The Thing (1982)

The Thing

Directed by John Carpenter

Story by John W. Campbell Jr. (Screenplay: Bill Lancaster)

Tagline: “Man is The Warmest Place to Hide”

Run Time: 109 min

“We’re not getting out of here alive…but neither is that thing…
– MacReady


I remember when "The Thing" first came out in the theaters. (Yes, I’m that old.) My father had driven me and my younger brother, David, to see "The Wrath of Kahn" and, in good faith, dropped us off at the multiplex with ticket and candy money.

David and I proceeded to the snack bar and bought the obligatory coke-a-cola, popcorn, and box of "Hot Tamales" (Man! I loved those things!). The purchase of our in-movie meal now complete, we made our way down the hall towards our destination as per our paternal instructions.

As we approached "The Wrath of Kahn", full of naive excitement ("A new Star Trek movie! Cool!"), we saw a rather intriguing poster for the film playing on the next screen: "The Thing." Well, boys being boys, my brother and I skipped "Kahn" and proceeded directly into "The Thing": much to our delight and regret.

I remember being completely terrified during the course of the film. The special effects were, and still are, shocking…and I was just 12-years old! ( Special effects wiz Rob Bottin was only 22-years old when he did the effects for "The Thing".) Needless to say, we had our feet curled up onto our seats, and our eyes hidden behind our sweaty popcorn boxes for the seemingly endless 109 minutes of "The Thing". (Unfortunately we could not plug our ears to spare us from the horrifying screams and howls of the creature, along with the creepy soundtrack.

When the film finally ended, we cast our pulped candy boxes to the floor (hey, what can I say? We were kids!) and walked weakly from the theater and out into the lobby to meet our awaiting father. Noting our blanched faces, our dad suspected mischief was afoot. "How was ‘Kahn’?", he asked, as he scanned the movie posters out of the corner of his eye in an effort to ascertain exactly which film we had seen.

I don’t remember what our answer was to his query, but he immediately saw through our deception and we quickly confessed to our terrifying ordeal.

I still have fond memories of that night, and I sincerely doubt that I will ever see any monster movie that will shock me as much as the first time I snuck into "The Thing" with my kid brother. I believe the only other movie that came close was "Alien" (which I didn’t have to sneak into…my dad took me! Thanks!)

When running a "bad movie" web site, it’s a nice change of pace to review a movie that I actually enjoy. Although it’s not as fun to write, in the sense of cutting remarks and jibes. I write this review as a "tip of the hat" to one of the great monster movies of our time, so any seemingly cynical remark I make is made in the spirit of good fun. Maybe not a "classic" in the sense of "King Kong" and the like, but boy, did this film make on impact on a mischievous kid and his brother!

The Cast:

The Thing R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell)

The loner helicopter pilot. Forced to take charge when things start falling apart, he survives to the end and awaits an uncertain fate.

The Thing Blair (Wilford Brimley)

The first to realize the true extent of the danger if the Thing were to reach the outside world. He takes matters into his own hands and is doomed to a lonely death for his efforts.

The Thing Nauls (T.K. Carter)

The camp cook. He makes it to the end but is killed by the Blair-Thing in the generator room tunnels.

The Thing Palmer (David Clennon)

Mechanic and lover of "wacky-tobaccy".

The Thing Childs (Keith David)

Survives to the end and must face the unknown with MacReady as the darkness presses in.

The Thing Copper (Richard Dysart)

Camp doctor. Meets a rather startling demise in an unforgettable scene.

The Thing Norris (Charles Hallahan)

Quiet guy with heart problems. His heart failure leads to some truly shocking shots of the Thing.

The Thing Bennings (Peter Maloney)

Shot in the leg by the delirious Norwegians in the beginning of the film. Deciding to be in a room alone with the Thing’s burnt remains was his last, and worst, decision he made.

The Thing Clark (Richard Masur)

Dog keeper. A quiet guy who brings a knife to a gun-fight.

The Thing Garry (Donald Moffat)

Camp leader. After being suspected of being a Thing, he relinquishes control to MacReady. He eventually meets a "hands on" death via Blair-Thing.

The Thing Fuchs (Joel Polis)

Winner of the "Worst Decision of the Film" award. What better to do then chase a shadowy figure out into the dark after the lights go out?

The Thing Windows (Thomas Waites)

Radioman and winner of the "Drop Your Flame Thrower At the Worst Possible Moment" award.

Spoiler Alert: I take the liberty of talking about future events during the course of this review, thus ruining any chance for suspense and surprise for anybody who hasn’t seen this movie. If you haven’t seen "The Thing", do yourself a favor and watch it before you read this review.

Let me repeat: Spoiler Alert!

The film opens with a shot of good, old, planet Earth as seen from space. Out of the darkness, a flying saucer races by and burst into flames as it pierces the atmosphere. As the ship descends out of sight, the (famous) title credit appears on screen. (This shot was created by taping a garbage bag in front of a smoke-filled aquarium. The bag was lit on fire and the words burned away, creating the creepy beams of lights and jagged letters.)

Antarctica. Winter. 1982.

