of elements from the book and turns it into a film reflecting Cold War paranoia and the battle between scientists and the military. Carpenter’s is completely different, a faithful adaptation of Campbell Jr.’s novel which had the alien life form as a shapeshifter leading to a group of men turning on one another, due to mistrust and fear.

The Thing is set at the other end of the world from Hawks’ version, with events taking place in the Antarctic rather than the Arctic. At United States National Science Institute Station 4, a helicopter flies around with the co-pilot taking shots at a husky and throwing dynamite at the dog. When the chopper lands and the man follows the dog into the American base, he is shot dead by Dr. Copper. The men wonder what possessed the Norwegians to do such a thing and their helicopter pilot, Mac (Kurt Russell), flies an expedition to the Norwegian base to find the rest of the men and see what was going on there.

All they find is the Norwegian station destroyed, a pile of burnt bodies and evidence pointing to the discovery of a UFO buried in the snow and ice. A huge block of ice appears to contain a frozen creature of some sort so it is taken back to their base so they can study it further, melting the ice and trying to figure out what the Norwegians had excavated. When they find their own huskies dead and some bloody clothes but with no sign of a victim and no one missing from the team, it's clear something is not right. Establishing that the creature from the ice is some sort of shapeshifter that takes on the appearance of any biological organism that it comes into contact with, the question isn’t where The Thing is, but who it is.

One by one, the Thing takes more victims and takes their form causing the men turn on each other, unsure of who is really human and, if you were taken over, would you know?

For a film that relies on paranoia and psychological terror, John Carpenter uses the same techniques that he employed in Assault on Precinct 13 with little characterisation to begin with, only bare bones development is necessary, and makes this a siege film but with the enemy on the inside.

Carpenter keeps the film tight, the tension high, and doesn’t wimp out when it comes to the ending – a lesser director would have gone for a ‘Love Conquers All’ happy resolution but thankfully Carpenter sticks with the downbeat tone right until the final credits. He also cast well, with Kurt Russell on top form and ably supported by the likes of Keith David, Wilford Brimley and Richard Dysart. There isn’t a great deal of characterisation at the beginning but, as the numbers shrink, the characters become more fleshed out and developed, helped by some fine acting.

With Ennio Morriconne’s uncharacteristically dark and moody score perfectly suiting the tone of the film and escalating the tension, typically accomplished cinematography by Dean Candy, and Rob Bottin's outstanding make-up effects and creature design, this is one of the all-time great horror films.
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