The Thing (1982)


The Thing is a 1982 science fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter, written by Bill Lancaster, and starring Kurt Russell. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a parasitic extraterrestrial lifeform that assimilates other organisms and in turn imitates them. It infiltrates an Antarctic research station, taking the appearance of the researchers that it kills, and paranoia occurs within the group. Ostensibly a remake of the classic 1951 Howard Hawks-Christian Nyby film The Thing from Another World, Carpenter's film is a more faithful adaptation of the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which inspired the 1951 film. Carpenter considers The Thing to be the first part of his Apocalypse Trilogy, followed by Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness. Although the films are unrelated, each feature a potentially apocalyptic scenario; should "The Thing" ever reach civilization, it would be only a matter of time before it takes over the Earth. The theatrical box office performance of the film was poor. This has been attributed to many factors, including Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released at the time and features a more optimistic view of alien visitation. However, The Thing has gone on to gain a cult following with the release on home video. It was subsequently novelized in 1982, adapted into a comic book miniseries published by Dark Horse Comics, and was followed by a video game sequel in 2002, with a film prequel currently in the works.


In winter 1982, an American Antarctic research station is alerted by gunfire and explosions. Pursued by a Norwegian helicopter, an Alaskan Malamute makes its way into the camp as the science station's crew looks on in confusion. Through reckless use of a thermite charge, the helicopter is destroyed and its pilot killed shortly after landing. The surviving passenger fires at the dog with a rifle, grazing George Bennings (Peter Maloney), one of the researchers. The passenger is shot and killed by Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander. Not knowing what to make of the incident, the station crew adopts the dog. Unable to contact the outside world via hand radio, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Copper (Richard Dysart) risk a flight to the Norwegian camp to find it destroyed, its personnel missing or dead (some of them committed suicide). Finding evidence that the Norwegians had dug something out of the ice, the pair return to the station with the partially-burned remains of a hideous creature which bears some human features. An autopsy of the cadaver by Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley) is inconclusive, save to find that the creature had what appeared to be a normal set of human internal organs. At Bennings' request, the station's dog-handler, Clark (Richard Masur) kennels the stray with the rest of the station's sled dogs. Noises from the kennel cause Clark to return, finding almost the entire sled team in the process of being assimilated by the stray dog, which has transformed into a monster. MacReady summons the crew to the kennel and orders Childs (Keith David) to incinerate the creature with a flamethrower. A subsequent autopsy by Blair reveals that the stray dog was an alien capable of absorbing and perfectly imitating other life-forms. Realizing the implications of this, Blair quickly becomes withdrawn and suspicious of the others. A second helicopter expedition discovers an alien spacecraft unearthed by the Norwegian research team, revealing that the creature had awakened after being buried within the ice for thousands of years. Bennings and Windows (Thomas G. Waites) quarantine the remains of the dog-creature and the Norwegian cadaver in the storage room, but moments after leaving, strands of tentacle-like sinew emerged from the remains of the dog-creature and the Norwegian, and proceed to assimilate Bennings. The crew burns the Bennings replica before its transformation is complete. Discovering that all life on Earth would be assimilated in just over three years if the creature were to reach another continent, Blair goes berserk, destroying the helicopter and radio with an axe, and killing the remaining sled dogs, containing further contamination. The team overpowers him and confines him in the tool shed. With all contact to civilization cut off, the crew wonders how to determine who is still human. A torn shirt is found, confirming that the alien has indeed already assimilated at least one other person in the camp beside Bennings, but the name tag is torn out and the shirt cannot be matched to any one individual because they all wear the same size. Paranoia quickly sets in as the first attempt to develop a test using uncontaminated blood samples is sabotaged by an unknown party. Fuchs (Joel Polis), attempting to continue Blair's research, goes missing shortly after a power failure. Fuchs' body is found severely burned, MacReady speculates that Fuchs used a flare to burn himself before the Thing could get to him. MacReady comes under suspicion when a scrap of torn shirt containing his name tag is found at the camp, and he is locked outside in a severe blizzard. Somehow finding his way back to camp without a guide line, MacReady breaks into a storage room and threatens the rest of the crew with dynamite. In the course of the standoff, Norris (Charles Hallahan) suffers a heart attack. When Copper attempts to revive him by defibrillation, Norris' body transforms and kills Copper. Norris' head detaches from his body and the alien uses it in an attempt to escape as the others burn the body, leading MacReady to theorize that every piece of the alien is an individual animal with its own survival instinct. He then burns the head with his flamethrower. In an altercation that precedes a test proposed by MacReady, Clark in an act of mutiny tries to stab MacReady with a scalpel, but is shot in the head and killed by MacReady in self-defense. The rest of the crew complies with the test; blood samples are drawn from each member of the team including Copper and Clark and jabbed with a hot wire to see whose blood will react defensively. Upon Realizing that Clark was not infected, Childs begins to threaten McReady as a killer. Palmer (David Clennon), the backup pilot, is unmasked as an imitation, and manages to kill Windows before being destroyed by MacReady with dynamite, who also torches Windows' body with a flamethrower as it begins to transform. Confirming that MacReady, Childs, Garry, and Nauls (T.K. Carter) are still human, the surviving crew set out to the tool shed in order to administer the test to Blair, only to find that he has escaped by tunneling his way underground. They follow the path and discover that not only had Blair been assimilated, but he had been constructing a small flying vehicle of alien design underneath the tool shed in order to reach and infect the mainland. They return to the surface to witness Childs inexplicably abandoning his post at the main gate, followed by the facility losing power. Realizing that the creature now wants to freeze again so a future rescue team will find it, the remaining crew acknowledge that they will not survive and set about destroying the facility in hopes of killing the creature. While setting explosives in the underground generator room, Garry is killed by the infected Blair. Nauls follows the sounds of the creature and is never seen again. The only indication of Nauls' fate is sealed by a lone noise MacReady hears from the other underground chamber. Alone, MacReady prepares to detonate the charges when the creature, larger than ever, emerges from beneath the floor. MacReady attacks it with a stick of dynamite, which sets off the rest of the charges and destroys the entire facility. After some time, MacReady is shown wandering alone in the flaming rubble. He encounters Childs, who claims to have seen Blair and gotten lost while chasing him in the snow. With the polar climate closing in around them, they acknowledge the futility of their distrust, sharing a drink as the camp burns and the cold returns.