The ThingIcy winds howl over a snow covered plain as a Norwegian helicopter flies low in pursuit of a dog. The dog runs wildly over the snow in search of a hiding place as the helicopter closes in. Without warning, the co-pilot opens fire with a rifle, desperately trying to destroy the helpless animal as it runs across the desolate wilderness.

Meanwhile, "National Science Institute Station 4", an American scientific research base, life goes on as normal: as normal as can be given the harsh conditions of Antarctica. Men play ping-pong, play video games, and generally relax.

One man, MacReady, is alone in his ‘hut’, playing chess against a computer and drinking booze. As the game progresses, MacReady is confident of a victory, until the computer suddenly check mates him. ("Cheating bitch," murmurs MacReady as he dumps his drink into the computer. I still laugh at that scene.)

The dog finally makes it to the American camp and makes its way towards the men who have gathered outside to see what all the commotion is about. The helicopter lands and one Norwegian gets out with a rifle while the other tries to toss a grenade at the dog. Unfortunately, the grenades slips out of his hand and blows him and the helicopter to pieces.

The ThingThe surviving Norwegian stalks the dog through the camp, shouting incoherently (to those who can’t understand Norwegian) and shooting wildly about. One of the American’s is hit in the leg (Bennings), and the Captain, Garry, has no choice but to kill the Norwegian with a nice pistol shot to the eye.

One advantage to living in Norway is being able to understand Norwegian when it is occasionally used in the movies. So, if you want to know what the Norwegian guy is screaming before Garry blows him away:

"Get away! It’s not a dog…it’s some sort of thing! It’s imitating that dog! It’s not real! Get away you idiots!"

One small side note here. I never could understand how a man in helicopter with an assault rifle could not manage to shoot a dog from the air; especially when the dog has to trudge it’s way through deep snow. I mean, they could have just hovered 5 feet over the dog and blown it away. I read the book (based on the screenplay, not the short story) and it is mentioned that the two Norwegians are in a state of shock after what being attacked by the thing, which I can accept as plausible enough.

As the Americans rush to extinguish the flaming helicopter wreck, the dog-keeper, Clark, takes the dog inside the camp. (bum! bum! bum!)

The men take the dead Norwegian inside where an autopsy is later performed. Efforts to report this by radio are met by static. (Winter storms, you know.) As the men struggle to come up with an explanation for the violence, Dr. Copper declares that he wants to fly to the Norwegian camp. Garry hesitates at given him permission when he sees the worsening weather, but eventually complies when Copper suggests that the seemingly psychotic Norwegians might have wounded some of their own men.

The ThingWhile MacReady and Copper fly to the Norwegian camp, life continues as "normal", given the day’s events. Nauls prepares dinner while the others relax in their rooms. At this point, the dog (Ok, let’s not pretend any more, the dog is, of course, the Thing. Sorry for the spoiler, but if you didn’t know that by now…) makes its way quietly down a hallway, peering into the various rooms. Suddenly, the Thing halts in front of an open doorway and stares at the occupant. In a great shot, we see only a shadow on the wall as the Thing enters the room and takes over its first victim.

I tried to figure out whose room this was at one time, and came to the conclusion it must have been Norris’s room (the guy whose chest bursts open later after he has a heart attack.) Actually, it could be Palmer, because he’s the only other guy that is eventually revealed to be the Thing incognito. (Except for Blair, and I always felt that he was taken while locked in the tool shed after destroying the radios.)

Upon reaching the Norwegian camp, MacReady and Copper find the place in a state of total destruction: Buildings blown to pieces and on fire, vehicles reduced to burning husks, walls and doors blown out, and so on. (In fact, the camp used in this sequence is actually the American camp after it was blown up in the final scenes of the movie.)

The ThingInside the base, Copper and MacReady make their way through the destruction looking for survivors. Upon entering one room, Copper looks down and sees a trail of frozen blood leading to a lifeless figure sitting in a chair. For reasons unknown (to them at least, heh, heh!), the Norwegian had slit his wrists and throat with a straight razor. Copper succinctly sums up the mood by rhetorically asking, "My God, what the hell happened here?"

MacReady and Copper push on in their quest for any type of clue. (They also walk through a demolished laboratory, complete with a set of test tubes filled with colored fluids…no sci-fi movie would be complete without those!) Copper pokes around and finds a bunch of papers and some video tapes that he plans on taking back to the American base. MacReady, worried about the weather and growing darkness, checks out the last rooms.

The ThingIn the middle of what appears to be a large store room is a huge chunk of ice with a large hole melted out of the middle of it. What it originally contained is unclear, but whatever it was, the Norwegiansthawed it out and paid the price. (To put it mildly.) Puzzled by their findings, yet running out of daylight, Copper and MacReady are forced to return back home. On the way back to the helicopter they come across a pile of smoldering debris. Something in the ashes catches MacReady’s attention and they head over to look at what appears to be a charred body surrounded by empty gasoline cans. ("Whatever it is, they burned it up in a hurry," remarks MacReady.) Realizing that this finding might be a clue of some sort, MacReady and Copper find a shovel, dig up the remains, and take it back to camp.

I often thought that MacReady was partially responsible for the Americans’s demise because he brought back these remains, and thus introduced a second Thing into the American camp. However, the only death due to ‘not-dead-remains’ is Bennings, who is taken over by the incompletely burned dog-thing-remains. These remains (from the Norwegian camp) were certainly burned ‘enough’ by the Norwegians because they were aware of what they were dealing with, as opposed to the Americans who extinguished the burning dog-Thing too early.

