The Thing

Dir: John Carpenter
Star: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart

Trash City
Top 50 Film
Ok: not every horror remake blows chunks. This one proves that it is possible to take a movie and improve on it, and in this case, considerably: of the original, let's just note that the character who describes the monster as an "intellectual carrot" is just about spot-on. Here, Rob Bottin's gloopy, tenticular effects still remain startling and impressive, almost thirty years later, even if occasionally a little latexy. A closer adaptation of the original short story, Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell, it's set in Antarctica, where a remote base is invaded by a shape-shifting alien, capable of taking on the form of any living thing. Realizing what will happen if the creature reaches civilization, the team have to work out how to stop it - but first, have also to work out which of their own number have become infected. The result is a study in close-quarters paranoia, with the resulting mistrust almost as much a threat to the dwindling-band of survivors as the extra-terrestrial.

Carpenter gets this aspect of it absolutely right, most notably in the classic blood-test sequence, which has to be one of the most expertly-constructed pieces of tension ever, as MacReady (Russell) checks the blood of his colleagues for contamination, with no-one - except the Thing - knowing who is infected. These thriller aspects are leavened with adrenalin release, in the shape of Bottin and Stan Winston's effects sequences, showcasing the shape-shifting abilities of the monster in spectacular style, summed up in elegant simplicity with the line, "I dunno what the hell's in there, but it's weird and pissed off, whatever it is." Perhaps the film's only weakness is a slight failure to distinguish between the supporting cast, who tend to blur together, especially when wearing winter gear. Otherwise, the film is an undeniable classic of the horror-SF genre, blending fear of the unknown with in-your-face imagination, to immensely-successful result.

[December 2009]

Things ain't what they used to be
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