The Thing (1982)
Man is the warmest place to hide.
Year of Release: 1982
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 109 minutes (1:49)
Director: John Carpenter
Kurt Russell ... R.J. MacReady
Wilford Brimley ... Dr. Blair
T.K. Carter ... Nauls
David Clennon ... Palmer
Keith David ... Childs
Richard Dysart ... Dr. Copper
Charles Hallahan ... Vance Norris
Peter Maloney ... George Bennings
Richard Masur ... Clark
Donald Moffat ... Garry
Joel Polis ... Fuchs
Thomas G. Waites ... Windows
Adrienne Barbeau ... Computer (voice) (uncredited)
John Carpenter ... Norwegian (video footage) (uncredited)
In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic research station discovers an alien buried in the snow for over 100,000 years. Soon unfrozen, the form-changing alien wreaks havoc, creates terror and becomes one of them.
The Thing, remindin' us that like soap in a prison shower, grenades are best handled with golden glove-esque handlin' skills. Failure to take such precautions in either scenario can lead to a blown up helicopter or a blown out o-ring. An speakin of blowouts, I'm currently administerin' physical therapy to a chunkheaded squirrel that I accidentally ran over with the snow-blower a coupla days ago. I'm washin' my hands of this situation though, cause it was entirely Skunky's fault. I was just mindin' my own business clearin' off the plywood walkway leadin' back to the woodshed when Skunky showed up an started in on how I'm never gonna get my 1976 Dodge Coronet runnin', for the ninth time in the last two weeks an that I aughta trade it to 'im for a few of his "experienced" Jersey cows (he calls 'em that cause it sounds better than tellin' it like it is an makin' clear the fact that they're so old their hips end up breakin' every breedin' season) an a freezer fulla goat steak. Unfortunately, when I turned my head to tell 'im that he could pry my renovation project from my cold dead hands, this ground squirrel pops up through the walkway about four months prematurely an gets sucked up faster'n a line of cocaine at Steven Tyler's house. Somehow it made it through the blades unscathed, cept then it shot outta the chute at the speed of light an flew head first into the Grime Time Drive-In marquee that I grabbed after the place closed down, which pretty well scrambled his brain pan. Ended up havin' to finally throw the Christmas tree out too, cause the little booger's been tryin' to make friends with Shankles an kept settin' his therapy back when he'd climb into the tree an try hangin' upside down. Ground squirrels hang upside down from their tails about as well as guys with big trucks satisfy their wives, an for exactly the same reason. I'll be happy when all this is over, cause it's a real pain havin' to feed the nap-haired idiot every six hours an I dunno how much longer I'll be able to keep Apollo from swallowin' 'im like a miniature pot roast.
As you can imagine, after dealin' with that crapola for the last few days I didn't think I could tolerate another bad movie, so I grabbed John Carpenter's tour de force shape-shiftin', tentacle stranglin', dog devourin', paranoid schizophrenic classic; The Thing, an stuffed it in the VCR in search of some much needed relief. Technically speakin' we're talkin' remake here, which's usually enough to make me wanna go return my Chicken of the Sea back to its native environment via the turlet tubes, but this one's a rare exception that blows the original outta the water an brings more issues into focus than the 1951 version could ever hope to. First thing I learned is that while performin' CPR, it's important to know your own strength. Otherwise you might inadvertently pound the patient's chest hard enough that it caves in, which can result in a ravenous belly beast bitin' off your banana holders. Second, at some point in our lives we must all turn to face the strange. However, one should also realize the importance of keepin' a safe distance from the strange, less it split open an chew off our heads like a cubed ham sample on a toothpick. An third, you wouldn't like Wilford Brimley when he's angry. But great as this movie is, it's guilty of a reasonin' error that a lotta other science fiction classics seem to stumble over an that I feel needs addressin'; how come aliens always pick the worst possible places to land? Seriously, if they'd land somewhere like Brazil, Canada, or most anywhere in Africa save maybe an Al Qaeda daycare center, they could easily get a foothold an have time to get a plan into motion. But what do they do instead? They land in the capitol where the military's waitin' an chompin' at the bit to gimp their ride, or they land in rural America where we've got more guns per capita than minorities. But this alien musta chose the stupidest landin' site of all cause first thing you realize is that the odds of us even findin' its ship before the ice cap melts an it sinks to the bottom of the ocean are about on par with leavin' a family reunion without a black eye. Secondly, even if somebody does find it after its long been rendered inoperative, they'll never get very far from the continent before the rotors on the helicopter freeze up like Hillary Clinton's panty region after the Lewinsky scandal, resultin' in the whirley bird spiralin' downward like the future prospects of a Millennial. An lastly, even if you don't get snowed in an end up with a ride more useless than a Geo Metro on a skid trail, there's no place to get gas for a thousand miles in any direction. You'd think that if they can build a ship capable of crossin' the void of space to visit another planet that they might also be smart enough to make an intelligent decision regardin' where to set up shop. I really dunno about some of these aliens. Seems like they're all "big picture" kinda guys who can't be bothered to concern themselves with details, an as we all know, that's where the devil is. You really can't plan to go through life not accountin' for that guy, cause he'll pitchfork your ass at the most inopportune moments if you let 'im.