Back at the American camp, MacReady and Copper land as evening sets. The others help unload the bizarre remains and take it inside for Dr. Blair to examine. (All of this action is observed by the dog-Thing…quite creepy, actually)

In the lab, the remains are revealed to the others, who gag and choke at the horrible sight and smell. (The actors who cough and choke in the scene are actually coughing and choking due to the noxious smoke which rises from the burnt ‘body’ during filming.) While the others stare in stunned silence, Copper orders Blair to start an autopsy. There is a nice shot of MacReady who looks away from the body in contemplation. You can plainly see that he realizes something is just not quite right with all this. (The dog-Thing, silently standing in the medical lab doorway, stares at the corpse just as intently as the men…)

The ThingLater that evening, Blair performs an autopsy in a nice gross-out scene. He professionally takes out the organs from the corpse while coldly reciting how perfectly normal everything appears to be. (Wilford Brimley, who plays Blair, was an avid hunter who had no problems handling the organs, even going so far as to give them an occasionally ‘juicy squeeze’ for extra effect.) "It seems to be normal," Blair states as the camera pans over the distorted, horrific head of the monster, which is needless to say, far, far, from anything ‘normal’.

 

As night falls, the men a watching TV, playing cards, and going about their routines. As Bennings sits and plays poker, dog-Thing bumps into his injured leg. Bennings, startled by the dog, orders Clark "…to put this mutt with the others where it belongs." Clark stonily complies and walks the dog to the kennel. The dog-Thing enters the cage where the other dogs lay on the hay sleeping or staring at the new comer. With everything appearing to be in order, Clark turns off the light and returns to the game room.

The next sequence is forever burned into my memory. The first scenes of the ‘Thing’, and what it is capable of, came as quite a shock to my tender eyes back in ’82. Being nearly paralyzed with horror and awe, I wasn’t even capable of bringing my pop-corn box in front of my eyes during the dog kennel scene. (After this scene, my pop-corn box was standing at the ready for the remainder of the film.)

Anyway, dog-Thing begins to gasp and growl while the other dogs start going nuts. Suddenly, and boy do I mean suddenly, dog-Thing’s head sort of, well, peels open, while arachnidan legs burst from the dog’s body. (I can’t really refer to it as a ‘dog’ any more since it has now lost all resemblance to anything of this Earth.)

MacReady hears the commotion and sets off the fire alarm. Word spreads that something is attacking the dogs in the kennel, and the men rush to investigate. To everyone’s surprise, MacReady tells somebody to bring a flame-thrower.

When the men finally shine their flashlights into the kennel, the scene resembles an image from hell. Dead and dying dogs lie helplessly entangled in tentacles and slime. One terrified dog tears desperately at the cage, trying to flee the invader. Others, seemingly half dissolved, lie stricken on the ground, barely recognizable as dogs. (I wish I could have gotten some decent screen shots, but the scene is very dark.)

The ThingMacReady is the first to act and opens fire with a shotgun, mercifully blowing away the dying dogs. The Thing attempts to escape by sprouting 2 massive arms and smashing a hole in the ceiling. As it pulls itself up, Childs steps up with the flamethrower, and the Thing shoots forth what looks like a mouth on the end of a tentacle, ringed in teeth. At the last moment, Childs fires the flamethrower and the Thing is engulfed in flame. The men wait a few seconds (but not enough…bum! bum! bum!) and rush into the kennel to extinguish the fire.

The smoldering remains are taken into the medical lab where Blair performs an ‘autopsy’ while the others watch with bated breath. (Another great ‘gross-out’ scene!)

The ThingLater that day, the men gather around Blair while he explains his findings. To everyone’s growing amazement (and concern!), they discover that this ‘thing’ has the ability to duplicate, perfectly, any living organism it comes in contact with. Everybody stares in silence, each certainly with the same thought: if it could imitate dogs, then it could imitate humans.

Grasping for clues, MacReady and the others watch the video tapes that were brought back from the destroyed Norwegian camp. After hours of boring footage, they suddenly see the Norwegians blowing a huge hole in the ice, and uncovering something buried beneath. MacReady finds the location on a map and flies out to investigate.

Upon arrival they discover what it was that was in fact buried in the ice: a gigantic flying saucer. I mean, gigantic. Norris and MacReady repel down the sides of the excavation site and take a closer look. MacReady looks around and asks Norris how long he thinks it’s been buried, to which Norris replies that the ice it’s buried in is at least 100,000 years old. (Damn!) Returning to the helicopter, they discover a hole cut into the ice. MacReady puts 2 and 2 together and deduces that this must be the spot that the Norwegians cut out whatever it was they took back to their camp. (Bad idea. Really, really, bad idea.)

Back at the American camp, the men are having a brain storming session. Nobody can seem to believe the facts, or at least they don’t want to believe. As the discussion goes round and round, Nauls come skating in from the kitchen with a ripped up pair of long-johns. Pissed that somebody would toss their "dirty drawers" in the kitchen garbage, he tosses them on a pinball machine and skates back to finish cooking. At the time, nobody realizes that this implies somebody has been taken over by the Thing.

