Turning Antarctica into fire and brimstone, John Carpenter’s analog-era paranoia horror classic THE THING boosts a smorgasbord of eye-popping special make-up effects predominantly fashioned by a 21-year-old Rob Bottin, these human-things, dog-things, assimilated by an unknown, amorphous alien life form, aka, the thing, are gooey, gross-out but also drolly camp without a sinister layer of menace, the truth is, once the thing reveals its true color out of its host’s body, most of the time, it is too maladroit to escape from being incinerated by flamethrowers, so the imperative for it is to hide in plain sight among its human hosts, a group of a dozen (male exclusive) American researchers stationed in their secluded antarctic base, and waits for rescue team to make it pandemic.
Once audience inures to its animatronic gimmicks, the movie’s scary quotient begins to lessen (save for Morricone’s minimal, ominous score) and what Carpenter plays up is the burgeoning distrust among those Yankees under the bleak, claustrophobic circumstances, yet, character-molding is not right up his alley (Ridley Scott’s ALIEN 1979 is a far superior antecedent), ergo THE THING is considerably deficient in ammunition of imploding conflict and treachery, and high on explosive ruckus after survivors are routinely rubbed out by ringing the changes of optical spectacles, no one is safe apart from the top billed Kurt Russell, as the helicopter pilot MacReady, who is granted with a protagonist’s halo and inexplicably brainy enough to float the idea of testing remaining crew’s blood to identify who has been infected, on account of the thing’s innate survival instinct. However, there is a loose end in the extrapolation that MacReady has been assimilated on the ground of his torn clothes, which goes unsolved.
THE THING is Carpenter’s foray into studio filmmaking and it relishes in its dazzling production value, its refrigerated setting in L.A. is a huge project and the matte painting of the place where the alien life first crashed on earth significantly enhances its filmic quality, although ineluctably, an analog proto-computer is a dead giveaway of its time and superficially deployed in spoon-feeding us with information such as how fast an apocalypse is at stake if the thing gets out of the station alive.
Lastly, Carpenter discloses his ace in the hole in the end, when two survivors seem to calmly wait for their slow death from cold in the now blown-up site, an ambiguous gesture may or may not intimate that one of them is infected by the thing, which beckons various theories from cult followers after its initial tepid reception, in hindsight, THE THING, aseminal gore-fest that beckons a glut of imitations in the years to come, is arguably Carpenter’s best.
referential points: Philip Kaufman’s INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978, 7.7/10); John Carpenter’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986, 4.9/10), DARK STAR (1974, 6.8/10); Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979, 8.5/10).