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If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was me?
John Carpenter's 1982 film The Thing is a much more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There" than the original adaptation, Howard Hawks' 1951 production The Thing from Another World. It focuses on twelve men who are stuck in an Antarctic camp for the winter of 1982. After finding that the neighbouring Norwegian camp has been mysteriously destroyed, they realize that a deadly alien life form is on the loose. Most terrifying of all is the fact that this alien can change shape, infecting a person on a molecular level and then relentlessly absorbing and duplicating their cells, imitating them from the inside out until there is nothing human left. Therefore, at least one among them may be the Thing.
While a commercial and critical bomb when it was first released, The Thing is a remarkable example of what time can do for a film. These days, it is very well known and has been very successful on VHS and DVD. It is also generally ranked amongst the greatest horror films ever made.
In a serious case of either Tempting Fate or Paranoia Fuel, The Thing (along with The Shining) is screened every year for those "wintering-over" at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, after the last plane leaves them in the long winter blackout.
A Prequel focusing on the Norwegian camp prior to the events of this film was released in 2011, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Halloween Horror Nights 2007 in Orlando introduced a house that was a sequel to the movie, featuring the alien being moved to a new research station in Florida, but whether or not it is canon is unclear (most likely not). Another house, based on the prequel movie, is due to be at this year's event.
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: Inverted. Norris goes from slackjawed heroes to overweight.
- Adaptational Badass: The Thing.
- Adaptational Villainy: Downplayed, but MacReady is a far more amoral character than his literary counterpart.
- Adaptational Wimp: Norris in the original story was an all American muscular hero, as much a threat to the Things as MacReady. Here, he’s pudgy and rather meek, the complete opposite.
- Alien Blood: Every cell of The Thing will try to defend itself, as opposed to regular human blood, which is inert. This is part of the basic nature of the Thing; even when it's replaced multiple people, each individual will act independently. In essence, every cell of the Thing is the Thing as a whole. In the original short story, people repeatedly make the mistake of assuming that you can't be a Thing if you attack a Thing.
- Badass : MacReady. All the other characters get more and more paranoid and scared, while MacReady just gets more determined to kill the creature. He never freaks out and screams when he sees it, instead spouting some humorous one-liners.
- Badass Normal: Everyone, whenever they fight the thing, but especially Mac, who manages to go toe-to-toe with it.
- Badass Beard/Badass Long Hair: Mac
- Black Dude Dies First: Inverted. Of the two black dudes, both survive into the final act, when there are four humans left including them. One is the last guy to die, and the other is one of the two survivors in the final scene.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to the 1950's film... and compared to a hell of a lot of horror films at the time. However it wasn't trying to be a remake of The Thing From Another World, which was a loose adaptation of the short story and didn't include the shapeshifter/body horror aspect. A lot of the gore isn't actually from humans being killed. The gore mostly comes from the horrible transformations the alien goes through.
- Body Horror: And how! This film is infamous for its transformation sequences. A head skittering about on spider legs is perhaps the most tame example. Carpenter actually had to cut in a Precision F-Strike to make that scene watchable by his standards, and is extremely unhappy cable airings cut it out.
- Boom! Headshot!: Clarke, when he tries to stab MacReady, gets one of these.
- Bilingual Bonus: The Norwegian pilot explains that the dog is a shapeshifting Thing right in the opening scene.
- Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the film the characters have lost so much it isn't worth it to be paranoid anymore. On the plus side, the Thing is probably dead. On the downside, they soon will be, too. This is the good ending. John Carpenter felt it was inspiring that each of the survivors were willing to give their lives to save the rest of the world.
- Butt Monkey: Bennings.
- Chairman of the Brawl: Blair attacks with a chair when the rest of the team rushes him in the radio room.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: When we meet MacReady, he loses a game of chess to the computer, accuses it of being a "cheating bitch", and then pours whiskey into the CPU. MacReady's character will destroy the game rather than lose it - which is what he does at the end of the movie, burning down the camp in order to deny the Thing victory. This was noted in an article in Script Magazine.
- Composite Character: Bennings served as a Mauve Shirt in the original short story, but here he gets the role of Connant, the first character assimilated after the discovered Thing thaws out.
- The Corpse Stops Here: Although for once this is actually a rather sensible policy, given that the "corpse" is a really contagious alien organism. Clark becomes prime suspect #1 due to his creepy behavior and prolonged exposure to the infected dogs. Funnily enough, after MacReady kills him in self-defense it turns out he was human all along.
- Darker and Edgier: Much more so than the Howard Hawkes version.
- Daylight Horror: Somewhat. The base is entering a polar winter so beyond a certain point in the movie its just dark all the time. The alien usually attacks when it happens to be dark outside. However, some of the most intense scenes in the movie happen in the well-lit interiors of the base in plain view.
- Deadpan Snarker: Palmer and MacReady get a lot of digs in.
