Today I watched John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
An American research station in Antarctica is startled by a helicopter from the nearby Norwegian station chasing a dog. This leads to a disastrous accident destroying the chopper while it’s passenger rushes after the dog with a gun and opens fire when it takes cover among the Americans. In the ensuing chaos the Norwegian interloper is shot down by the American base commander and they are left with a stray dog and a good deal of questions. When they send their own chopper to investigate the Norwegian camp, they find it a desolate ruin and soon they realize why. Some form of alien life form has been discovered here, an alien shape changer which consumes everything in it’s path.
This mimic monster is a truly harrowing horror that adapts intelligently and can become indistinguishable from it’s prey. This titular thing is brought to life not just through the special effects, which are the crowning glory of the 80’s golden age of practical gore, but also through the paranoid performances and harrowed expressions from the cast. While those effects go way over the top, Carpenter manages to wrap that in a very subtle understanding of the fear he invokes. This is the first part of what he calls his ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’ and in it he explores a disturbing destruction of identity. With no ability to tell friend from foe, even the audience is in the dark as to who is human and who is alien and that lack of distinction is truly unnerving.
Like I said though, this film does have a penchant for pushing the limits a bit too far in terms of gore and effects. While much of the horror is deeply psychological, the gut punch of grotesque that is offered as a side is sometimes distracting from the overall tone. On that point one’s mileage may vary as the demented visuals may work to sicken you outright or may prove to be more the distraction. Still, that does make this movie something of a buffet, offering a good variety of scares that all work on one level or another, even if they tend to clash. Frankly, despite it’s faults, I think this is one of the finest horror films out there as it really goes for the terror in an unrelenting fashion and never lets up. 5/5