It’s hard to believe that 40 years have passed since the release of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
A tale of snowy isolation and creeping paranoia, The Thing follows a group of 12 men at an Antarctic research station who find themselves besieged by a thawed-out alien life-form capable of replicating any living organism. It wants to take them over and head for more populated areas until the whole world is absorbed.
“We went back to the origin of the story, which is the imitation,” Carpenter says. “It wasn’t a big Frankenstein monster, it was a creature that can imitate other life-forms perfectly. It’s a lot more complex and different than the first film.”
The slow erosion of trust between the characters leads to in-fighting and violence as the alien, which can only be eliminated with fire, begins to pick them off — all while assuming a number of gruesome forms it has learned to mimic from a lifetime spent traversing the universe. This utilization of a frozen locale and horrific extra-terrestrial being of unfathomable origin may conjure up the cosmic dread of At the Mountains of Madness (published two years before Who Goes There?). However, Carpenter insists that the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft were “not really” on his mind while making The Thing.
The effectiveness of the titular creature comes down to the incomparable work of Mr. Rob Bottin, whose trailblazing (not to mention nightmarish) creature designs set a new benchmark for practical effects. “He said, ‘Well, the Thing can look like anything.’ I thought about it and [came to the conclusion of], ‘Well, that’s true because it’s been throughout the universe. Whatever’s it imitated, it can pull it up,'” the director explains. “So why have one Thing? It’s a constantly changing creature.”
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