The movie begins with this UFO piloted by some alien who's clearly had way too many intergalactic screwdrivers, cause it not only decides to visit Earth, but ends up crash landin' in Antarctica an freezin' solid like a butthole at a Green Bay Packers playoff game. Next thing, we're in the present where these P.O.'d Norwegians're chasin' an Alaskan Husky in a helicopter an firin' on it with a .50 cal like Sarah Palin on a moose hunt 'til the dog makes its way over to an American research camp where Kurt Russell's servin' drinks to the motherboard on his Commodore 64 for beatin' 'im at chess. Once the chopper touches down, all the Americans head outside to see what in the name of Scandinavia's snow-bound shit-stirrin' schizophrenia's goin' on as the gunner steps out an pulls the pin on a grenade, only to have it slip out of his hand an land next to the chopper an blow both it an his pilot to Valhalla. Undeterred, Gunnar the gunner continues firin' on the dog til he accidentally knee caps one of the Americans (Bennings) an in turn gets headshot by the captain (Garry) from inside the building. So once they put the fire out an the doc sews up Bennings' leg, the doc tells Kurt he wants to fly over to the Norwegian consulate an lodge a complaint an so they head over there an find the entire station gutted by fire and an ice block that looks like somethin' was inside before bein' thawed out like a microwave burrito. But that ain't all, outside they find a corpse that looks like somebody deep fried the Elephant Man an they haul it back to their base so they can have Wilford Brimley autopsy it an determine whether or not its cause of death was a lack of Liberty Medical testin' supplies. Once Wilford digs around inside its gut bucket awhile his official diagnosis is that it's got all the organ meat necessary to make a respectable haggis hoagie, but that it was never gonna win any beauty contests even before the Norwegians hickory cured it. Meanwhile, the found puppy's roamin' around the base scarin' the crap outta Bennings while he's workin' on an inside straight with his poker buddies an Bennings hasta yell at Clark to go kennel the truant pooch. But once Clark sticks the dog in with the crew's own dogs it starts Malamutatin' into a spider thing an hosin' the other dogs down with silk til they go apeshit, an by the time Clark hears the noise an comes back to check on the dogs the two survivors run over 'im tryin' to escape an he looks up to see Mount Gushmore towerin' over 'im an turnin' the other dogs into mush puppies.
