Reel Classic: ‘The Thing’ (1982)

Image via Universal Pictures
Image via Universal Pictures

Heads up: The following contains scenes showcasing some of the grotesque goodness carried by this sci-fi/horror classic.

This is one sci-fi film that is both a remake to a film from the 50s and a narrative sequel to a prequel released in 2011 (a little bit confusing, I know).

The Thing (1982), which tells of a group of researchers and scientists at an Antarctic research base who are systematically killed and imitated by a parasitic extraterrestrial creature, is perhaps one of the most well known John Carpenter films to date. A loose remake of 1951 black & white film The Thing from Another World, which was based on John W. Campbell’s brilliantly engaging 1938 science fiction novella Who Goes There?, this classic sci-fi/horror mix pumped originality, energy and visceral qualities into both genres.

Carpenter was best known as a filmmaker who helped pioneer and develop a new wave of horror genre through the late 70s and early 80s, with early hits including Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980). After tackling post-apocalyptic sci-fi action with the Kurt Russell-starring Escape from New York (1981), Carpenter reteamed with Russell for a horror entry that would go on to earn wide acclaim, despite the initial mixed reception it received upon release.

The Thing constantly kept audiences guessing: which characters are human and who is being imitated by this terrifying extra-terrestrial? As we watch in anticipation, knowing that this creature is always waiting to strike, Carpenter wrings it for all it’s worth. Almost every sequence holds tension and suspense. And as the heroic, no-nonsense, helicopter pilot, R.J. MacReady, Russell shines. MacReady would end up becoming one of Russell’s most well-known and praised performances.

However, the most significant highlight that emerged from The Thing was its use of practical and creature effects. The thing itself was a truly horrendous creation, and its variations have been etched onto horror movie history. Created by Rob Bottin (The Fog) and veteran effects artist Stan Winston (Terminator 2, Aliens), the monstrous creations were initially received negatively by many due to their repulsive nature. Of course, that all changed. The picture was eventually considered an innovative film, one that helped pioneer the development of outstanding practical effects in filmmaking. Indeed, both Bottin and Winston put in creepy, fascinating, and admittedly grotesque work, and the film benefits from it immensely.

The Thing spawned novels, a comic book series, a video game, figurines and a so-so prequel; the longevity of the brand speaks volumes. It’s a fantastic watch that still holds up today. Watching it with a group of mates will still have everyone biting their nails as they await the creature’s next victim…just make sure everyone in your room is still human by the end of it.

No question: The Thing is the definition of classic science-fiction/horror.