John Carpenter’s The Thing is the first film in his Apocalypse Trilogy, followed by Prince of Darkness and In The Mouth of Madness. Each of these depicts an apocalyptic scenario… such as, say, the first idea which would surely spring to mind is an alien that consumes and transforms into potentially the entire human race, one by one?
Reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft, the eerie and desolate landscape of the Antarctic presents itself as the perfect location; where else would an alien spaceship (of which there is a spectacular shot) conveniently land millions of years ago, held in ice, and where else would an isolated group of bearded scientists (including Kurt Russell as R. J. MacReady) be spending their time working on research? And guess what, the radio signals are screwed up too. Fantastic.
After encountering a supposedly insane Norwegian man at their station, two of the scientists trek out into the abyss of the Antarctic. With little need for dialogue, Carpenter has the sinister and otherworldly discoveries speak for themselves. Once the alien life form has started infiltrating the group, without scientific tests it is impossible to tell which man the alien has inhabited. Frenzy and one scientist’s insanity ensues as they no longer trust each other. All that remains which is true is the snow and ice. The Thing portrays the cruelty of a lack of free will, and chills the audience with the knowledge that if the alien creature was unleashed into the civilized world, the entire population would be obliterated in its subsuming path.
The monstrous effects are faultless. If there is a film which persistently pushed the standards of special effects at its time, the answer is The Thing. Hand-puppets, marionettes, hydraulics, pull cables and more – they used it. Strawberry jam, mayonnaise, bubble gum, gelatin, cream corn, food thickener – these are the ingredients required to make an alien, and a damn good one at that. Probably tastes disgusting though, and combines to form something that, after being trapped in ice for 100,000 years, is severely in need of a bath, a toothbrush and an enema. What really raises the neck hairs are the various mid-transformation ‘things’ – made from special effects models which displayed a being that was neither human nor alien, the creatures unnerve the characters and audience alike. The FX team leaves us with some iconic scenes such as the giant monster and the attempt to resuscitate Norris, which are ridiculously hilarious, especially now you know it’s all bubble gum and jam.
It may sound absolutely bizarre and juxtaposed but there is something quietly natural about the science fiction plot of The Thing, compared to the myriad of horror films where the evil is located in the supernatural, or the things you cannot see. There is a limit to that on Earth which can be fantasized about, but as outer space continues to be foreign and unknown, there are an infinite number of potential stories which I challenge you to disprove. The fact that there is a tangible – albeit slimy, unattractive and biologically confounding – thing which the audience can swallow, makes Carpenter’s The Thing an incredible horror piece within cinematic history, one which you can easily allow yourself to be consumed by. Be careful kids, ‘the chameleon strikes in the dark’…