The ThingWe next see Blair in his office watching a computer simulation of some cells. (The graphics reminds me a lot of the old ‘Asteroids’ video game.)The computer program reveals the way in which cells from the Thing absorb, then imitate the dog cells. (I love the computer graphics…made just over 20 years ago…look how far we’ve come! Brings back a lot of Atari 2600 memories…ok, never mind, back to the movie…)

The computer predicts that there is a 75% chance that one or more team members is already infected. (A convenient plot device to be able to just ‘calculate’ that, but since I like this movie so much, I’ll overlook it…) Blair asks the computer to calculate how long it would take for the entire world to be infected if the creature made it to the mainland…27,000 hours…(a little over 3 years, there, I saved you the trouble of calculating it.)

Blair shakes his head in resignation, takes a pistol out from his desk drawer…a man who realizes what must be done.

The ThingMeanwhile, the guys are moving the burnt dog remains into the lab. (Or is it the remains from the Norwegian camp? Hard to say. But since the remains aren’t dead yet, and in fact attack and absorb Bennings, I can only assume it was the dog remains because the Norwegians must have surely burned up the ‘melted-face’ remains enough to kill them. NOTES FROM THE FUTURE: Widows pulls back the blanket to reveal the burned ‘melted-face’ remains…my bag. Then where are the dog remains?)

The whole ‘move the remains into the storeroom’ seems like a strange idea in the first place. Granted, it’s necessary to move the plot along, but I don’t think it is too smart…first, the room is warm, so wouldn’t they start to stink? Second, they all know that the ‘Thing’ is capable of attacking, transforming, absorbing, and imitating other life forms…would you really want that in a room in the same building you’re living in? I would have dug a nice deep ice hole and dumped the whole damned mess into the bottom, soaked it with a thousand liters of gasoline and had a nice bonfire. I mean, really, take a look at that ‘thing’…good grief! I wouldn’t want to be within a hundred miles of that!

But I like this movie, so I’m not going to nit-pick.

While MacReady clears his stuff out of the storage room, Fuchs approaches him and whispers that he wants to talk to him in private. MacReady tries to blow him off, but Fuchs insists. With a "This-Better-Be-Freakin-Good" look, MacReady and Fuchs head out to one of the snow plows to have a chat.

Bennings and Windows, the last 2 in the storage room, finish cleaning up. Windows turns and leaves, while Bennings gets some of his last stuff out. In a great shot, we see the blanket covering the remains slowly rise and fall while the 2 guys have their backs turned. Then when Windows leaves the room, we see a slimy tentacle start oozing its way out from under the blanket. So I must say: Hello?!!! Did you ever hear of the buddy system? Hello?!

In the snowplow, Fuchs confides to MacReady that Blair has locked himself in his room and won’t come out. Trying to get to the bottom of Blair’s odd behavior, Fuchs has taken one of his notebooks and reads out loud for MacReady’s edification:

"It could have imitated a million life forms on a million planets. It could change into any one of them at any time. Now it wants life forms on Earth…It needs to be alone and in close proximity with the life form to be absorbed. The chameleon strikes in the dark. I can decree that there is still cellular activity in these burned remains. They’re not dead yet…"

Oh crap.

The ThingWindows returns to the storage room to lock up and sees that Benning’s is covered in slime and tentacles…He (understandably) freaks and runs outside to fetch MacReady from the snowplow. When they get back to the storage room, Bennings is gone. Looking out the window, they see the shadowy form of Benning’s staggering away into the darkness.

Alarm sounded, the men run outside and surround the half-way imitated Bennings. Bennings-thing raises up two mutated, slimy, ‘hands’, almost in supplication, then gives an un-Earthly howl. (That howl still gives me the creeps!) MacReady kicks over a (convenient) barrel of gas and ignites Bennings-thing with a flare. Bye-bye Bennings.

This time the guys play it safe and gather up all Benning’s belongings along with Bennings-thing’s burnt carcass. MacReady ignites the whole mess with a flame-thrower while everybody stands around staring mutely into the flames. The silence is broken when somebody asks aloud: "Where is Blair?" (Doh!)

Meanwhile, Blair has been busy. Realizing that the only way to save the world is to destroy any way for the Thing to reach the mainland, Blair has destroyed the helicopters and all the other vehicles in the camp. He’s also destroyed all the radios and has barricaded himself in the communication room. Armed with a pistol and an axe (Man, there are a lot of axes in this camp!), Blair holds the others at bay while he hacks up the radios and computers, effectively cutting off the camp from the rest of the world. Alas, Blair finally uses up all of his pistol ammunition (firing down the hall at the other guys). The others charge into the room and overpower the old doctor. (We also see, to Clark’s horror, that Blair’s hacked up the rest of the sled dogs with an axe…)

Obviously a danger to the rest of the men, Blair is locked up in a tool shed outside the main camp. He’s given a bottle of booze and a sedative (I guess) to help him pass the time. Just as MacReady leaves the shed, Blair warns him to watch Clark, "and watch him close."

Good point. Earlier in the film Clark admitted to being alone with the dog-Thing for an hour or so, but later when he’s given the blood test (posthumously), he’s found to be human. So why didn’t the dog-Thing take him over?

