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For, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: A new Blu-ray special edition of John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ has been released by Scream, a distribution arm of the Shout! Factory. Here’s my review for its original release, published in the Deseret News on July 6, 1982. Over the years my feelings about this film have softened. I still find it way over the top but it’s also a genuine chiller that gets better with repeat viewings.

“The Thing” is excellent examples of state-of-the-art special effects, but also represents a perfect example of what can happen to a promising film when effects take over and story and character are shoved in the background.

No one has looked forward to “The Thing” with greater anticipation than I have, since the project was first announced last year. The original 1951 Howard Hawks classic is a personal favorite and I have greatly admired John Carpenter’s work ever since I first saw “Halloween” in 1977.

But Carpenter’s version of “The Thing” is, as you may have read elsewhere, all glop and goo. So much so that it’s a fatal mistake.

Carpenter excels at subtlety. Though the clones that followed were generally real gorefests, “Halloween” itself is relatively tame, with most of the violence inferred or occurring in darkness. “The Fog” has virtually no on-screen violence, but rather sound effects off-camera. And though “Escape From New York” has a few violent scenes, it is far from what Carpenter has chosen to do with “The Thing.”

The beginning of Carpenter’s “The Thing” (which opens with the title burning into the screen, an obvious homage to Hawks’ film, which begins the same way) builds in a curious and exciting manner, with the members of an American research team in Antarctica observing a Norwegian helicopter chasing a seemingly innocent sled dog across snow banks.


       Kurt Russell doesn't see 'The Thing' behind him.

The Norwegians in the chopper so maniacally pursue the dog, shooting at it blindly, that they eventually cause their own doom. The dog stays at the American station, and begins hanging around the mess hall and the game room.

Our first hint that this film is not to continue in as subtle a manner as it began is when the dog is confined to a cage with the other dogs. The dog suddenly splits open and a wormy, tentacled, slimy creature bursts forth (heavens to “Alien”) and begins taking over one of the other dogs.

From that metamorphosis, the creature takes on several shapes, from skinned half-dog to giant spider to giant pizza with an eye in the middle — and that’s just the beginning.

Further into the show, we get such delights as a steaming, burned hunk of twisted bones and flesh, with a half-melted face; a doctor’s arms are chopped off when his hands go through another man’s chest; a man’s head stretches off his body in a bizarre variation of a taffy pull, then it lashes out with a tentacled tongue and eventually sprouts spider legs to walk away.

You may not want to purchase a treat from the snack bar before viewing this film.


Utah actor Wilford Brimley (billed as A. Wilford Brimley), 'The Thing'

Carpenter does conjure up some genuine scares – there are a couple of real jolts – but by the end of this picture we don’t much care. None of the characters are developed enough so that we understand or care about them, and that’s especially a problem with Kurt Russell as the hero. But it’s also rather sad, considering the number of fine actors there are here in other roles (Salt Lake’s own A. Wilford Brimley plays the most interesting character, and it’s a genuine shame to see it so underdeveloped).

It’s one thing to focus on special effects that are fascinating or even thrilling — but most here are merely repulsive. What good is an art form that just causes people to turn away?

It should also be mentioned that though “Alien” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” owe a debt to the original “The Thing” — and its basis in print, “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. — this new “Thing” seems overly derivative.

There is an excellent music score, an eerie series of electronic movements by Ennio Morricone (“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”).

“The Thing” is rated R for obvious reasons (and some gratuitous profanity).