The Thing (1982)

The Thing PosterRating: ★★★★☆

The elusive, amorphous villain in “The Thing” boasts a potent quality long lost in the tradition of post-modern horror movies. Its creature operates in sadistic stealth. It invades the body of its living prey, sucking the life of its unfortunate host from the inside until there is nothing left of him except for his outside physical appearance. Each organism, whether man or animal, who has been victimized by The Thing all have one thing in common: They all ended up as a mere disguise to this intrusive, merciless freak.

The setting is in the barren, icy lands of Antarctica. An American research team is compelled to investigate a Norwegian facility after the remainder of its occupants die in a frantic attempt to assassinate… a dog. Inside the facility, our heroes find that the building has been through what your average C.S.I. would refer to as, “a struggle”. Outside, they discover a cadaver of abnormal shape and size. They notice that it was intentionally set on fire. And based on the empty containers of gasoline near it, whoever ignited the bastard wanted it to burn real good. Because our heroes are a group of curious researchers, they omit the instinctive response of leaving the body alone by bringing it back home with them.

The ThingSeemed like a bad move at the time, but their suspicions are ripped apart when they realize that the threat is lurking within the darn dog. The first of numerous moments of grotesque horror in “The Thing” occurs when their new pet is caged among other dogs. Heaps of flesh and blood starts bursting from the hound, transforming itself into a shapeless monster armed with teeth, tentacles, and an appetite. The helpless dogs trapped with this Thing are sprayed with a deadly acidic substance as they are dragged to The Thing’s gaping mouth, or mouths.

But enough about the dogs. The anxious excitement of “The Thing” begins when our heroes learn of the shape-shifting, body-invading nature of this sneaky alien. Since The Thing can infect any living individual upon the slightest contact, how many of the crew members have already been contaminated? Who can they trust? How can the healthy ones stay healthy? How can they find The Thing? And how do they kill it?

This is a creature concept of a very high order, one of great potential not only in terms of visual horror, but also of alarming suspense. A villain as complex as The Thing deserved the dedication of its disciplined director, John Carpenter, but the film is let down by a dull group of unintelligent, interchangeable characters. The researchers, who are thinly written, spend most of their time pointing their fingers and defending their innocence; it wouldn’t make any difference if This Character ended up as The Thing instead of That Character. Their field of work suggests discernment, but their actions sometimes reach a level of foolishness that they might as well be teenagers.

The Thing (Dog)These faults can easily be forgiven. The steady suspense is great fun, but at this point in history, I believe “The Thing” is most appreciated for its eruptions of gruesome and gooey monster madness. Because The Thing doesn’t have a permanent design, we are treated to a new, unsettling version of the same villain each time it reveals itself. By giving us different monsters to gawk at, the recurring attacks feel less repetitive. The prop, costume and make-up effects that form The Thing are so well-done that the movie proved to be a significant point in the advancement of special effects.

Movie monsters are often proud to set their ugly faces on display, but not The Thing. We suspect that it is a shy creature. But when its secret is thwarted, it seems to be more than happy to crawl/burst/ooze out of its disguise. The result is often a giant, living, breathing mishmash of your stomach contests. Whoever decides to dress as The Thing for Halloween and pulls it off deserves extra candy.

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The Thing (1982)