The Thing (1982)

Offset of Winter, 1982: An American research station in the Antarctic is accosted by two seemingly delirious Norwegians (Norbert Weisser and Larry J. Franco) from another research base nearby, who are adamantly pursuing a wolf with rifles and grenades. When the latter wounds one of the twelve American researchers, the outpost’s commander, Garry (Donald Moffat), shoots the hostile individual after the helicopter--by which the two arrived and after a live grenade is lost in the chaos--explodes, the other foreign agent is dispatched. When the wolf attacks and mutilates other canines within the compound, it is discovered shortly thereafter that the animal is harboring a 100,000 year-old alien life form capable of assuming another organism’s being. The team members shuffle amid paranoia and distrust as they attempt to determine the presence of the hostile shape-shifting monster before it consumes one and all.

    Tagline: Man is The Warmest Place to Hide.

    Directing:
    • John Carpenter

    Writing:
    • Bill Lancaster
    • John W. Campbell Jr.

Release Date: 1982-06-25
  • Country: USA
  • Language: english | norwegian
  • Runtime: 109
  • Budget: $10.000.000
  • Revenue: $13.782.838

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Stuart Cohen

Co-producer

Dean Cundey

Cinematography

Rob Bottin

Special makeup effects creator and designer

Ken Chase

Makeup artist

Phyllis Newman

Makeup artist

Roy Arbogast

Special effects

Michael Clifford

Special effects

Hal Bigger

Special effects

James Belohovek

Visual Effects

Jim Aupperle

Visual Effects

Albert Whitlock

Special visual effects

Kurt Russell

R.J. MacReady

Richard Dysart

Dr. Copper

Jed

the dog

Larry J. Franco

Norwegian Passenger with Rifle
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  • John Carpenter’s postmodern, Lovecraftian horror thriller “of pure suspense unseen since the days of Hitchcock [ . . . ]” as decreed by Filpside Movie Emproium’s Rob Vaux, The Thing was initially lambasted by critics and ignored by audiences--no doubt due in part to Steven Spielberg’s E.T., the doppelganger to Carpenter’s titular alien antagonist, being released two weeks prior (ironic still yet in that the release of Carpenter’s overlooked masterpiece coincided with the opening of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, another work which shares many similarities to Carpenter’s film). Thankfully, The Thing has not only withstood the test of time but, like fine wine, proceeds to get better with age. Upon initiating my research of The Thing, I was quickly bulldozed by essay after essay and, yes, even a full-length text, upon the film. These works explore such areas as gender politics; politics in general; Deconstruction; identity (and lack thereof in modern-day society); the ensuing AIDS crisis; the Ancient enigma of the One and the Many and Gottfried Leibniz’s Theory of the Monad; the combining of the trademark Carpenter genres of the Western, Science Fiction film, and Horror movie; molecular biology; epistemology; free will; probability ratio (one mathematical theorist confirms the complex formulas and implied equations found within the feature); and the apocalyptic narrative (The Thing is the first installment in the director’s Apocalypse Trilogy). Obviously, the scope and range of a mere review does not allot but for me to merely eclipse the tip of the Carpenterian iceberg, but nonetheless, I will attempt to highlight some of the more prominent facets of the director’s daunting tour de force. For horror aficionados, The Thing is not only a remake of Christian Nyby’s challenging, yet campy, 1951 B-movie masterpiece, The Thing from Another World (a Carpenter favorite, which he pays homage to via a clever reshooting and insertion of a scene from the original, which is seen during video footage of the Norwegian excavation), but a entomological riddle in and of itself. As such, the work’s history is complex and multi-faceted. Nyby’s source material was the novella, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., who took over the editorship of Astounding Stories two years after H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” first appeared in the periodical in three parts. Interestingly, Campbell’s suspiciously similar tale was published the year he assumed the position of editor. Fortunately, and very effectively, Carpenter brings forth his work’s genesis via claustrophobia and paranoia as his pays his respects to his other primary narrative influence, the Godfather of Modern Horror, Lovecraft (which was to be later writ large with the director’s powerful, In the Mouth of Madness). The distractingly simplicity of the plot cunningly veils a quagmire of ideas, the most potent of which is the Deconstructive theme of the instability or lack of identity. At the offset of the infection, the members of the outpost begin to question one another’s humanity as trust, friendship, and authority subsequently dissolve amid the growing indeterminacy. Some have read this as being a cautionary tale as the group is forced to confront a possible apocalypse due, in part, to a lack of altruistic cohesion (which is a primary theme in Nyby’s version). Thus, within the span of a little