Cinophile: The Thing

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

James

A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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