There was a time when writer/director John Carpenter was on top of the world. After releasing his masterpiece “Halloween” (still the greatest horror film ever made) in 1978, he followed it up with others that many consider to be classics in his filmography, including “The Fog,” “Escape from New York,” and “The Thing.” This is not to say that he didn’t make any good films after this, for he did churn out a couple more beloved cult classics in the late 80’s with “Big Trouble in Little China” and “They Live,” but usually when most people talk about Carpenter, it’s in reference to his classic period of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
One of his films from this time that remains one of his most talked about is “The Thing,” a remake of the older film “The Thing from Another World” from 1951 (both based on “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.). As it approaches its 35th anniversary, there seems to be no better time to go back and explore why this little film has enjoyed the longevity that it has, with many even proclaiming it to be one of the best (if not THE best) horror film of the 80’s. Is it really deserving of such high praise? Let’s dive in and find out.
The story follows a group of researchers at a station in Antarctica that includes MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), and their leader, Garry (Donald Moffat). It’s a day like any other day, that is, until a Norwegian helicopter swoops in while trying to shoot a dog. When it lands, one of the passengers accidentally blows it up (along with himself) with a grenade, while the other is shot and killed by Garry. The incident leads them to search the Norwegians’ base, where they discover a gruesome site, in addition to a bizarre creature that they bring back to study.
After the dog they rescued suddenly transforms into a freakish creature and attacks the other dogs, MacCready is forced to incinerate it. This prompts Dr. Blair to perform another autopsy on the creature they found, eventually leading him to discover that it was trying to imitate one of the Norwegians. They quickly realize that this means this thing could imitate any of them, and that, if it were to reach a heavily-populated area, it would mean disaster. From here, it becomes a desperate attempt to locate the creature and stop it by any means necessary, even if it means sacrificing the lives of the entire research team.
John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is one of those rare instances where the remake is actually better than the original film. No doubt “The Thing from Another World” has its fans, and while it uses the same source material as Carpenter’s film, it merely ends up being a mostly dull affair that’s never really able to bring out the tension in the scenario, a problem that the remake certainly never ran into 30 years later.
Indeed, the story here is one that should be filled with tension, dread, paranoia, and plenty of thrills, all of which are included in Carpenter’s classic horror film. From the odd opening scene of the Norwegians trying to shoot down a seemingly-normal dog from a helicopter, we are drawn into the mystery, and once it’s finally revealed what’s really going on, the sense of unease becomes palpable as the large group of researchers begins to question if their friends are still themselves.
This leads to plenty of classic scenes of mistrust and paranoia, most famously played out in a scene in which MacCready forces everyone to undergo a blood test to see who has been infected by the thing. For those watching it for the first time, it’s the kind of scene in which one can hear a pin drop as you wait with anticipation to see if someone’s not who they say they are, or to see if the test even works at all. Let’s just say, when we do get the results of the test, it becomes a scene that you’re not likely to forget any time soon.
The story does slow down somewhat when it comes to the film’s final act, where the survivors are truly going all-out to wipe the thing off the face of the Earth, but if we’re being honest, the story is not the real reason why Carpenter’s film has become a classic in the nearly 35 years since its release. I think it can easily be said that the real reason most revisit the film is due to its jaw-dropping special effects, which is actually the other half of why the blood-testing scene is perhaps the most remembered from the entire film.
From the moment we first see that dog transform into a hideous, tentacled, goo-spewing creature, we know we are going to be in for something rather special. Oscar nominee Rob Bottin (“Legend,” “The Howling”) goes all out to deliver some of the most memorable effects that have ever been put to screen, including another transformation during the test scene that will leave you wondering just how much more wild it will get. It’ll also leave you wondering how in the world it didn’t manage to get an Oscar nod for makeup or visual effects, but regardless of that, it remains very impressive work, particularly for the time period.