over three decades, humanity’s saving grace is now absent, having been replaced by voluntary, then forced, isolation and seclusion: Even before the quandary, MacReady readily desires to “get drunk” by himself as Palmer (David Clennon) opts to smoke large quantities of marijuana and watch pornography in an attempt to remain oblivious of the existence of his roommates. However, other critics have viewed this as being a repercussion of the civilizing Western female figure being absent from the collective (again, such appears in The Thing from Another World), only to be replaced by a hostile, homicidal effigy of femininity: The Thing itself. Such writers support their claims by way of Norris’s (Charles Hallahan) body cavity erupting into a classical vagina dentata as the invading organism provides for the only source of reproduction amid an otherwise Beckettian sterility of a dozen males. Subtly, Carpenter counters what would otherwise be interpreted as a misogynistic tale (a director famed for his strong female characterizations) by granting us short interludes prior to the outbreak which foreshadows the hostilities which would follow: Garry demands, amid a blackout snowstorm, that Windows (Thomas Waites) nonetheless continue to vainly attempt to make radio contact with the outside world as Nauls (T.K. Carter) refuses to turn down volume on his radio at Bennings’s (Peter Maloney) request. This does not mean to imply that a functional organization is the missing piece of the researchers’ puzzle. Carpenter presents us with a convoluted scenario where the fear of assimilation, coed or otherwise, would have undoubtedly lead to an exacerbation of the problem. Masterfully, this motif is reinforced by the metaphysical status of the antagonist, a monocelluar being (as validated by MacReady’s makeshift blood test as well as Blair’s (Wilford Brimley) computer simulation). Thus, echoing Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we come to the logical conclusion that to partake in good-natured, humanistic amiability might well lead to an undifferentiated mass or whole. Intriguingly, Carpenter’s body horror--the subgenre which Canadian director David Croenenberg was concurrently defining--predates the philosophical and ethical dilemmas inherit in virtual reality (which the latter would address in his 1999 sci-fi masterpiece, eXistenZ), which are succinctly issued in Childs’s (Keith David) query, “If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know it was really me?” It is by way of body horror that Carpenter also timely parallels the offset to a real-life, fatal anomaly, the AIDS virus. Like the still-little known about disease, the pathogen in The Thing can only be detected by a blood test and infected individuals cannot be readily identified by sight. In the recreation room of the outpost, this anxiety-inducing concern is represented in a poster depicting a model wearing a tag which reads “I have VD” as the caption declares, “They aren’t labeled, Chum.” Ironically, in lieu of all of the steadfast ideas contained within the film, critics nonetheless continued to not only rashly overlook the aforementioned facets of the work but proceeded to lambaste The Thing on grounds that its titular character refuses to remain in the shadows (as all significant horror antagonists are required to do) and that the director fails to flesh out his characters to any discernable degree, to say nothing of making them even remotely sympathetic to his audience. Of course, both criticisms openly admit to the misunderstanding of the work’s philosophic import. In a confined area such as Outpost # 31, set amid a tundra of omnipresent, indiscernible whiteness, however much one might want to turn or shield oneself from a horror, be it physical, psychological, or the like, there is little room to maneuver as a consequence. Furthermore, indeed, the characters are a bit confusing, amid their fairly standardized dress, as their identities are intentionally blurred. Obviously, this component of the work--in Roger Ebert’s words, Carpenter’s “superficial characterizations”--compliments and reinforces the predicament at hand for such creates and lends to the film’s theme of the void of identity and individuality which, for what little identification is being permitted, such is being eradicated at every turn. Wisely, this is the exact reason that Carpenter largely cast then-unknowns--to further plunge us into our plight of ambiguity. John Carpenter’s criminally misjudged The Thing is a penultimate example of, not only horror, but supreme cinema. Like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, another film which deals with the vague nature of identity in present-day society, we are forced to, not only confront our dilemmas, but accept the fact that Hollywood endings are just that: fabricated illusions. In a film whose ending seems tactfully and fittingly ambiguous in order to permit its audience to issue optimistic benefit of the doubt, Carpenter nonetheless closes his unnerving work with ready answers, answers which most--if the work is viewed as a microcosm for humanity--one might not want to accept, but is nevertheless obligated to acknowledge.

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