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<Movie Details
5 February 2009 by Rob Daniel

Unleashed in 1982, John Carpenter's sci-fi horror masterpiece was trounced by an altogether more cuddly interstellar being, Spielberg's E.T.

But, The Thing is now recognised as a nerve-shredding masterpiece of suspense, paranoia and astonishing special effects.

Kurt Russell heads up an all-male cast, stuck and bored at a research centre in the wastes of Antarctica.

But, when a wolf hound flees to their base, the men unwittingly play host to something monstrous, a malevolent alien that can take the form of anything it comes into contact with.

The film is John Carpenter's finest hour and its initial failure ended a run of classic films that began with Assault on Precinct 13 and included Halloween and Escape from New York.

But, Carpenter can console himself with the knowledge he gave the 1980s one of its best movies, and horror cinema some of its most iconic moments.

What is most remembered about The Thing are these spectacular scenes of body horror, from the fertile imagination of splatter sfx guru Rob Bottin at the behest of a director disappointed with Alien turning out to be a man in a suit.

The titular whatsit is able to imitate other life forms but has a flagrant disregard for anatomical correctness: a stomach splits open to reveal a razor-toothed jaw, a dog explodes in a lethal mass of teeth and tentacles, and in the most audience-friendly bit of grand guignol, a detached head sprouts spider legs and scuttles away from the dropped-jawed men.

But, as with the best of Carpenter, The Thing is more than the sum of its body parts.

Tension is expertly wracked up from a low-key opening and slimy set-pieces are held back until characters and paranoia have been suitably established.

As much fun comes from trying guess just who is The Thing as from watching the gore fly, and subsequent viewings reveal different characters who have been taken over swapping knowing looks at various points.

Tarantino cites this movie as a key influence on Reservoir Dogs; a bunch of guys in one location, trying to find out who isn't all they appear to be and destroying themselves in the process, and Ennio Morricone's Carpenteresque synth score was recently homaged in The Descent.

Bill (son of Burt) Lancaster's intelligent script ignores Howard Hawks' original The Thing from Another World, and goes back to the original John W. Campbell short story Who Goes There, which had the shape-shifting plot the first film could not transfer to the big screen.

There are allegories for those who want them; social alienation, fear of disease, over-reliance on science, and today it could stand for fear of terrorism or a prying government.

Carpenter believes it's nothing more than simply a well-made Western with snow instead of sand, but he's underselling himself.

The Thing is a masterpiece: a black comedy, monster movie, conspiracy thriller and whodunit.