Having already established himself as a great director at creating atmosphere, with the likes of 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13, 1978’s Halloween and 1981’s Escape from New York, John Carpenter looked to the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, and the short story it was based on, Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell written in 1938, for the inspiration for his next project The Thing.
Starring Kurt Russell, it involved a crashed UFO in the Antarctic, close to a US research facility.
A team of researchers in a remote base in Antarctica are distracted by the kerfuffle made by a helicopter approaching them, with a huskie dog underneath running from it. And with good reason too, as the passenger of the helicopter is shooting at it.
The dog makes it to the US base, but those in the helicopter are less lucky, with their arrival having tragic consequences.
The team examine them and discover they are in fact Norwegian, and have travelled from a base around an hour away.
To understand what the hell happened, helicopter pilot MacReady (Russell) takes a few members of the team to their site, in an attempt to find out went wrong.
They arrive to find that the base is now empty, except for a number of dead bodies, which appear to have been mutilated somehow, possibly by some kind of creature.
Even on their return to their base, they can’t quite figure out what happened, but they soon get a better understanding when they are quickly made aware that they are not alone.
Having already helmed some box office belters, this superb, chilly and chilling offering from Carpenter appeared to be about as close to a sure thing, as it were, as you can get. Incredibly though, it not only tanked at the box office, it picked up some disappointing reviews.
It was only when it was released on the relatively new VHS format that allowed you to watch and keep films at home, that the film picked up good word of mouth and had some success.
This timely release, celebrating its fortieth anniversary no less, only strengthens the notion of how they got it so wrong at the time, as it has to be considered a true classic now.
Carpenter, possibly also leaning on the premise of 1979’s Alien, as he basically swapped space for Antarctica, crafting a hugely atmospheric scene, with an alien entity running around a remote base.
It’s a lesson in creating taut tension from a heady mix of isolation and paranoia, with impressive results.
It should also be applauded for its unconventional ending for a major studio release, with everything far from being wrapped up with a fleshy, stringy bow.
And although the film was released in 1982, its incredible special effects by Rob Bottin, are still a work of pure terror, and have just as much impact today as they did then. It also proves that although CGI has transformed effects beyond recognition, the techniques they used on this film, and others like it, still could put your hairs on end.
It’s a great ensemble piece too, despite Russell being the marquee name, the rest of the cast are all prominent, as the film becomes a kind of sci-fi whoisit.
And although Carpenter often composed his own music for his work, those duties were skilfully left to the genius Ennio Morricone, with a score that defines the less is more school of thought.
Considering that the film has turned forty, you wouldn’t know it to look at it, especially with this 4K restoration presentation, as it still remains a masterclass in horror.