Following from the cult hit of the futuristic action thriller, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), director John Carpenter has taken a quantum leap from independent filmmaking to his first major studio effort. The result is a spectacular remake of Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks' horror classic THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), which both of them are actually inspired from John W. Campbell's 1938 novella Who Goes There? But when THE THING was first released back in summer 1982, it flopped miserably with a measly $13 million at the box-office. Much of the poor box-office performance is due to the highly-popular release of Steven Spielberg's E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL in during that time, mainstream viewers are more akin of watching optimistic scenario of alien visitation than the ugly nature of alien invasion. However, the movie had subsequently garnered a strong cult following through the release of home video.
Deep in the icy and isolated Antarctic, an American Antarctic research team stationed at the United States National Science Insitute Station 4 is startled by sudden gunfire and explosions. Apparently there's a Norwegian helicopter with an onboard sniper (Larry J. Franco) has been desperately trying to kill a dog from many miles away. Once the Norwegians lands on the ground, they have gone amok and about to wreck more havoc. Shootout subsequently ensues where the helicopter ends up blowing up into pieces and the crazy Norwegians are being gunned down as well. The poor dog is brought back to the base camp, and the research team, consisting of helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell), senior biologist Blair (Wilford Brimley), biologist Fuchs (Joel Polis), meteorologist Bennings (Peter Maloney), geophysicist Norris (Charles Hallahan), staff physician Dr. Copper (Richard A. Dysart), station manager Garry (Donald Moffat), mechanics Childs (Keith David) and Palmer (David Clennon), radio operator Windows (Thomas G. Waites), dog handler Clark (Richard Masur) and cook Nauls (T.K. Carter), who are all trapped in close quarters since the winter weather is about to kick in, subsequently learn that the rescued dog mutates into a vicious monster. And the only way to bring down the otherworldly monster is by torching it with a flame-thrower.
Desperate to discover the truth, they head for the nearest neighboring research station and find it burned to the ground. They learn that its Norwegian crew discovered an alien spaceship buried somewhere in the ice. They also finds a burned and frozen corpse of a twisted creature, in which they end up bring it back to their own station for an autopsy. Soon it doesn't take long before they realize they are actually dealing with living, parasite creature capable to imitate any living form.
A well-crafted exercise of claustrophobic suspense that echoes Ridley Scott's equally masterful ALIEN (1979), director John Carpenter has created a vivid piece of sci-fi horror masterpiece that is highly regarded as among his finest work he ever done. Carpenter's effective direction, aided with Dean Cundey's brilliant camerawork (including some of its excellent POV shots) and the way he paces his movie in a slow build-up tension is simply thrilling to watch for. Among the most memorable scenes in the movie are the mutated dog scene, the defibrillator scene, and the nail-biting scene where MacReady tested one by one to sample their blood whether they are human or not. Apart from that, THE THING is also best remembered for its groundbreaking special effects. Amazingly designed by then 22-year-old Rob Bottin, the twisted-looking monsters are simply terrifying even viewed by today's standard. Some may argue they look so visually repulsive it's hard to stomach watching such scene, but you can't deny its elaborate special effects is the kind of benchmark worthy of praise. Ennio Morricone's thumping music score evokes the similar sense of eerie moments you often found in Carpenter's own music score (e.g. HALLOWEEN).
The ensemble cast are excellent, with the bearded Kurt Russell has again (he previously collaborated with Carpenter in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) excels in an intense performance as the tough-guy MacReady, even though their roles are largely underwritten and more like strict caricatures.
THE THING is one of the best horror movies of all-time and after all these years, it's the kind of visual masterpiece that stood the test of time.