I haven’t got any John Carpenter films reviewed here so time to correct omission that with his adaptation of The Thing. This is based on the novel Who Goes there? By John W. Campbell and the book was also used as the basis for the 1951 film The Thing From Another World
A helicopter is racing across the Antarctic snow chasing after a dog. A sniper leans out of side and tries to shoot the dog. They approach an US Antarctic station who all come out to see what is going on. The helicopter lands and he pilot tries to throw a thermite grenade at the dog but he drops it and blows up himself and the helicopter. The passenger runs toward the Americans shouting at them in Norwegian as the dog jumps up at the men and affectionately licks at one man’s face. The Norwegian starts shooting at the dog, accidentally grazing the leg of Bennings (Peter Maloney). He runs after the dog trying to shoot it but he gets shot dead from inside the base by the group’s leader Garry (Donald Moffat).
They try to figure what was going on, speculating about why the Norwegians had gone mad, never even considering possibility that they hadn’t. Meanwhile the dog they were desperately tying to kill is allowed to wander round the camp freely (not even their own dogs get to wander around like that). Dr Copper (Richard Dysart) wants to go to the Norwegian base to see what happened. The base’s helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) flies him out there but the obligatory approaching storm introduces a time limit. The base is completely burnt-out and the personnel are dead. Copper finds the records of the Norwegian team. Then Mac finds a block of ice with the middle melted out. Outside they find a revolting twisted mass of flesh and body parts all fused together and burnt. They take it all back to the US base before the storm arrives.
The base scientist Dr Blair (Wilford Brimley) does an autopsy on the dead Norwegian and the thing that Mac and Dr Copper brought back. He finds normal organs but the thing is all slimy limbs, some human, others more spidery and something that looks like a face that has been stretched and twisted. It is really unpleasant and a warning of what is to come.
Everyone is relaxing, Palmer is smoking dope with Nauls everyone else is in the rec. room, playing pool, playing cards. Benning notices the dog is still running around so Clark the dog-handler (Richard Masur) puts it in with the other dogs in their cage. As soon as he leaves the dog changes, long pink tendrils shoot out from its body and seizes some of the other dogs, its face opens up like fleshy flower, spider legs come out of the body. The other dogs are freaking out, barking and whining in terror. Clark runs back to see what’s happening and sees this mass of half dogs writhing around in the middle of the cage. Mac hears the racket and pulls the alarm. He gets Childs (Keith David) to bring a flame-thrower and everyone heads for the dog cage. The mass of metamorphosing flesh screams at them as Mac opens the cage and the surviving dogs escape. One part of the mass escapes through the roof and Mac orders Childs to burn all the rest.
Blair examines the thing from the dog cage and reaches some conclusions. There is some sort of alien organism that absorbs other lifeforms and then imitates them. They interrupted the process with dogs. He points out that the dog was free to wander around camp all day and he thinks it can imitate people too and realises the implication right away.
They watch a film the Norwegians made showing them finding something massive in the ice and digging it up. Norris (Charles Hallahan)and Mac fly out to the location of the dig and find a massive saucer shaped spaceship. Norris estimates from the depth of the ice it must have been buried for hundreds of thousands of years.
At the base everyone is talking about extraterrestrials and flying saucers. Blair is in his lab with his computer running a very slow simulation of red blobs absorbing blue blobs and making them into more red blobs. This is definitely authentic computer graphics from 1982. The ability to answer complex questions in English is bit less believable but it’s film land. The computer tells him that if the creature gets away from Antarctica it could destroy all life on Earth This means the team must stop the creatures at all cost, even their own lives and they have no idea who they can trust.
This films really has some really overwhelming specials effects from Rob Bottin and Stan Winston and the highlight of that is the scene in the surgery where Dr Copper is trying to revive Norris from a heart attack which just blasts the audience with the stuff of nightmares. This does contribute to growing sense of fear and paranoia in the film. Character development is a bit shallow and we don’t really get a sense that guys exist outside of the Antarctic base but when the trouble starts Kurt Russel steps up and transforms Mac into the bad-ass alpha-male Snake Plisskin and takes charge of things and everyone, even the base leader Garry, just meekly goes along with it. Really not to everyone’s taste, I think this a great film because I just love those old style squishy special effects