Then Clark mashes the fire alarm an everybody converges on the kennels where Kurt an Garry start blowin' the crap outta the fleshpot til half of it sprouts arms an climbs outta there through a hole in the ceilin', at which point Childs shows up with the flame thrower an bakes the rest of it like a rotisserie chicken. The next mornin', Wilford hacks open the new corpse an discovers the thing's some kinda Chinese box of death cause it's got another corpse inside it an eventually determines that the beastie imitates other life forms by absorbin' 'em like a flesh eatin' Brawny paper towel, an that they must've gotten to it before it finished turnin' the dogs into a Borg cube steak. Then Wilford an Clark take some blood samples outta the survivin' dogs an Wilford starts eyeballin' Clark like he's a hillbilly with a full set of teeth an asks 'im how long he was alone with the chow hound, til Clark gets P.O.'d an everybody goes down to the rec room to watch the home videos Kurt scooped up while they were at the Norwegian camp. Seems they found somethin' the size of Kamchatka frozen in the ice an broke it free with thermite charges an now Kurt wants to know what the heck it was an whether or not he can drink it. So he an a coupla guys fly out to the site where they find the 1946 Ford Woody Station Wagon of space ships an Norris suggests the ice it was stuck in must be older'n Tammy Faye Bakker's original face lift. By this point, Wilford's gettin' real antsy about the situation an decides to run a simulation on his IBM 4300 which tells 'im that there's a 75% chance somebody in the crew's already been taken over an that if it was ever to make it to civilization it'd infect the entire planet in about three years, likely resultin' in the premature advent of mindless reality TV. So Wilford has Windows an Bennings move the ooey gooey extra chewy meat heaps into the storage room where they start dribblin' extraterrestrial snot-spittle an wigglin' around while nobody's lookin'. Then Fuchs tells Kurt he needs to talk to 'im outside an once they get outta the elements an into the tractor where it's a balmy -3 instead of the brisk -46 it is outside, Fuchs tells Kurt that Wilford's locked 'imself up an started crackin' like a plumber underneath a kitchen sink an that he thinks the charred remains're still alive an capable of gettin' their second wind. Unfortunately he's right, an when Windows goes back to the storage room to check on Bennings he finds 'im becomin' the victim of tentacle inspired ID theft an runs outside to get Kurt an Fuchs, cept by that time Bennings' been mostly taken over an sets off the security alarm bustin' outta the storage window.
This sends everybody runnin' outside to form a circle around Bennings who's not completely transformed an looks a bit like Edward Lizardhands an they promptly roast 'im like a skunk on a redneck spit. Awhile later, after the corpses have been buried, Kurt sees somebody dart back into the camp an finds the chopper electronics gutted like a piece of legislation designed to regulate Wall Street, an pretty quick shots start ringin' out from inside the building. But once Kurt gets back inside he finds everybody clustered around the communications room where Wilford's goin' all Jack Torrance on the radio an the mainframes while holdin' everyone at bay with a pistol. So Kurt has Childs sneak around to the other entry way to distract Wilford while he an a few other guys rush 'im with a foldin' table an rough 'im up til they're able to haul his cranky keister out to the tool shed. There's just no dealin' with 'im when he finds out people haven't been checkin' their blood sugar regularly. By this point, everyone's gotten more paranoid than Alex Jones after a bad bar of hash, an so they decide they'll run a sample of everyone's blood against the samples they've been keepin' in the minifridge to see who's been voted most likely to start sproutin' gooey appendages. Only the blood packages've all been punctured so bad the fridge looks like Dracula got up in the middle of the night an projectile vomited after accidentally samplin' a bag he drained outta Keith Richards, an pretty quick everyone's doin' their impression of Donald Sutherland from Invasion of the Body Snatchers at random crew members. Later that night, they decide to hold a service an cremate the remains of their departed blood samples an once that's finished they head back inside an tie up the doc, Garry, an Clark, while Fuchs works on devisin' a new way to see who's concealin' a third corn-chute. Cept somebody ain't real big on the scientific method, an before Fuchs can adequately fart around with his test tubes, somethin' kills the lights an leads 'im outside where he finds a torn up chunk of Kurt's army surplus jacket in the snow. So after Fuchs's given a more than adequate opportunity to return from the can or wherever he's gone, Kurt splits everybody into groups an sends 'em outside to find 'im, but all they end up findin' is Fuchs' charbroiled corpse, an so he sends Windows back inside to tell everybody what they've found while he an Nauls head for his shack to pound the tar outta Tom Bodett or whomever's been screwin' around in there an leavin' the light on afterwards.
