Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Thing (1982)

The Thing Man

The Thing
USA 1982 Directed by John Carpenter
Arrow Ltd Edition Blu Ray Box Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Man is the warmest place to hide huge spoilers if you’ve not seen this movie.

I’ve already said that, out of all three movie versions of John W. Campbell Jr’s novella Who Goes There?, my favourite version is always going to be the 1951 adaptation, The Thing From Another World, (reviewed here) regardless of the inaccuracies to the source material... which is something they are all guilty of, one way or another although, I think the prequel to this movie might actually be closer in some ways, ironically. That being said, I absolutely love John Carpenter’s The Thing and it’s nothing short of a modern horror classic. I can’t believe it was such a huge flop when it released in the summer of 1982 and I find it hard to understand the critical attacks on it. This film, like many of those released that summer, gave us things we hadn’t seen before on screen and, certainly, this is something which I think has had a huge influence on modern horror directors.

Starting with a saucer flying down to the earth, Carpenter then goes out of his way to replicate the title card of the original movie (minus ‘from another world’ obviously, which in itself was only added to the original to distance it from a comedy, novelty song of the time). We then start the film proper with a low, pulse rhythm which is absolutely reminiscent of most of Carpenter’s other scores but was also composed by Ennio Morricone. Actually, the music in this is one of those huge mystery puzzle pieces to the layman like me as not all of the score was retained (some of it turns up in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight), some of it not used in its final form and some was composed by Carpenter himself.

We see a Norwegian helicopter chasing a dog in Antarctica, trying to shoot it to slow it down so the occupants can blow said dog up with a stick of TNT. The dog makes it to safety as we are introduced to the personnel of the American base camp and this includes the only female presence in the movie... the voice of MacCready’s Chess Wizard computer voiced by Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau. Her inclusion is short lived because, when the computer wins at chess, MacReady pours the rest of his J&B into the machine and it dies a death as he comments, “Cheating bitch!” I don’t know if Carpenter was already, at this time, having problems with his marriage but, if he was, this seems like a perfect line for him to express himself with. I really like Barbeau myself and am looking forward to reading her autobiography soon.

As the dog makes it to the base, we get the whole team out there and the Norweigans come to a sticky end, one by a bizarre, clumsy accident which destroys him and his helicopter and the other, by the base commander shooting him through the eye, after the intruder accidentally wounds one of his men. We have the one and only Kurt Russell playing the main protagonist/anti-hero MacReady and he is ably supported by a full ensemble cast of Wilford Brimley (Blair), T.K. Carter (Nauls), David Clennon (Palmer), Keith David (Childs), Richard Dysart (Copper), Charles Hallahan (Norris), Peter Maloney (Bennings), Richard Masur (Clark), Donald Moffat (Garry, yes that’s right folks... REM from the Logan’s Run TV show is in this), Joel Polis (Fuchs) and Thomas G. Waites as Windows. This really is an ensemble piece here although, when MacReady is forced to take charge of the situation later, it becomes clear that this is his film.

And it’s got the whole, lurking paranoia and trust issues that was a hangover from the original source material, mostly absent from the 1951 classic (of which, from what I understand, Carpenter is a huge fan). It’s also got some really unusual and surreal gory, alien transformation effects as various people are assimilated or attacked by The Thing throughout the movie. Including what I should probably call ‘the split head dog’ scene and the eye popping moment when the doctor is trying to revive one of the men with a defibrillator and the whole stomach caves in, revealing teeth which bite both his arms off. Also that wonderful moment when the head pulls itself off of a body, sprouts big spider legs and eye stalks... and tries to sneak out of the room past the others.

The make up effects were primarily spearheaded by the very young and enthusiastic Rob Bottin, who had worked with Carpenter previously on The Fog (which I reviewed here). I understand he put so much into the opportunity that he was hospitalised with stress sometime into the shoot but, when you look at what he and his effects crew achieved here, it’s nothing short of remarkable and, surprisingly, there’s not a heck of a lot like it out there in movies since (although, obviously, the prequel rightly took a page out of the same book, if memory serves). It’s pretty much exactly the kind of twisted, organic look you might imagine when reading an H. P. Lovecraft story... it’s surely the closest we’ve had to an actual manifestation of Cthulhu like namelessness on screen. It’s been said that Campbell’s original story was influenced by the classic Lovecraft tale At The Mountains Of Madness but, I think that’s probably not all that accurate if you’re comparing the story content dispassionately and I’m not 100% sure if Campbell ever went on record as saying that, to be honest.

Carpenter pays homage to the Christian Nyby version of the tale when he has MacReady go over to the Norweigan base camp to find the aftermath of the people who have already been ‘Thinged up’. He finds the big, thawed out block of ice (no idea how the Norweigans got it through the door but maybe I missed something on the interiors) and when they check out the videotape footage of their ‘discovery’ later, lots of the shots are silent, restaged versions of the crew in the 1951 version discovering the saucer. However, what Carpenter also cleverly does... because the grotesque aftermath of the camp and what they find there occurs before the dog-splitting scene... is to ramp up the tension by showing the audience the kind of ride they are soon going to be in for themselves. Make no mistake, this is a master of horror at the top of his game here.

And I won’t spoil anything else for you but, suffice it to say, the 1982 remake/adaptation is just as essential viewing as the original is. Fans of cinema truly need to see both versions. The limited edition Arrow Blu Ray box has a nice slipcase, posters, booklet and cards but I’m assuming the non-limited edition which is still around also has the same Blu Ray extras. There are a lot of those on here too and I haven’t watched them all as yet but, one of note would be a new documentary which details, not just the making of this version but also the original story and the making of the 1951 version. Another featurette lasting just under a half an hour tries to shed some small light on just why The Thing might have been ‘lost in the woods for the trees’, so to speak, by highlighting many of the incredible, modern classics of cinema that were released around the same time... so stuff like Conan The Barbarian, Star Trek II - The Wrath Of Khan (reviewed here), Blade Runner (reviewed here) and the horrible horrribleness that was E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial. There’s even a FrightFest short from one of the previous years which is a mini, twisted version of the famous ‘wire in the blood’ scene from John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s a nice transfer of the movie too, obviously and... all in all... tremendous value for money for one of the all time classic pieces of early 1980s cinema. Always worth a watch and the Arrow Blu Ray is definitely the way to go. There’s no thing like it.

The Thing at NUTS4R2

The Thing From Another World (1951)
The Thing (1982)
The Thing (2011)

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