John Carpenter’s first film for a major studio is one of a rare breed: a remake that surpasses the original (1951's The Thing From Another World). Set on a remote US Antarctic research station, this sci-fi horror manages to be every bit as creepy as Alien or Carpenter’s own Halloween – but even more horrific thanks to the incredible (for the time, at least) special effects.
When hard-drinking helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and co discover a strange dog wandering the wastes, apparently having been hunted by a group of deranged Norwegians from another station, they take it in. But of course the dog isn’t what it appears to be. An alien parasite, recently dug out of the frozen wastes by the unfortunate Norwegians, has assumed the form of the canine – and it’s not going to stop there.
Paranoia and delusion quickly set in as the Americans try to work out which of them are still human and which have been taken over by the creature. This leads to arguably the best scene in the movie, a tense standoff in which the surviving members of the crew have their blood tested in a novel way.
Without wishing to give too much away, as the film progresses the creature becomes larger, more deadly and more disgustingly outlandish – Rob Bottin’s special effects being as big a star of the movie as Russell.
Bottin was just 22 at the time, and the sheer amount of special effects required meant he ended up virtually living on the Universal backlot; despite having a team of 40 working under him, he was eventually admitted to hospital due to exhaustion, whereupon SFX legend Stan Winston (The Terminator, Jurassic Park, Aliens and Predator) was brought in as temporary cover.
The Thing wasn’t a commercial or critical success upon its initial release – its bleakness and gore being cited as turn-offs for both parties – but has garnered a rock solid cult following over the years. It has spawned both a video game and a sequel/prequel (released in 2011 and also entitled The Thing), and remains a chilling watch – and not just because of the Antarctic setting.
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