The ThingAnother thing: I always thought it was rather cruel to lock Blair up all by himself when they are pretty sure there is a ‘thing’ amongst them. Blair is defenseless and isolated from the rest of the men, and in the end, he is of course taken by the Thing. I shudder to think what it must have been like to be alone in the shed and hear the Thing open the door…coming to get him.

After Blair is secured, the remaining men discuss what course of action to take. Garry suggests holing up until spring when a rescue party will come to relieve them. MacReady isn’t to keen on that because he’s pretty damn sure that somebody is infected, and waiting would be equivalent to suicide. No, he asks Doc Copper if there could be some sort of blood test they could perform. Copper suggests a "blood serum" test, so they head back inside to get started.

When they get to the med lab they discover that the blood vault has been opened and all the blood destroyed. Fingers start pointing and tempers flare as Copper and Garry (they have they only key to the blood storage vault) begin shouting and accusing each other of sabotage.

This scene has always bugged me because, ok, who broke in and ruined the blood? Copper? No, he’s killed later by a Thing and is eventually proven human. Garry too is proven human later in the film. So who did this? This question is never answered and is never brought up again in the film.

As the bickering continues, Windows freaks out and flees from the room. At the end of a hallway, he smashes open a weapons case and pulls out a shotgun. Before he can load it, Garry runs up, pulls out his pistol, and orders him to drop the gun. Windows drops the gun and falls to the floor in exhaustion.

The ThingGarry turns around and swears that he had nothing to do with the destruction of the blood. Realizing that he’s a prime suspect in the deed, he then puts down his pistol and relinquishes his command. Garry suggests that Norris take over, but Norris demurs by saying he just doesn’t feel up to it. Childs goes for the gun but Clark steps in the way and pulls his knife on him. Once again, MacReady defuses the situation and takes charge by picking up the pistol, thus becoming the de facto leader of the remaining men.

Now, why did Norris not want to be leader? He is at this point infected…so wouldn’t it be a perfect opportunity for the Thing to overcome the last of the humans? Maybe Norris’s refusal to take charge indicates that a person might now always know they are in fact infected. (Now that’s a horrifying thought!)

Later that night, the men stand outside and burn the blood bags and anything else that the Thing might have touched in the lab. At this point, MacReady makes an interesting speech:

"I know I’m human. And if you were all these ‘things’ then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This ‘thing’ doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It will fight if it has to, but it’s venerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies. Nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won. There’s a storm hitting us in six hours. We’re going to find out who’s who."

Man, I love that line: "We’re going to find out who’s who." Taking care of business.

After the speech, MacReady orders that the most likely infected, i.e., Garry, Copper and Clark (ironically, all of which are human) are to be tied up and sedated. Meanwhile, Fuchs is studying Blair’s notebooks and trying to come up with a new test. Busy working at his desk, the lights suddenly dim and a figure rushes by in the darkness. Fuchs puts on his jacket and follows the shape outside. Lighting a flare, Fuchs walks around a bit and stumbles upon a pair of ripped up clothes. The clothes are labeled "R. J. MacReady". bum-bum-bum!

Time out. OK. Who in their right mind would go outside alone after seeing a figure rush by them in the dark. I mean…HELLO?!! Fuchs! Are you out of your mind?!! (He pays a high price for his curiousity…) Well, I guess they had to whittle the characters off one by one, but still, even as a kid I found Fuchs’s actions a little unrealistic given the circumstances.

The ThingOnce Fuchs is discovered missing, MacReady and some of the guys go outside to look for him. (With rather dim hopes of finding him, I suspect.) MacReady first heads up to the tool shed to check on Blair. The old man is sitting inside eating some canned food (with a hangman’s noose dangling from the ceiling. An odd, yet effective, touch.)

Blair seems desperate to get back inside with the other guys. OK, yes, I understand that he doesn’t want to be out there alone anymore, but he is being really, really, creepy while trying to convince MacReady to let him back in. He says things like "I’m ok now. I won’t harm anybody. I promise." And so on. I think it’s pretty obvious he’s either lost his marbles or his become a ‘Thing’; or both. Needless to say, MacReady turns and leaves Blair locked in the shed.

MacReady and the others continue looking for Fuchs and eventually stumble upon his charred remains. The men can’t figure out why the Thing would have burned Fuchs, to which MacReady suggests that maybe Fuchs burned himself before the Thing could get to him.

Fuchs’s death has also always bothered me. How did he burn to death? If I remember correctly from the book, Fuchs was attacked by the Thing and accidentally set himself on fire with the flare. Fair enough, but the remains shown in the movie are completely charred. Maybe I’m being nit-picky here, but I always felt they took a cheap short cut by essentially discarding Fuchs’s character without a believable explanation. Would it have been so hard to added a little more information? OK, fine. A lot of weird things are happening, and not everything can be explained. But still, if you are going to go to the trouble to present Fuchs’s burned remains, then a more plausible explanation should also be given.

I still love this movie. And yes, I know I’m being nit-picky. It’s part of the job.

Anyway, MacReady tells Windows to back inside and inform the others that they’ve found Fuchs. When Nauls wonders why they aren’t going in also, MacReady points out that the lights are on in his shack…and he had turned them off before he left the day before.

