In the summer of 1982, audiences flocked to theaters to spend time with a visitor from outer space named E.T. Around the same time, another visitor for the depths of space was also stalking multiplexes, but he was far less warm and fuzzy as E.T., and went by the name The Thing. Although it was not a box-office success upon original release, John Carpenter's remake of the Hollywood horror classic has gone on to achieve cult success over the years, and stands as one of the scariest horror films I have seen to date.
Based on a short story by famed science-fiction author John W. Campbell, Jr., entitled 'Who Goes There?', The Thing was brought to the screen in the 1950's by famed producer-director Howard Hawks in what is viewed as a seminal horror classic, although it heavily deviated from the source material, and generally doesn't stand up to scrutiny for modern audiences. When bringing a new version to the screen, Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster stuck closer to the source story and crafted a tale of paranoia and isolation that works on your nerves and rarely gives you a moment to relax throughout it's running time
Set at an American Antarctic research station in the dead of winter, The Thing opens with two Norwegian scientists from a nearby station chasing a dog across the barren wasteland in a helicopter, attempting to shoot it. They arrive at the American camp and in their attempt to kill the dog appear to attack the members of the American party and are themselves killed in the process. Curious about what would lead the Norwegian scientists to follow such a strange course of action, the American expedition's doctor, Copper (Richard Dysart) and helicopter pilot Macready (Kurt Russell) make their way to the Norwegian camp and discover it destroyed and all members of the expedition dead, some in rather mysterious ways. They also come across a video recording of a recent dig the Norwegian's performed at a nearby site as well as a block of ice that was carved out of the ground and appears to have contained something approximately human-sized. Copper and Macready then investigate the dig site and discover a large saucer shaped space craft in the ice. They quickly determine that the object in the ice was a creature from another planet that was excavated and thawed out, and shortly thereafter, the dog that the Norwegian's were chasing reveals it's true nature: an alien shape-shifter that can take on any appearance it chooses, and can spread to multiple individuals at the same time, essentially replicating itself at will. Blair (Wilford Brimley), the lead scientist, upon discovery of this fact destroys the expedition's radio and all means of transport with the intention of ensuring that the alien does not spread to the outside world, knowing that if that were to happen, humanity itself would fall, replaced by replicating things.
The Thing is, much like the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a film that asks the most basic of questions: Can you trust the person sitting next to you? As realized by Carpenter and Lancaster, The Thing keeps you guessing and unsure of all the characters throughout the film, constantly putting them in situations that could lead to them being consumed by the thing, or just as easily not, leaving the audience unsure of who is human and who isn't. The tables are turned on characters several times through the film, causing our belief of who is and isn't infected to constantly be in a sense of motion. One of the film's strongest aspects is that most of the characters, while not supremely well defined, are given enough personality and individuality for us to root for them to come out of the ordeal alive, giving us a stronger stake in the events on screen. If we didn't care for these characters at all, the tension and suspense wouldn't work nearly as well.
The film is also helped by a strong sense of isolation. Like many horror films, such as Alien, placing the characters in an environment with no way out gives you an even greater sense of unease, and you can feel how the characters are trapped by their surroundings, as well as by each other.
One aspect of the Thing that was groundbreaking at the time was the make-up effects crafted by Rob Bottin. In the early '80s there was a rash of films that were based around elaborate make-up effects, and The Thing is one of the standouts. Almost all the make-up effects are spectacular and create the appropriate sense of revulsion and horror that they should. Some audience members will be turned away by the sometimes extreme nature of the effects, but they are actually much less bloody and disgusting than countless other horror films that came about as the decade went on. What is featured in The Thing does not feel gratuitous.
Most of the performers in the Thing were character actors who were not big name stars, but they all do the job well. Kurt Russell, a longtime collaborator of Carpenter's, is effectively low-key and straight in the face of some rather incredible situations as the film progresses. He grounds us in the film and makes us believe what is happening on screen. Wilford Brimley is also notable for his performance as Blair, a man who understands the implications of the situation they are in and slowly goes mad because of it.
While hardly the most original horror film, The Thing is an effective entry in the genre, and one that is worth seeing if you like being scared.
Review by rparham from the Internet Movie Database.