Saturday, August 20, 2011

"The Thing" (1982)

Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley and Keith David
Written by Bill Lancaster
Directed by John Carpenter
Rated R - Gore, frightening images, language, violence
Running Time: 109 Minutes

In the remote wilderness of Antarctica, a United States research team is shocked when a member of a Norwegian research team chases and tries to kill a dog into their camp.  The Norwegian blows up his own helicopter, and even shoots one of the Americans before the leader of the group, Garry (Donald Moffat).  Unable to raise the Norwegians, or anyone else for that matter, on the radio, the station's pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell) along with Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) head to the Norwegian encampment and find the place utterly destroyed.

They also find the remains of some kind of inhuman creature that the doctor can't identify.  They bring it back to their own camp for dissection, and soon they begin to learn the horrible truth: the creature comes from another world, and it is a parasite that kills and replaces its host.  With the ability to mimic any animal or person, it could be anyone or anything in the camp.

As the researchers' numbers dwindle, they become more paranoid and suspicious of each other.  All the while the creature is desperate to leave the camp and get to civilization, but MacReady begins to believe that in order to stop it, none of them may make it out alive.

I've seen a handful of John Carpenter's films, few of them I really felt were all that worthwhile.  "Assault on Precinct 13," for example, I actually preferred the remake, and "Vampires" is just a plain terrible film.  On the other hand, "Escape From New York" is fun, albeit cheesy, and "Halloween" is a slasher classic.

I first saw "The Thing" well over a decade ago, on some Saturday afternoon, all chopped up and edited for television, which means that the whole thing is lessened.  Last night I sat down to watch it, alone in the house by myself, which was a huge mistake.

"The Thing" is a nasty, terrifyingly disgusting film.  On top of a solid script, the film is superbly directed and the creature effects are astoundingly creepy and detailed.  There are several scenes I simply didn't want to watch, but couldn't force myself to turn away.  The creature's continually evolving grotesque appearance is fascinating but horrific.  The initial reveal, with it essentially bursting out of the body of a dog is nasty, a latex nightmare spewing blood and bile and throwing tendrils around.  Later, an inverted human head with spider-legs gets a reaction from the characters exactly the same as my own: "You gotta be fucking kidding."

All of these nasty, but incredibly impressive, effects would be useless if the rest of the film didn't measure up.  Thankfully, it does.  Direction by Carpenter and a musical score by Ennio Morricone create a very isolated, frightening atmosphere for the characters to inhabit.  The actors do a fine job turning on each other, growing more desperate and upset as the film goes on.

The final scene deliberately leaves things open to some interpretation of what will happen next, and is a pretty ballsy way to end the picture, but one that is very much in line with the rest of the film.  Why should a film based on fear, suspicion and confusion give a clear-cut answer?  It shouldn't.  What we learn about the creature throughout the film is almost entirely supposition - at least, in terms of its motivations, it's biology is determined scientifically.

So yeah, "The Thing" is pretty damn terrifying.  I heartily recommend it, even though I'm not really into nasty, gross-out horror flicks.

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