Back inside, 45 minutes have past and MacReady and Nauls still haven’t returned from the shack. Childs assumes the worst and orders the outside doors to be nailed shut. Norris happens to look out a window and sees a figure approaching in the darkness. He shouts for the others and then doubles over in pain, clutching at his chest.

Time out. Norris’s chest pains strengthen my theory that in some cases the infected person might not even know they are infected. Or, if the Thing duplicates somebody, does it also duplicate any weaknesses that they person has? The Thing has copied Norris, so has it also duplicated Norris’s heart condition? It would appear so. Why else would he have chest pains?

OK. The others rush to Norris and they open the door. In tumbles an exhausted, half frozen Nauls. He explains that he fled from MacReady when he found his torn up clothes hidden in his shack. More tempers flare and a fight breaks out. Nobody sees the door handle turning, as somebody on the other side is trying to get in. While they argue over whether or not to let MacReady in (thinking that he’s a Thing), the sound of breaking glass comes from down the hallway.

The ThingChilds and the others rush down the hall. Finding the door locked, Childs hacks it down with an axe, only to find MacReady nearly frozen to death. MacReady is not to be pushed around and has a bundle of dynamite in one hand and a flare in the other. Quickly realizing that if they torch MacReady then they’re all going to go ‘boom’, Childs and the others lay down the flame throwers and back away.

Suddenly Norris and Nauls jump MacReady from behind (I never knew how they got behind him when there is only one door into the room). Reacting quickly, MacReady breaks free but all the excitement causes Norris to have a heart attack.

Copper rushes Norris to the med lab and tries to revive him with CPR, but to no avail. While Norris is prepped for the heart paddles, MacReady keeps the others at bay with a flame thrower and his dynamite. Clark, however, has positioned himself behind Nauls and manages to sneak a scalpel into his hand.

The ThingIn a truly shocking scene, Copper calls for the heart paddles and gives a jolt. Nothing.He charges the paddles again and this time Norris’s entire chest rips open revealing a gigantic mouth rimmed with enormous teeth. Copper’s arms plunge into the maw and are promptly bitter off at the elbows. (Copper was played by another actor who had, in fact, lost both arms at the elbows.)

Copper screams and falls to the floor. The others back away (no kidding!) and see a huge spider like Norris-Thing pop out of his chest and hang from the ceiling. The Thing screams and roars as the others can only look on, paralyzed in horror and shock.

MacReady torches the Thing with the flame thrower, but nobody notices that Norris’s head has, well, decided to remove itself from the body. The neck stretches and stretches until it rips and the head slides to the floor. It looks around with inhuman eyes and shoots forth a long red tentacle from its mouth, fastening it to a nearby chair.

The ThingAs the others begin to extinguish the fire, the head reels itself over to the chair and hides under the desk where it then sprouts 8 spider-like legs and a pair of eye-stalks. Seeing that the coast is clear, the head scurries across the floor and makes its way towards the hall. Fortunately, Palmer spots the ‘thing’ and delivers my favorite line of the film. (See the movie if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

Seeing Norris’s head tear itself away from the body and try to escape gives MacReady an idea. He figures that every part of the ‘Thing’ is like a separate entity: each part has a will to live all its own. MacReady decides to tie everybody up and take a blood sample from each person. Sticking a hot wire into the blood should cause the blood to try and escape…if his theory is correct. The others are, to say the least, skeptical, but go along with it because MacReady is armed with a flame thrower and icily states that he will kill anybody who doesn’t submit to the test. Childs calls his bluff and refuses to be tied up, but backs down when MacReady puts a cocked pistol to his face. At this time, Clark rushes MacReady with the pilfered scalpel but MacReady is too fast a puts a bullet into the middle of Clark’s forehead.

The test proceeds and even the dead bodies are tied down. Blood is drawn from everybody by slicing open their thumbs with a scalpel. (A very effective gross-out ploy.) Oddly, they all use the same scalpel, which would seem a rather easy way to introduce infected blood into a persons blood stream. In fact, the more I think about it, this doesn’t make any sense at all. Why on Earth wouldn’t they use a separate, sterile, scalpel for each person?

As MacReady starts testing the blood, the first few samples give no reaction. The test seems like a failure, and he starts to lose confidence in its validity until he sticks the hot wire into Palmer’s blood. The blood screams (!) and jumps out of the dish, onto the floor, and scurries under a desk!

Success!

The ThingPalmer-thing begins to vibrate and mutate. It’s hard to find the correct word for it, but let’s just say that his head swells up, rips in half, and turns into a big set of mouth pieces. MacReady tries to torch it but his flame thrower malfunctions (!). Windows, the only other with a flame thrower steps up to torch the monster but is grabbed by a tentacle, has his head chomped a few times and is tossed into a corner to die.

MacReady takes this opportunity to grab Windows’s flame thrower and blasts the monster. Engulfed in flames, the Thing bursts through the wall and stumbles outside, eventually collapsing on the ground. MacReady tosses a stick of dynamite onto it and *boom*! The Thing is blown to smithereens.

Screams from inside bring MacReady running back. Windows, supposedly dead in the corner, is beginning to change into a Thing, but is quickly set on fire and killed.

