RETRO REVIEW | THE THING (1982)

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by Brett Hutton

Nine times out of 10, remakes suck. Usually they’re nothing but lazy, pointless drivel made not only to cash-in on the legacy of the original source material, but to miss the point, and shoveled down the throats of gormless dopes in rose-tinted nostalgia glasses.

 

However, there are some exceptions, especially some remakes that were done during the 1970s and 1980s. During that era, some talented filmmakers plucked the potential from otherwise lousy films from the past, re-sculpted them and produced some amazing works. That’s what John Carpenter did with a cheesy science fiction film from the 1950s and remade it into the 1980s horror classic, The Thing.

 

Unlike the original Howard Hawks production, Carpenter decided to be more faithful to the source material: John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?. Carpenter wanted to stay true to Campbell’s original shape-shifting creature, rather than the Frankenstein’s Monster reject that was in Hawk’s film.

 

Somewhere in Antarctica, an American research station’s seemingly boring world becomes a lot more interesting when two half-crazed Norwegians chasing a husky with a helicopter fly around the base attempting to kill it. The helicopter crashes and one of the Americans shoots the surviving Norwegian as he threatens them with his firearm. The fires are put out and the rescued dog is put in the pen with the other canines, unbeknownst to the Americans that the Norwegians were anything but crazy, and they were all going to learn that the hard way.

 

Rob Bottin and his special effects team hands-down created some of the most magnificently grotesque creatures ever put on film.”

 

Bill Lancaster’s script is polarising. On the one hand, it’s subtle. The pacing is terrific and it understands how to build a suspenseful atmosphere that keeps you on your toes, and lacks the predictability of your garden-variety horror film. On the other hand, it falls short with the characters. While they are undoubtedly distinctive thanks to the performances, you never learn much about them and aside from MacReady (Kurt Russell), Childs (Keith David) and Blair (Wilford Brimley), they’re not very memorable. But the sheer terror it inflicts keeps you afraid for all of them none the less.

 

Visually, the camera never disappoints. Carpenter has always known what to do with the camera and teaming up with cinematographer Dean Cundy was an amazing choice. The Steadicam movements, pans, zooms and wide-angle shots are masterfully crafted and serve a purpose. No angle or transition is done out of sake, but by careful consideration. Then there’s the Thing itself. Rob Bottin and his special effects team hands-down created some of the most magnificently grotesque creatures ever put on film. The Thing’s practical effects are a swan song to the now defunct craft as poorly-optimised CGI dances on its grave. Bottin’s work alone makes the film a must-see.

 

Ennio Morricone’s music for this film is sensational. The opening theme is a haunting, ominous dirge, an audible menace that lets you know there more beneath the surface. Beginning in a low, electronic drone before creating a faux-heartbeat and swooning ambience that’ll make you shiver.

 

What really makes The Thing memorable and fantastic is its use of subtlety, atmosphere and the increasing paranoia of its characters. Whenever the creature is revealed, it is done slowly and methodically in a way that it makes you squirm, and sends shivers up and down your spine. You’re horrified, but you cannot look away as it twists and mangles its misshapen form and lashes out at the helpless men. The Thing is a disturbing nightmare that you just have to see.

 

Brett Hutton is a strange little man with a penchant for black clothing and metallic jewellery covered in skulls and images of the Occult. He watches and critiques films deep within his pressurised vault and survives on a diet of pizza, fried rice and iced coffee.

 

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