There is a tricky thing that happens every so often with movies, where a studio will make a movie that is based on a book and then, some years later, someone else will decide to remake that movie based on a book, only they decide to stick closer to the original source material. Whether or not that makes for a better film is entirely subjective, but I tend to think it does.
Based on a 1938 science fiction novella entitled Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, the 1951 film The Thing From Another World was directed by famed director Howard Hawks. Hawks directed the 1932 classic Scarface on which the 1983 Brian De Palma film of the same name starring Al Pacino was based. He also directed, along with Christian NyBy who also worked on The Thing From Another World, a number of John Wayne westerns from the 1940s through the 1960s.
The Thing From Another World had a reputation as being one of the scariest science fiction movies of it’s time and it went on to inspire a remake, if you could call it that, released in 1982. It was this remake that held closer to the original source material of the novella Who Goes There?, and it’s also this remake that is tonight’s feature: John Carpenter’s 1982 chilling tale entitled simply The Thing.
Year Released: 1982
Written By: Bill Lancaster (based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell)
Directed By: John Carpenter
Starring: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley
A group of Americans at a research station in the Antarctic are startled by a helicopter flying over head, a person inside shooting wildly at a dog that runs across the snow toward the station. The helicopter lands and the gunman jumps out, but before the Americans can get answers, the helicopter explodes, killing the pilot inside. The gunman continues to open fire on the dog until one of the Americans, thinking the man is insane and will harm them, shoots and kills him.
The pilot and the gunman are revealed to be members of a Norwegian research group stationed a few miles away. When pilot R.J. Macready and Doctor Copper go to the Norwegian station to question them, they find it in ruins. Inside, they find the body of one of the Norwegian researchers who had committed suicide near a hollowed out chunk of ice. Outside, they find the twisted and burnt remains of what appeared to be a person with two faces. Confused, the two men load the corpse into their helicopter and fly it back to the American research station for autopsy.
When they get back to the research station, they find that the dog the Norwegians had been chasing has taken up residence with their own sled dogs. The two men haul in the charred remains and perform an autopsy, the results of which show that the body contains a perfect set of human organs.
Meanwhile, Macready hears a commotion coming from the dog kennels and goes to investigate, he finds that the Norwegians may have been shooting at the dog for a horrifying reason.
The Thing is my favorite John Carpenter film. I mean, I say that now, but if you ask me next week, I’ll probably tell you my favorite John Carpenter film is Halloween. But my answer never strays from those two, as they both struggle for top spot all year round.
This time of year, I tend to favor Halloween, for what I feel are obvious reasons, but The Thing will always change my mind once I see it. It’s in my annual Halloween Horror Movie rotation, along with Halloween and a few others, and it honestly disturbs me on a deep emotional level every time I watch it. I know all of the scares, all of the special effects, all of the dialogue. But every single viewing still invokes feelings of dread, disgust, and revulsion.
The effects on this film, which were designed and created by Rob Bottin (with one creature being created by Stan Winston), are phenomenal. Even by today’s standards, the practical effects in this film still hold up and are still genuinely creepy.
The acting is all very well done, the performances of Kurt Russell and Keith David especially deserving of mention.
The direction is classic Carpenter, as he uses visuals to cause a legitimate sense of suspense throughout the entire film.
The writing is wonderful, leaving the audience guessing “Who’s the monster now?” until the very end, and even then not fully answering the question.
Should You See It
There was a remake/prequel (yes, a remake of a remake of a movie based on a book!) that was released in 2011. While the movie is descent, it’s unnecessary and upon watching it, only made me want to watch the Carpenter version.