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Cinophile: The Thing

3 min read

Being trapped in the Antarctic is daunting enough, so imagine being trapped there alongside a shapeshifting horror from beyond…

The ThingThe Thing’s appeal is easy to illustrate. When it was released in 1982, the movie entered into the low side of the top ten, hung on for a few weeks and ended its run making slightly more than its $15 million budget – a financial disappointment. Yet there has been a game in 2002 and a high-profile-highly-forgettable prequel/reboot in 2011 starring Kate Beckinsale Mary Elizabeth Winstead (thanks Decembermaloy). You are likely reading this because you have seen The Thing before and you liked it.

And why not? Monsters from outer space, walking heads, Kurt Russell with a bottle of whiskey and party hat – stuff like this is rarely dished out with such abundance.

Kurt Russell and John Carpenter made several movies together – previous to The Thing they collaborated on the hit Escape From New York only a year previous. But Carpenter didn’t initially want to use Russell so frequently and the role was offered to and audition for by numerous actors. But ultimately he decided Russell was best for the part.

Outpost 31, an American base in Antarctica, is about to bunker down for the winter when a helicopter from a nearby Norwegian base comes tearing in, throwing all the firepower it had haplessly at a fugitive dog. This turns nasty and the Americans kill the remaining Norwegian in self defence. Instead of viewing the dog with suspicion, they chalk it up to cabin fever – only to realise their mistake when it was already too late. The dog is actually an alien shapeshifter, one that multiplies by absorbing and copying living things. Eventually nobody can be sure who is alien and who isn’t, so they probably wish they could see it for what it is. Yet as the saying goes, careful what you wish for: whenever an alien appears it’s as if Cthulhu lifted H.R. Giger designs, with a bit more abomination thrown in. Like Freddy Krueger playing with cloning in Chernobyl.

Nearly all of the special effects were created by special effects legend Rob Bottin, then only 22 years old. Another legend, Stan Winston, created one of the key monsters, but he was so impressed by Bottin’s skill that he refused to be credited for it. Bottin’s career highlights include Tim Curry’s garb in Legend and the Robocop suit.

This was to become The Thing’s calling card – its nightmarish creature are permanent fixtures to the monster hall of fame and its notorious scenes have stood the test of time, thanks to some top notch special effects. But director John Carpenter also crafted a tense creature-in-space horror. Only, instead of being above the planet, it takes place in an isolated Antarctic base, where nobody is likely to hear you scream either.

The Thing is based on a 1938 science fiction story called Who Goes There?. It was first adapted in 1951 as The Thing From Another World.  That film can briefly been seen playing on a TV in John Carpenter’s Halloween. – though that may hint that he was behind the idea to create this new version, Carpenter was actually only hired to do the job after other studio choices fell through.  The Thing has an ambiguous ending and a later unseen ending suggests the monster gets away. This would make sense: Carpenter regards this the first of his Apocalypse trilogy, the other two being Prince Of Darkness and Mouth Of Madness. Both those movies end more or less with the end of the world, so The Thing probably also ends badly for everyone.

Best Scene: It has these wall to wall, but the winner will probably always be the head that sprouts legs…

Best Quote: “This ice it was buried in… It’s over a hundred thousand years old.” “And then the Norwegians dig it up…”



Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: February 17, 2014


  1. The D

    February 17, 2014 at 13:50

    That fucking scene where the creature transforms from dog into nightmare fuel. Man, I couldn’t sleep for a week after seeing that.


    • James Francis

      February 17, 2014 at 14:10

      It was that dog creature that Stan Winston created. And yeah, total nightmare. I think the alien feeds off scaring the shit out of people.


  2. Decembermaloy

    February 17, 2014 at 14:30

    most times I just leave things as they would be but the lack of sleep these past few nights have lead me to this point : Mary Elizabeth Winstead was the actress in The Thing “prequel”, and Kate Beckinsale was in a film called Whiteout.Both are beautiful women, but MEW wins but a small margin due to her role in Scott Pilgrim Vs The World as Ramona Flowers…


    • James Francis

      February 17, 2014 at 14:37

      Thanks for the correction. Yes, I totally confused Whiteout with The Thing. Will fix that…


  3. xdvd

    February 17, 2014 at 14:51

    Hi James, Mary Elizabeth Winstead was in the remake / reboot / prequel. Kate Beckinsale was in Whiteout. But yes, I totally agree that The Thing (1982) is an awesome movie and one of my all time favourites. My other Kurt Russell / John Carpenter favourite (besides Escape NY) has to be Big Trouble in Little China.


    • James Francis

      February 17, 2014 at 15:01

      I had a hard time choosing between them. It was supposed to be Escape From New York, but then I learned that The Thing was actually a flop and thus better for a cult write-up. It also aged the best of the lot and I consider it Carpenter’s best work. I really want to write about Big Trouble too, but it will have to wait as Carpenter now has two films that appear in Cinophile.

      That said, I am a big fan of his work. If I don’t restrict myself, I’d probably write about Darkstar, Prince Of Darkness and Ghosts of Mars too!


  4. Skyblue

    February 17, 2014 at 17:41

    Also one of my all time favourites being a total sci-fi junkie growing up. I had a VHS copy of this I watched until it became untrackable due to use. This and Alien, difficult decision but Alien still took it for me.


    • James Francis

      February 17, 2014 at 19:24

      Yeah, that’s one thing I like about The Thing – you can at least hold it up against Alien. I’d still also go with Alien, but just barely – they almost feel like different sides to the same coin. I’d imagine that if you’ve never seen either, a The Thing/Alien marathon will be quite the experience.

      That said, if I had to choose which to go up against, I think I’d take my chances with the alien. The shapeshifter thing is just bad news.


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