Antarctica, Winter 1982. Posted at a remote research facility, a twelve-man American team is interrupted by Norwegians from a neighbouring site who are mysteriously attempting to shoot a sled-dog. After the shooters are killed, helicopter pilot MacReady (Russell) leads an investigation to their station, where he finds a burned ruin with bodies and evidence that the Norwegians found something alien in the ice. By the time they discover that this alien is a shape-shifting parasite which can imitate any organism it comes into contact with – even humans – it has already infiltrated the camp. Meaning that it could be any one of them…
Though Halloween is more iconic and well-known, The Thing still stands as the pinnacle of John Carpenter’s classic-studded career. A bleak, tension-building chiller which oozes eerie disquiet, Carpenter’s adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There (which is more faithful than the Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby ’51 version) is a masterclass in relentless, paranoia-fuelled suspense. Though hardly a huge success upon release (going up against E.T. and Blade Runner might’ve had something to do with that), the film’s status has grown over the years and it is now deservedly held as a landmark genre masterpiece of sci-fi terror. Sure, the set-up is similar to Alien (an alien creature picks off crew members in an isolated station), but here there’s the added mystery that said alien could actually be any one of said crew.
Despite being the first time that the acclaimed filmmaker had worked with a major studio, The Thing is still very much a John Carpenter movie. Of course, what makes it great is the mounting sense of distrust among the twelve-man team, with the pessimistic tone amplified by a desolate setting, Ennio Morricone’s pulsing score (which sounds exactly like Carpenter’s own doom-laden synth) and a brilliantly nihilistic ending. Modern audiences might find some of the creature stuff silly, but the majority of Rob Bottin’s pre-CGI effects remain impressive and unsettling to this day. Arguably, the later stages aren’t equal to the masterful build-up, but there’s a number of chilling moments, memorable scenes (“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding!”) and atmospheric sets. With a cast made up of recognisable character actors (Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, Keith David, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat) any one of them could be The Thing, while Carpenter regular Kurt Russell sports one of the best beards in movie history.
Though Halloween is more iconic and well-known, The Thing remains the pinnacle of John Carpenter’s classic-studded career. A bleak, tension-building chiller which oozes eerie disquiet, it stands as a masterclass in relentless, paranoia-fuelled suspense.