The Thing (1982) ReviewJoe Shaffer
Outpost 31: a scientific research facility stationed deep within the frozen expanses of Antarctica. It's an isolated installation, populated by dedicated scientists and various other crew members who have grown stir crazy and tired of being all but cut off from society. Fortunately for them, they'll soon be welcoming a new guest who will shake things up around their detached abode. Unfortunately for them, the "guest" happens to be a carnivorous monstrosity from the blackest corner of space.
Worse yet, the creature can impersonate anyone it devours, down to his minutest detail. It can even match its lunch's personality down it his idiosyncrasies and habits. As you can imagine, paranoia ensues.
John Carpenter's 1982 iteration of The Thing is not your standard monster movie. It may not have the snappy pacing that many monster flicks sport, but it's more intelligently written than most of them. Rather than relying solely on buckets of guts and blood, The Thing takes a more psychological approach. Since the creature can replicate any being it devours, it's difficult to tell which characters are humans and which are man-eaters. It's unsettling when you think about it, because the monster is technically always there. Throughout the film, characters will stand next to it and interact with it, yet they'll remain unaware that they've just traded words with a life form who want nothing more than to digest them.
Of course, The Thing is also not purely a cerebral film, as there are some fairly graphic scenes throughout it. Mostly, these parts depict a shape-shifter revealing itself by undergoing a series of ghastly transformations. For instance, there's a scene where a character turns out to be a 'thing' and commences changing his shape. First his face elongates vertically while his skull balloons. Eventually, his cranium splits down the middle, forming a Venus-flytrap-like mouth with a rope-like tongue. As if the transformation wasn't grotesque enough, the creature also wraps its tongue around another character's neck and clamps its makeshift jaws on his skull...
Right about now, you're probably wondering how the hell this film's crew pulled off a transformation scene like that in an early 80's movie, long before CGI had developed into what it is today. The answer is simple: practical effects. Before you youngsters cringe, I'll have you know that The Thing's creature effects have aged incredibly well. You can tell the crew and especially those responsible for the visual effects were dedicated to their craft. They created monsters that were not only believable and cool looking, but downright terrifying. Many of them are horribly misshapen, even incongruous like the first 'thing' that appears in the film--a creature that was little more than a mass of flesh with a canine-like head, myriad tendrils, and two alien arms protruding seemingly from nowhere. The fact that the beast don't follow any sort of standard or anatomical law is part of what makes it creepy.
To boot, Carpenter opted out of overusing stop animation. Instead, the movie's menagerie of abominations mostly move via animatronics. Unlike clunky animatronic monsters seen in lesser films, The Thing's depraved beauties move quite naturally, often seen shuffling about or writhing in terrifying, alien ways.
The Thing is also not entirely a practical effects joyride. The film is also visually and aurally moody and atmospheric, as one would expect from a master of macabre like John Carpenter. Yes, this is another one of those old school horror movies with a synthesized score, but the soundtrack here isn't of the spastic variety found in some retro flicks. Most of the tracks are slow and brooding, even ambient, and are great for building tension. It also helps that the film was properly lit, showcasing many shadowy corridors and tenebrous sets. I'll never forget the closing scene, where the final survivors lay their plans out against the antagonist. I recall constantly looking into the background darkness, thinking something was going to pop out at any second.
...and then something does pop out, and pretty much rips a character's face off.
The Thing was not instantly regarded as a classic back in the day. It met fairly mixed reactions from critics, and seemed to be widely regarded as "yet another inferior remake." However, time has been kind to this movie. Over the years, it seems more horror fans have realized that the intent behind the 1982 version wasn't to recapture the feel of the 1951 iteration, but to borrow from the same source material (a novella entitled "Who Goes There?") and create an experience that stands on its own. It wasn't Carpenter's agenda to replace or recreate the initial piece, and I think that was very admirable. Ultimately, what he created was an intelligent and atmospheric practical effects monster movie that shows some of the best work that the genre has to offer.
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