Kurt Russell plays MacReady a hard drinkin’, risk taskin’, beard totin’ scientist marooned out in the frozen wastes of Antarctica with a rag-tag team of scientists who suddenly find a shape-shifting, bodysnatching alien in their camp who is taking them over one by one.
Too many films are giving the “classic” epithet but horror supremo John Carpenter’s The Thing justifies the hype with his low-budget sensibilities remaining intact despite the Hollywood gloss. He superbly conveys the paranoia and fear of group cut off from help with a monster in their midst who could be any one of them.
An understated Morricone score combined with great ensemble acting and some mind blowing special effects from Rob Bottin whose imagination was allowed to run riot ensures the film stands the test of time.
At the very start of the film we see a sniper mounted in a Norwegian helicopter attempt and fail to shoot a dog after chasing it across the frozen wastes of Antarctica. They touch down at MacReady’s base camp in order to finish off the job. The sniper attempts to throw a Thermite grenade at the dog but comically loses his grip and lets it slip out of his hand. We see him desperately scrabble about in the snow to retrieve it while the pilot legs it. The grenade goes off followed a split second later by the helicopter.
Whilst the film is a tour-de-force from its stark beginnings to the nihilistic denouement the helicopter explosion is decidedly lacklustre and is about as impressive as a lit fart.
Exploding helicopter innovation
A stationary helicopter is blown up in the snow. Poorly. The end.
Do passengers survive?
The idiot who cack-handily drops the Thermite deservedly ends up in a million fiery pieces. The pilot who is outside of blast range lives a few minutes more until he is shot through the eye by Garry (Donald Moffat) who thinks all this shooting and grenade throwing is an understandable danger to the camp. If only anyone spoke Norwegian they would have heard the sniper shout:
"Get the hell away! It's not a dog! It's a thing! It's imitating a dog! It's not real! Get away you idiots."
and this whole sorry mess could have been avoided.
The scene is great even though the explosion is not. The helicopter chase across the frozen wastelands sets us for the isolated paranoia that is to follow.
As Macready picks through the mangled remains of the chopper he spots at least 15 tanks of kerosene in the wreckage that could have made this a monster fireball yet the explosion we see is pathetic. John Carpenter fumbles the ball on this one.
After the disembodied head of Norris (Charles Hallahan) drops off the table, sprouts legs and attempts to crawl it’s was out of the room Palmer (Dave Clennon) utters the immortal line
“you’ve got to be f*****g kidding!”
At the end of the film Macready sits in the blazing remains of the burnt out camp with Childs (Keith Davids) both of whom unsure if the other is a shape-shifter and know that when the fires go out they will probably freeze to death.
Due to its macabre ending film editor Todd C. Ramsay suggested filming a happy conclusion for test audiences that sees Macready rescued and given a blood test proving he was human. The scene was shot but Carpenter didn’t like it and it has never seen the light of day.