But after about 45 minutes of Kurt frantically tearin' up his shack lookin' for his emergency rum like Smeagol after he lost the precious, Childs decides it's prolly time to block the entrances. Which they do, until Nauls comes to the door an shows 'em the chunk of Kurt's jacket he found in the snow an explains that he cut the tow line so Kurt'll have a harder time findin' his way home than a group of household pets in a Disney movie. That works about as well as a Glade plugin in the landfill manager's office, cause pretty quick Kurt busts into a supply room an holds a flare up to a bundle of dynamite to secure a reasonable level of personal space before the rest of the crew tries beatin' 'im to death with canned goods an Coleman lanterns. Unfortunately, Norris gets a little too heroic an after Kurt puts 'im on his ass he starts clutchin' his heart like Fred Sanford, til the doc puts 'im up on a table to check 'im out an ends up poundin' his chest so hard that it caves in like a Chinese coal mine before turnin' into a set of gnarly teeth an chewin' off the doc's helpin' hands. Then the body starts showerin' glopola all over like a busted sewer line before growin' a second head so it can give Kurt the stink eye an he ends up torchin' it like an overturned car at the Stanley Cup finals. This proves insufficient however, cause the original head pops off like a shirt button in the buffet line at the Golden Corral, growin' legs, an goin' for a walk til Kurt decides he don't like the way it's lookin' at 'im an broils its brain. So now that the incredible bulk has been slow-roasted to perfection, Kurt moves everybody into the rec room an ties 'em up so they can get on with their high stakes game of show an tell. Havin' watched Norris' head swivel loose an skitter for higher ground, Kurt figures that every piece of this thing must be a life-form unto itself an that even an itty bitty piece'll react to pain, cept before he can start takin' blood samples Clark tries to shiv 'im with a scalpel an Kurt hasta splatter his brains all over the pool table. Finally, he gets everybody's blood drawn an heats up some copper wire to jab the blood samples with, startin' with Windows whose sample's about as clean as you can expect from a guy who wears CB headphones all day. Then he pokes his own so nobody'll think he's playin' favorites, followed by the doc an Clark even though they're both suited for little more than makin' sure their respective gurneys don't hit the ceilin' by this point.
So really aside from shootin' somebody who wasn't a monster right in the face, things're goin' pretty well, until he sticks the wire into Palmer's sample which immediately goes apeshit an tries bitin' Kurt's face off as Palmer starts shakin' like he's had about 47 cups of coffee an begins mutatin' into a side of beef with a Venus Flytrap face an chomps down on Windows' head. Course this is the exact moment the carburetor on Kurt's flame thrower gets clogged, an by the time he can get it flushed Windows looks like he's gone through the woodchipper an Kurt hasta turn 'em both into Jambalaya. With that unpleasantness outta the way, Kurt's free to resume testing, resultin' with clean bills of health for the remaining patients (Nauls, Childs, an Garry), which only leaves Wilford, who's spent the better half of the movie out in the tool shed claimin' to be a close personal friend of Chuck Norris an swearin' that if they don't let 'im outta there they're all in for some serious Chuck-fu. Only when Kurt, Nauls, an Garry go to give 'im the test, Wilford ain't home an they find a makeshift flyin' saucer under the floorboards that Wilford must be plannin' to use to deliver Diabetes testin' supplies straight to people's doors. Unfortunately while they're riggin' the place to blow, the lights go out in Georgia an Kurt gets this look on his face like he just went on break an discovered someone's eaten his lunch. Seems the power outage means that the generator's out an that Wilford's decided to play the long game, which involves freezin' everybody to death knowin' the inevitable rescue team'll thaw 'im out an give 'im a free do-over. Kurt's extremely P.O.'d now, an he don't care whether he makes it or not so long as he can roast Wilford to death before he enters a diabetic coma an keep Carpenter from makin' a sequel, so he tells Nauls an Garry to spread out an start blowin' the place up like an Al Qaeda #3 til Wilford dies from the towerin' inferno, smoke inhalation, or prolonged exposure to Kurt's neckbeard. Gonna cut here cause this one's so good that spoilin' it would be a crime against nature.
