Scientists in the Antarctic are confronted by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills. (IMDB synopsis)
Onto Body Horror! This one has been on my list for years. A bit of background information: it’s related to an old black and white film called The Thing From Another World, and both movies were based on a short story called Who Goes There? There’s also a prequel to The Thing which I probably won’t be seeing. Not that all prequels are bad – Prometheus did well, apparently – but they’re not my cup of tea. Sorry.
The film begins with a mysterious metal craft headed towards Earth. Next, a Norwegian guy in a helicopter chases a dog across frozen landscapes towards a research station, and I am immediately suspicious of said dog.
The group of American scientists within the station are isolated from all human contact and pass much of the time playing ping-pong and computer chess. Our hero, MacReady, sporting the most magnificent beard in all of Antarctica, pours his glass of scotch into the computer’s mouth when it wins their chess game. So THAT’S the kind of guy we’re dealing with.
Anyway, Helicopter Guy continues to shoot at the dog and accidentally blows up his chopper in the process. The scientists salvage what they can from the burnt-out husk and then discover what awful thing has happened to the rest of the Norwegian camp. Soon enough, the dog is revealed to be a shape-shifting, assimilating and imitating alien lifeform that threatens the lives of everyone on Planet Earth unless it can be contained and destroyed.
There are two things I really love about this film above all else. Number one: the fantastic sense of paranoia that occurs between the group of scientists. The alien they’re dealing with can imitate its host perfectly, meaning any one of them could be the alien. Not only that, but it can appear to be dead, which just adds another layer of ‘ohhhh bother’ to their situation. I love the measures they go to, especially MacReady, to find the Thing among them and kill it with fire. No, literally. That’s the only way to kill it, as severed limbs and heads can go scuttling off on their own.
Which brings me to number two: the practical effects. I LOVED looking at all the, hm, expressive remains of the Thing-stricken scientists and dog. Even better are the transformation scenes, when the Thing’s identity is discovered and it’s forced to manifest itself in the goriest way possible. Every time this happened, my grandparents, who were watching with me, recoiled in shock and disgust. (Mwah ha ha!) I’ll be honest, I had seen clips of the defibrillation scene before, so that one didn’t shock me, but I still found it technically impressive, for more reasons than one. Overall, the production team used a nice mixture of stop-motion animation, puppetry, makeup effects and animatronics, and in one autopsy scene, real animal organs were used. I’m not surprised one of the effects designers had to have time off due to exhaustion. The amount of work that went into it is immense! And still impressive today. Well done, lads.
What else can I say? The musical score is nice; the suspense is great; the effects… oh, the effects. I even enjoy the very ending, which was surprisingly ambiguous and restrained. If I had to nitpick, I would say that the characters seem to be sensible and genre-savvy for the most part, and yet they really enjoy splitting up, all the time, even though everyone’s aware that the Thing needs to catch each scientist on his own to absorb and imitate him. Randy from Scream would never get caught out by this Thing, I feel.
A thing of beauty and a joy forever. Well worth getting your own DVD copy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some special features to watch! Yum yum yum.
9 jam sandwiches.
Oh, and before I forget: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8faq5amdK30