Having proven that the test certainly does work, the remaining members are tested and found to be human. With only MacReady, Nauls, Childs, and Garry remaining, they head out to give the test to Blair. Childs is left behind with a flame thrower with the instructions that if Blair returns alone…"burn him."

The ThingNauls, Garry, and MacReady find that the tool shed door is open and Blair is nowhere to be found. While the poke around a bit, they find some loose floorboards. The boards are removed to reveal a tunnel in the ice. Garry, in a ‘Are-You-Out-Of-Your-Freakin’-Mind’ moment, lowers himself into the tunnel. Nauls and MacReady follow Garry and discover that Blair has been constructing a mini-saucer under the tool shed. (Damn!)

As MacReady and the others prepare to blow up the saucer, Nauls sees Childs leaving his guard post and stumbling away into the stormy night. Suddenly the lights go out, plunging the camp into complete darkness, except for the eerie blue emergency lights that mark the paths between the various buildings. MacReady suggests that the Thing made its way back inside and has disabled the generator in an effort to simply freeze itself until next spring when a relief party would discover it.

It suddenly dawns on the 3 men that they aren’t going to make it out alive. With no power, they have no heat, and thus will die of exposure in a few hours time. They also realize that they have to make every effort to kill the Thing before they die, and decide to blow up the camp building by building until they can flush it out and kill it, even if this means they will be sealing their own fates in the process.

They begin by blowing the ship and the tool shed to bits, and then move on through the camp methodically tossing molotov cocktails and dynamite into each room. The finally reach the stairs which lead down under the camp and into the generator room.

The ThingLit only by the reddish-glow of the handheld flares, MacReady, Nauls, and Garry make their way down the steps and into the darkness below. As MacReady readies the detonator, Garry and Nauls head off down the corridors placing bundles of dynamite along the way, preparing to bring down the entire camp in one massive explosion. There is a great line here when Garry calls out to MacReady "The generator’s gone." MacReady assumes he means it’s broken and asks him if it can be fixed. Garry replies, "It’s gone, MacReady…"

I really, really, didn’t like the fact that the guys split up to set their dynamite bundles in the various corridors. I mean, DUH! I know that that everybody has to die except for MacReady, but the fact that these guys would actually dare to separate is a little hard to swallow.

The ThingOK, fine. Garry’s flashlight goes out and Blair hops out of the darkness and sticks his hand into Garry’s face. No, I don’t mean ‘pokes’ him in the face with his hand, I mean Blair sticks his hand into Garry’s face. Garry is dragged away by a thick meaty sinew connecting his head with Blair’s arm. Yummy.

Nauls hears something suspicious and heads off to investigate. Seeing that the guys don’t have their flame throwers anymore (where did the flame throwers go?), I really don’t see how anybody in their right mind would do what Nauls is doing. Then again, maybe they aren’t in their right minds.

Well, as I said, Nauls walks off to investigate and is never seen again. Finished connecting the detonator, MacReady calls out to the other guys to see if they are finished laying their dynamite in place.

Nobody responds.

Hmmm.

MacReady pulls up the plunger handle and peers down the corridor. The only sound is the dripping of water and the crunching of the snow as he slowly takes a few steps. MacReady lights a stick of dynamite and suddenly something massive charges at MacReady from under the floor. A mass of thick tentacles bursts forth and pulls the detonator down into the hole.

The ThingThe Thing

Without warning, a gigantic creature explodes upward from the frozen floor. At the top of the stalk-like body is a massive mouth and flailing claws. A bizarre dog-like head pops out of the side and bites madly at the air; struggling to break free and get at MacReady. (I had to increase the brightness on the screen shot to the left. If you look at the top, you can see Blair’s face has been melded into the overall creature.)

MacReady manages to keep his wits about him and jumps down a side shaft. He delivers another funny one-liner (see the movie…) and tosses the lit stick of dynamite at the foot of the creature. The monster sees the dynamite, lets out shriek, and is blown to high Heaven. The explosion sets off the other bundles of dynamite and the entire camp is leveled to the ground.

We cut to see an exhausted and near frozen MacReady stumbling through the wreckage with a bottle of booze. MacReady collapses in the snow just as Childs appears out of the darkness armed with a flame thrower. He asks if MacReady killed the creature and MacReady responds by asking Childs why he left his post. (Good question.) Childs says that he though he saw Blair, went out after him, and got lost in the storm. (Fair enough.)

Childs plops down in the snow across from MacReady as the flames begin to die and the cold presses in. Childs tries to reassure MacReady that he’s human, but MacReady wryly notes that if either one of them is a Thing, there’s not much the other could do about it at this point. Childs grins and nods weakly in tacit agreement. After a pause, Childs asks, "What do we do?"

MacReady gazes at him with glassy eyes, "Why don’t we just wait here a while…and see what happens…"

Fade to black.

Dennis Grisbeck (June 2005)

Afterthoughts

It’s hard to write a review on a movie that I like. Half the fun, scratch that, all the fun lies in being cynical and finding goofs and other nonsense. I chose this movie for review because of an upcoming roundtable I’m taking part in, and it turned out to be fun writing about it after all.

I’ve probably seen this movie 20 times, so needless to say the "shocks" are gone. Nevertheless, the suspense, the gloom, and the tension are just as palpable each time I watch it as it was the first time I saw it nearly 25 years ago. (Whoa! Nearly 25 years ago!!! Is it possible?!)

