Too many films are given the epithet of ‘classic’ epithet, but John Carpenter’s The Thing is one film that justifies the hype.
With its characters marooned in the frozen wastes of Antarctica, the horror supremo superbly conveys the paranoia and fear that infects the group as they try to tackle the monster hiding in their midst.
The tension is complemented by an understated Morricone score, great ensemble acting and the mind-blowing special effects courtesy of Rob Bottin.
Still, the effects wizardry we’re most interested in is the exploding helicopter. This occurs near the start of the film. We see a sniper perched in a Norwegian helicopter try and fail to shoot a dog they’re chasing across the frozen snowy wastes.
They land at the American’s base 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 its nihilistic denouement, the helicopter explosion is decidedly lacklustre. The special effects fireball 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 the shooting and grenade throwing is an understandable danger to the camp.
If only someone spoke Norwegian, and 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."
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 Kurt Russell’s character 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 may be a legend, but he 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 (Kurt Russell) 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.