Aside from this, the film also features the usual fine-handed direction from Carpenter and excellent cinematography from Doug Cundey (the same DP who shot “Halloween”), making it an all-around very-well-crafted film. It may be remembered more so for its outstanding effects than it is for its paranoia-infused narrative, but it remains a classic that can be enjoyed from several angles, including its technical prowess. With all of this, it’s not that hard to see why “The Thing” is still one of Carpenter’s most talked about films, even a few decades after its release. I don’t think I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the very best horror films of the 80’s, but with such unforgettable imagery, there’s no doubting that it leaves a major impact.
John Carpenter’s “The Thing” comes to Collector’s Edition Blu-ray in a 2.35:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of outstanding quality. The transfer included here is a new 2K scan of the interpositive that was supervised by Dean Cundey himself, ensuring that the film looks the way it was always meant to. Of course, with the film being this old, there’s a little grain to be found in the image, but it doesn’t take away anything from how great it looks. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is equally excellent, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and Ennio Morricone’s eerie score in fantastic quality. Overall, Scream Factory has given the film top-notch treatment, which will surely please the film’s many fans.
Audio Commentary with Director of Photography Dean Cundey: An interesting commentary in which the cinematographer reminisces about making the film, providing a lot of neat behind the scenes info in the process.
Audio Commentary with Co-Producer Stuart Cohen: Another intriguing commentary in which the producer delivers a lot of interesting background info on the film.
Audio Commentary with Director John Carpenter and Actor Kurt Russell: The third and most entertaining of the commentaries in which the director and star give their thoughts on the making of the film.
Theatrical and Teaser Trailers
TV and Radio Spots
Requiem for a Shape Shifter (29 Minutes): A fascinating conversation between filmmaker Mick Garris and director John Carpenter in which they discuss the background of the film.
The Men of Outpost 31 (51 Minutes): A wonderful set of interviews with the cast of the film.
Assembling and Assimilation (11 Minutes): An interview with editor Todd Ramsay in which he discusses assembling the film.
Behind the Chameleon (25 Minutes): An outstanding look at the film’s incredible special effects.
Sounds from the Cold (15 Minutes): A featurette that explores the film’s sound design.
Between the Lines (16 Minutes): A featurette in which author Alan Dean Foster discusses “Who Goes There?” and its author John W. Campbell Jr.
The Art of Mike Ploog (12 Minutes): A collection of artwork from the man who helped storyboard much of the film, in addition to contributing to creature designs.
Back into the Cold (11 Minutes): A featurette that revisits the filming locations of “The Thing.”
Outtakes (5 Minutes): A collection of takes that weren’t used in the final film.
Vintage Featurettes (13 Minutes): Just as the title says, these are some vintage featurettes that include old interviews with the cast and crew from around the time of the film’s making and release.
Vintage Product Reel (20 Minutes): A rather pointless inclusion that basically summarizes the film in 20 minutes.
Vintage Behind-the-Scenes Footage (2 Minutes): Some neat, though very brief, behind the scenes footage shot on the set of the film.
Annotated Production Archive (54 Minutes): A collection of behind the scenes photos.
Network TV Broadcast Version of The Thing (94 Minutes): The TV cut of the film that runs about 15 minutes shorter than the theatrical cut.
John Carpenter’s The Thing: Terror Takes Shape (84 Minutes): An outstanding, feature-length “making of” documentary that features tons of interviews with the cast and crew.
The Making of a Chilling Tale (5 Minutes): Another brief vintage “making of” featurette.
The Making of The Thing (9 Minutes): Another, slightly longer, “making of” featurette that is very similar to the previous featurette.
John Carpenter’s “The Thing” boasts outstanding special effects, skilled direction and cinematography, and a tension-filled story, making for one of the legendary director’s most cherished works. As usual, Scream Factory has done an exquisite job putting together a Collector’s Edition that fans will thoroughly enjoy, including not only the film in excellent quality, but also a ton of great special features that give you a fantastic behind the scenes look at Carpenter’s classic. If you’re one of the many that count this as one of your favorite horror flicks, then it’s most definitely worth picking up on day one.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.