I highly recommend purchasing "The Thing" on DVD for several reasons. Besides the great picture quality and fantastic sound, the DVD also has a fantastic documentary on the special effects used in the film. If you ever wanted to know how all the disgusting effects were made…then get the DVD. Furthermore, the director’s commentary with John Carpenter and Kurt Russell is both illuminating and hilarious. They have a great time reliving the making of the movie and provide some highly entertaining "behind the scenes" trivia that make the movie even more fun to see.

And I will be watching this movie again!

Read more about The Thing at

IMDB

17 comments to The Thing (1982)

  • If they ever do remake this I really hope they use “real” props instead of CGI…CGI always looks so fakey to me.

  • Tim

    I’ll second the suggestion for the use of real props, but not because I have anything against CGI. CGI can look very real when done right, but the thing you’d really want to use it for is stuff you CAN’T do physically, like super smooth, fluid morphs. What I liked most about the Thing’s transformations, however, was how messy they are. Organs shift, joints pop into place, skin tears and blood flows, all of it adding to the horror. Destructive transformation like that are something best suited to physical props, in my opinion.

  • Guts3d

    This was one scary movie. I agree that the special effects were top notch, as well.

  • I think the guy won an Academy award for the effect’s work…didn’t he?

  • popzombie

    Great movie. Everyone in it did a great job. I also love the props instead of lame cgi. I was creeped out by the good Doctor Copper’s nose ring. WHY???

  • Rob J

    The ONLY movie in which I have ever jumped, and I have seen hundreds.

    Forget about”Saw” etc,the fact Mr and Mrs Public rushed out to see the cuddly “ET” instead, they missed a true classic.

    Sadly, JC’s career never recovered from the critical and commercial thrashing he received.

    The only films which have matched it, are the original “Ringu” and [.REC] for sheer dread.

  • @Rob J:
    I was a bit young when this movie came out, so I don’t remember exactly how it was received by the critics, but the FX guy won an academy award didn’t he? Anyway, I also loved the original Ringu (and the original Japanese version of “The Grudge”)…both very creepy. [REC] was pretty good too, especially the weird ending in the attic….yech!

  • guts3d

    Looks like they are making another one.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0905372/

    The producers convinced Universal Studios to allow them to create a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing instead of a remake, as they felt Carpenter’s film was already perfect, so making a remake would be like “painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa”. However, the prequel still has the title of the original film, because they couldn’t think of a subtitle (for example, “The Thing: Begins”) that sounded good.

  • Sean

    I remember watching JC’s The Thing when it came out, but I don’t remember it winning an oscar for it’s effects. So I did some google research, and appallingly, it looks like it wasn’t even nominated. (!?!)

  • Charles

    I remember as a credulous 11 year old watching this on cable one 1983 summer night in my family’s newish vacation home with just my unsympathetic dad with me. I loved dogs at the time and I have never before or since been so repelled or terrified as I was when I saw the dog pen scene. I was so horrified that I couldn’t manage to watch any further, and I still have never been able to watch the movie all the way through. I couldn’t sleep that night, and had difficulty the next. It’s been nearly thirty years, and yet the visceral reaction I had as a child can still affect me today. I’m still not sure I’d be able to handle watching it again.

  • Sean

    I know actually what you mean. I was traumatized by the cat being teleported into nothingness in the original version of “The Fly.” And the only time I can remember hating a giant monster was in “The Giant Behemoth” when he radiates a young boy and his dog. I ended up forgiving the Behemoth, of course, because unlike a human or an alien, he didn’t really know what he was doing. (Monster Movie Ethics, 201)

  • Guts3d

    I must be a wuss, because the only monster that really scared me as a kid was Godzilla (Before he turned good!)Now the only thing that scares me as an adult is unemployment.

  • Sean

    I always loved Godzilla, even when he was a bad guy. My most humiliating fright experience was the radioactive woman in “Terror From The Year 5000.” She actually gave me a real nightmare. Now she just seems like a crazed drum majorette with a bad case of acne.

  • Guts3d

    Yeah, I remember “Terror from the Year 5000” fondly as well, but she didn’t scare me as much as the radioactivity that they talked about. Remember the “gift” he sent that was “hotter than a firecracker?” I worried from then on that some evil %$#@! would irradiate something cool and send it to me as a gift. Luckily, I am kind of boring and none of my enemies don’t have access to radioactive materials.

  • Sean

    That’s a good point about the radioactivity. It was the major part of what made her scary – so I SHOULD have been afraid of getting radioactive presents in the mail. That I wasn’t shows a major lack of imagination on my part. Oh the shame!

  • @guts3D,

    Maybe they should call it the same as Campbell’s original short story: “Who Goes There?”

  • Nick

    In your review, you said you you didn’t understand who destroyed the blood. Bennings tells Windows to get Garry’s keys before he’s assimilated. When Windows returns and sees the assimilation in progress, you can hear him drop the keys when he takes off. I assume Norris or Palmer planned ahead, took the keys, destroyed the blood, and then returned them. The blood was frozen, so that would explain why it’s running all over the floor looking fresh when they arrive.

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