When you watch a John Carpenter film, one of either two things is equally plausible in happening: you either love it beyond reason, or you detest it with all that you feel. Given the two extremes that these are, it would be safe to say that there is no middle ground when it comes to Carpenter’s films. ‘The Thing’ is a film that has been on either ends of the wide spectrum amid much discussion and deliberation, and has still left room for some more of the same. As of now, it’s been quite some time since the film was released, and a tour down the lane recounting the tumultuous journey of this film from what was termed to be the most hated film of all time to a cult classic and one of the best horror films ever made would seem all but necessary.
Back when the film released in 1982, it didn’t polarise audiences, instead uniting them in their common hatred for the film. Critics too echoed that sentiment and the film was quickly labelled as one of the worst films of the 80s atleast. Terms like “quintessential moron movie of the 80s”, “instant junk”, “cold and sterile”, “wretched excess” and the like were thrown around for the film, and the meagre box office returns mirrored the same. The impacts too were almost immediate. John Carpenter lost out on a couple of directing jobs after the film’s perceived failure, and had to return to low budget filmmaking, a subgenre of sorts where too the director didn’t fail to make his mark. The film, however experienced a resurgence and was seen in a different light when it was released on home media, almost overnight. Let me leave you hanging at that very thought as I vow to return to the specifics of its initial failure and resurgence, and which of the two vastly polarised sides find my biding in a later section. For now, we begin discussing the film itself. Read on.
It is reasonable to assume that since you are here, you already know what happens in the film. ‘The Thing’ is based on the 1938 novel by John W. Campbell Jr. ‘Who Goes There’, earlier adapted to screen in 1951 under the title ‘The Thing from Another World’. In that, the 1982 film would also be termed as a remake of the 1951 version. The plot involves an extra-terrestrial being, eponymously titled so, capable of assimilating, ‘digesting’ and imitating the organism it has ingested. At the centre of the story is a group of American researchers and their helicopter pilot in Antarctica, who encounter the Thing, and now must deal with it and some of their own comrades who may have been infected by the parasitic entity.
The origins of the otherworldly entity may be traced back to close to a hundred thousand years, when the space vessel shown in the beginning of the film may have crash landed on the Antarctic continent with the purpose of assimilating an intelligent population, and as is revealed later, take over the world through steady growth. The vessel is discovered by a Norwegian scout group in the Antarctic where they encounter the Thing and meet an ill-fated end. The Thing makes its way from the Norwegian camp to a US research station by assuming the identity of a husky dog, infiltrating the station and beginning his reign of terror on the men there. What ensues is a gory struggle to contain the Thing from propagating itself and taking other hostages, and genuine paranoid fear as the comrades begin turning on each other when pressure mounts and some tough decisions are made.