Monday Picks: ‘John Carpenter’s: The Thing’

Welcome to Monday Picks, a new weekly feature that examines a new movie every week from a wide array of different genres. In the spirit of the Halloween season, and being that the prequel opened this weekend, to kick us off is this week’s pick: John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing.

The Thing is one of my favorite sci fi horror films for several reasons. 1) It is one of John Carpenter’s best films besides Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Starman, and Big Trouble in Little China. 2) Kurt Russell’s acting is phenomenal and his character MacReady is the textbook hero of the film, who overcomes and triumphs. 3) It is a very well done film in which the suspense, and the acting play a crucial role in executing the plot. From beginning to end, the film is truly a flawless picture.

The film was based off of John W. Campbell Jr’s short story “Who Goes There?” The film is not a remake of the classic 1951 Howard Hawks film, but is a very faithful new version of the short story for a new generation of sci fi horror fanatics.

The film follows a twelve-man research team of the United States National Science Institute who are stationed in Antarctica in the winter of 1982. The camp is rocked when a Norwegian helicopter full of two men fly into the camp, shooting at an Alaskan malamute dog. The two Norwegian men are killed when one looses control of a grenade that destroys their helicopter, and the other is shot in the head by Garry (Donald Moffat), the American camp commander.

Unable to get in contact with the outside world, the Americans are puzzled as to why the Norwegian team were trying to kill the dog and were shooting at them. Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) plans to investigate by going out to their camp and try and find out what is happening. Copper enlists MacReady (Russell) to fly him out to the Norwegian’s camp to see if there are any survivors.

When MacReady and Copper arrive at the camp, they find the burned remains of the camp shacks, and a block of ice that contained a large object frozen inside of it. Ennio Morricone’s music plays out so wonderfully in these scenes and it actually makes the hair on the back of your neck rise because it is so effective. Copper and MacReady find the remains of a fossil that was burned by someone rather quickly. The two men load it onto the helicopter and take it back to their camp for examination.

At the camp, the twelve men discover a twisted, misshapen monster and don’t know what to make of it. Copper orders Blair (Wilfred Brimley) to begin an autopsy of the creature right away. It is in this scene that we first see the genius of master make-up creator Rob Bottin’s monster, which is one of the greatest monsters in Hollywood history.

We later learn that the fossil is the remains of an alien creature whose ship was buried under the ice for nearly one hundred thousand years and was uncovered by the Norwegian research team. Unfrozen and loose, the creature quickly begins to assimilate whomever it comes in contact with. MacReady and the other team members quickly begin to turn on one another and trust no one for they don’t know who is human, and who is the thing.

The Thing was a victim of the masses and bombed at the box office in the summer of 82’ because, it was released at the same time as Spielberg’s E.T., which was a more upbeat, flowery alien encounter film. Carpenter’s film is far from cheery, and will send you running for the nearest locked room available. The cast is superb and the escalating fear of which do you think is human, and whom do you think is the chameleon is constantly executed perfectly during the film.

My favorite scene is the blood test scene where MacReady proves to the others who he says he is by heating a metal piece of wire and inserting it into a specimen dish of his blood. His theory is that if one of them is taken over by the monster, every little piece of it whether, limbs or even blood will do anything to protect it from being found out. When MacReady’s theory is proven and Palmer (David Clennon) reveals himself to be the alien, he is then brutally disposed of by MacReady with a flamethrower and with dynamite. Incredible scene!

To quote one of my Best friends Mr. Christopher Leach, The Thing is a specific genre of sci fi horror; it is “men getting shit done.” There are no female actors in the whole film and that is a particularly good thing due to the incredible violence of the film.

The Thing wasn’t the biggest block buster of that particular summer of 1982, but when it arrived on videocassette, then DVD, and later Blu-Ray HD, it gained a loyal cult following who love it today for the story, the action, and for Bottin’s incredible make-up which thirty years later, still frightens the hell out of the viewer. There’s no denying that with the heavily anticipated prequel showing the horrible fate of the Norwegian team, The Thing is a bonifide sci fi horror masterpiece.

The Thing is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Universal Home Video and can be rented via Netflix.

 

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