Happy Halloween! Welcome to this surprise Radical Retro Movie Review. Recently I was thoroughly disappointed by “The Thing,” a prequel to the John Carpenter film by the same name. Since the 2011 counterpart turned out to be such a dud, I thought I should revisit the 1982 version and discuss what still makes it such a compelling masterpiece today.
What most people don’t know, is that John Carpenter’s “The Thing” was actually a remake of a 1951 film called “The Thing from Another World,” which was based itself, on a short story by John W. Campbell Jr. Carpenter was able to effectively prove with his adaptation though, that you can make an established idea completely your own, with a fresh approach to the material.
If you doubt this, try mentioning “The Thing” to a room full of people, and see how many immediately think of Carpenter first. And given the almost complete lack of originality in the 2011 prequel, it’s very likely that you’ll still find people thinking of Carpenter for the foreseeable future.
John Carpenter’s “The Thing” follows a group of Americans stationed at a remote outpost in the Antarctic, who are tormented by a shape shifting alien. This alien absorbs its victims before copying their physical traits and characteristics, making it extremely difficult to identify.
Because the creature can blend in almost undetected, a large portion of the fear factor comes from the doubt created about which people are actually aliens. With Carpenter’s frequent use of shots that live between a mid range and close up, there’s always the worry that the alien could be in your face at any moment.
Another source of anxiety for the viewer is the isolation of these men at this remote base. Carpenter plays this up with his wide shots of the snowy landscape and outside perspective of the station at night. Knowing that there is nowhere to run from this thing makes it much scarier.
The film’s main protagonist is R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), a helicopter pilot with a healthy taste for whiskey. MacReady is a bit of an outsider, but he’s quick on the trigger and he doesn’t take crap from anyone.
Once the alien starts replicating those around him, MacReady becomes the sanest person among others who are quite insane, like the nutty Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) and the quick to anger Childs (Keith David). Despite the number of people residing in the base, the limited running time of the film, there’s a surprising amount of character development to get you invested.
With the technology and budget available in the 80s, Carpenter’s shape shifter had to be crafted by practical effects: make up, models, and stop motion animation. As a result, his alien is raw, with oozing slime and flailing tentacles that are seriously nauseating. Carpenter’s visual effects had to be practical given the time period, but they’re still more stomach turning than any CG you could cook up.
All of the camera tricks and special effects would not be nearly as effective at creating a creepy atmosphere however, if it wasn’t for Ennio Morricone’s haunting score. His use of low notes, held for seconds at a time will make you uneasy right from the opening shots of the flying saucer crashing to Earth. They’ll continue to keep you on edge as tensions escalate and the alien comes closer to cloning all of its prey.
If you’re looking for a good movie tonight, skip the prequel and stay in to watch John Carpenter’s 1982 classic “The Thing.” You’ll be thankful you did.