Alrighty, well, not a lot can be said about this one that hasn't been said several thousand times before by several thousand different reviewers. It's easily the best remake of all time, which I realize is like saying it's the most fragrant turd in the porta-potty, particularly since the reason it's so good is that it diverges a great deal from the 1951 flick, but the statement is still no less accurate. I'm not really much for movies from the 50s, but The Thing from Another World is unquestionably one of the best movies of the 1950s sci-fi boom, and one that even I enjoy quite a bit. That said, Carpenter's version sticks much closer to the short story upon which both films are based titled "Who Goes There?" So while the 50s version is still a really good flick, it lacks the paranoia that is so instrumental in creating the atmosphere that was a critical component of both the short story and the remake. The 50s version is downright cheerful at times, while the 80s version is deathly serious and utterly bleak, and that's part of why I prefer the remake. Another thing that can often work against a thinking man's horror flick is that once you know what happens, it loses a great deal of rewatch value. That's not the case with The Thing though, because even though you know who turns and when, there's still a lot of ambiguity about when the characters that became infected did so, and how it affects their behavior. It's actually a lot of fun to analyze in that regard, so between that and some of the greatest special effects in movie history, this one doesn't get old even after repeat viewings. I think this is John Carpenter's best effort, even though a lot of people will argue that Halloween deserves that designation. They were both enormously significant titles that helped shape the genre, Halloween for being the first widely distributed slasher flick (there were others before it, but for the most part they still clung to the "whodunit" formula, while Halloween is a straight slasher flick), and The Thing for its mind-blowing special effects. But despite the fact that Halloween was by far the more profitable title, I still feel that The Thing is the better movie. Even when compared with other titles that I'd rate as good or better (of which there aren't many), The Thing somehow manages to be completely bulletproof when looking for a weak spot, cause I sure can't see one. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) you could say is a little slow to begin with and maybe the acting during the first half of the movie isn't perfect, Phantasm has a coupla special effects that maybe aren't quite what they should be, Dawn of the Dead (1978) has blue faced zombies, but I can't find anything of even minor consequence to point out that The Thing does wrong/poorly. I guess the year of E.T. just wasn't the best year to release a movie where the alien takes over human beings in the most repulsive way possible, because it sure didn't get the love it has now when it was first released, which is a shame.
Okay then, lets allow ourselves to be assimilated by this thing and see if we become perfect copies... or if it can at least get a perfect score. The plot, in and of itself is not especially complicated. It's a great jumping off point, but what makes the story so good is the looming sense of doubt and dread that hangs over the cast as each seemingly minor action taken by each character increases or decreases the likelihood that they've become infected. So basically, it's really the little things that keep the story so engrossing, rather than the general premise. That said, all those minor variables coupled with good direction, writing, and atmosphere make for an exceptional telling of a story that isn't exceedingly complex. The acting is very good as well, with Kurt Russell and Wilford Brimley giving the two standout performances, but the great thing about it is that despite having such a large cast, all the characters are very well defined and interesting. Keith David isn't quite as good here as he is in They Live, but he's probably still the third most entertaining and well-acted character, with David Clennon also turning in a solid effort as the perpetually stoned Palmer. We've got a few biggish name stars here so be advised that I feel there's no need to run through the resumes of Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, John Carpenter, or Adrienne Barbeau, the latter two of which have little cameos.
So here's who matters and why: T.K. Carter (Amazon Women on the Moon), David Clennon (Helter Skelter 1976), Keith David (Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick, Spawn 3, The Grave, The Puppet Masters, They Live), Richard Dysert (Spawn 3, Back to the Future III, Warning Sign, Prophecy), Charles Hallahan (Warlock: The Armageddon, Cast a Deadly Spell, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Terror out of the Sky), Peter Maloney (Thinner, Manhunter, The Children, The Amityville Horror), Richard Masur (The Believers, Nightmares, The Demon Murder Case), Donald Moffat (Monster in the Closet), Joel Polis (Alien Hunter), Norbert Weisser (Infection, Sorcerers, Arcade, Captain America 1990, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Android), Larry Franco (They Live). Course, when you've got a budget and acting this good, you're gonna have a lot of mainstream credits too, so for you sick individuals out there who might find it useful, what follows is a list of credits for the cast members that includes movies with redeeming social values. T.K. Carter played Dave Prince in Runaway Train, David Clennon was Rand Elliott in Gone Girl, as well as Thomas Franklin in Being There, Phil Putnam in Missing, Joshua Nankin on The Agency, and Neal Luder on Picture Perfect. Keith David played the character of King in Platoon, Lt. Dixon in Crash (2004), Kirby in Dead Presidents, and did the voices for Dr. Facilier in The Princess and the Frog and Goliath in the Gargoyles cartoon. Richard Dysert would prolly prefer his Mama remember him as Leland McKenzie on L.A. Law, Robert Alleny in Being There, or as the voice of Uncle Pom in Castle in the Sky, while Charles Hallahan might maintain a better social standing within his church group if they were only familiar with his TV roles of Captain Charles Devane on Hunter and Bill Davis on Grace Under Fire. Richard Masur might be best remembered by pantywaists as Rutherford in Risky Business, Phil Sultenfuss in the two My Girl movies, Milt Khan in 61*, or Dr. Fine from Six Degrees of Separation. Donald Moffat was President Bennett in Clear and Present Danger and Ford Frick in 61*, and Joel Polis played Erich in Midnight Express. So it's a pretty diverse cast, and probably one that has something for everybody even though it prolly only barely escaped the Video Nasties list of the early 80s.
The special effects are prolly the centerpiece, even though nothing about this movie is even remotely open to ridicule. The creatures, or rather, variations on the shape of the creature, are possibly the greatest special effects creature creations in cinematic history. Rob Bottin was only 22 at the time, which makes this achievement all the more impressive. Seriously, think back to what you were doing when you were 22, probably doesn't provide much in the way of challenge against this level of achievement. Bottin was actually hospitalized for a period during the filming due to exhaustion, during which time the special effects were handled by the equally capable Stan Winston, who's also done some of the finest movie monsters ever put to celluloid. Rob was actually doing this stuff before he could even buy liquor, having done his first (credited) makeup work on Roger Corman's immortal Piranha in 1978, but the effects work on The Thing are what he'll always be known for, and rightly so. Top notch work here, doesn't get much better than this. The shooting locations are really good as well, with the outdoor scenes being shot in B.C., Canada, and the indoor sequences having been completed on the Universal lot. B.C.'s a great choice for any snowbound flick, as it's cold enough to be believable without having to deal with your crew dying from hypothermia. The claustrophobia in this movie is second to none, even before the cast discovers their helicopter's been disabled, because really, where the heck you gonna go when you're stuck in Antarctica? They can hardly even leave the compound due to the extreme temperatures, so even though the place is fairly large, there's an even more oppressive feeling of being trapped than you'll see in a movie like Night of the Living Dead or The Hills Have Eyes. So its exceptional on this front as well. And lastly, the soundtrack, which also does not disappoint. It was composed by Ennio Morricone, who might well be the greatest Italian soundtrack composer of all time. The guy's 86 years old, still composing, and has over 500 cinematic compositions to his credit, so it's best to stay off his lawn. He's done tracks for all the great Italian directors like Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bava, as well as a lot of minor American horror efforts like The Exorcist II, Orca, and Blood Link. He's composed for Tarantino's movies, De Palma's movies, and covered just about every different genre in existence including Comedies, Crime Dramas, Westerns, War movies, Sword an Sorcery flicks; you name it he's done it. And out of all his American horror releases, I think this is probably his best composition, despite being incredibly repetitive and simple. It nails the sense of foreboding doom and is incredibly tense, almost as though it's waiting, just like the viewer, for what's about to come. Overall, this one's in my top 5 list and is required viewing for human beings everywhere, whether they like horror titles or not. Drop everything and watch it now.