- Death by Adaptation: Dr. Copper and Norris actually survive in "Who Goes There", with Norris even saying the story's last lines. Bennings also served as a Mauve Shirt who accompanied the heroes, and dissapeared after the blood tests.
- Distress Call: The Norwegian camp got it out far too late.
- Downer Ending: In some versions edited for broadcast on TNT/TBS, an Alternate Ending is included that is much grimmer than the original cut. After fading to black on the burning camp, the camera fades up again on a husky running across the Antarctic landscape. So not only is everyone dead but the Thing definitely survived. Can be seen here.
- Dwindling Party: By the end, only two people are alive and one is unaccounted for.
- Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion: The Thing crash lands into just about the only place in the world where it wouldn't be easy to completely take over all life on the planet. There is hardly any life around to assimilate, and it freezes before it can get to any. The men who excavate it also have flamethrowers, which is the only reliable way to kill it.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Thing either aproaches this or embodies it completely.
- Eye Scream: The Norwegian is shot in the eye.
- The End - or Is It?: Even after 25 years, fans still debate if the last survivors were infected, allowing the Thing to possibly live to assimilate once more.
- Executive Meddling: An extremely bizarre example: the basic cable edit actually makes the movie a lot bleaker and nastier. Carpenter hates it for precisely this reason.
- Face Palm of Doom: A painful-looking variation by Blair.
- Fire-Breathing Weapon: Ah, the flamethrower...
- From a Single Cell: In theory, all it takes is one Thing cell to infect someone. Alan Dean Foster, in the novelization, seemed to think this is implausible, and has Blair talk in detail on the subject. Of course, that depends on whether you think Blair was still trustworthy at that point. Ultimately it's left up to fans to decide what pseudoscience to believe.
- Genre Savvy:
- MacReady figures out how the Thing operates quite quickly and begins making very rational decisions to help stop its spread and identify it. Everyone else is quick on the uptake of the concept and generally avoid being Genre Blind.
- MacReady avoids the Not Quite Dead trope and insists that even corpses be tested for being the Thing.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: The initial cut was so gory that test audiences complained of nausea. John Carpenter alleviated this by changing nothing. Carpenter got away with more gore than the censors would typically allow for an R-rated movie by using different colors for the Alien Blood. In the kennel scene, the dog-Thing bleeds yellow. Norris-Thing has blue-green slime for blood.
- Gone Horribly Right: In one interpretation, the Thing becomes a perfect copy of the original organism, even its flaws. This would mean that Norris' weak heart condition was transfered into the Thing, causing it to have a heart attack. However, it's possible that Norris's heart stopped beating because he was being taken over, and the process was completed as he lay inert.
- Gorn: And so, SO much of it in the John Carpenter version.
- Grand Theft Me. Duh.
- Harmless Freezing: The original Thing was frozen for around 100,000 years. When it's thawed, out it's completely fine. Childs even points out how impossible this sounds, to which Mac points out that it's from outer space and different from us. After the Thing abandons its plan to escape, its new goal is to kill all the survivors and simply freeze itself again until new hosts wake it up.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Implied with Fuchs, who is found as a charred corpse. There was no reason for the Thing to kill him off instead of assimilating him, so it's safe to assume that he set himself on fire in order to avoid being assimilated.
- Also the fate of MacReady, Garry, and Nauls, who willingly destroy the base so that the Thing can’t escape, knowing they will likely all die.
- Hiss Before Fleeing: The Thing hisses and moans when it's currently in an imperfect copy of its host. The blood also finds a way to scream when it jumps from the petri dish.
- A House Divided: When they realize what the Thing is capable of, people start choosing sides and trying to convince each other they're not the Thing.
- Insistent Terminology: “Those poor Swedes...” “They’re Norwegians, MacReady.”
- Impostor Exposing Test: MacReady figures out a way to test for Thingness by reasoning that the Thing's blood cells are separate organisms with a survival instinct.
- Jerkass Has a Point: By smashing up all the equipment, Blair essentially trapped everyone there, but he had recognized the danger of allowing the Thing access to the outside world, a concept which the others would soon pick up on. Of course, he might have been taken over by this point anyway. One of the major points still debated by fans is exactly when Blair was assimilated, in which case the Blair-Thing intentionally destroyed the radio and vehicles so they'd be trapped with it for months.
- Jump Scare:
- MacReady's test makes the Thing's Alien Blood scream and run away.
- Also, when Copper is trying to use shock paddles on Norris, and a giant mouth opens in his chest and bites off the doc's hands.
- Kill'Em All: It's implied that even the characters who make it to the end will freeze to death.
- Kill It with Fire: Fire is the only thing the characters have on hand that can kill the thing. Since it's a shapeshifter, shooting it would barely inconvenience it and it can survive for thousands of years frozen. Luckily, ice stations have handy flamethrowers.
- Moe Greene Special: Garry shoots the rifle-toting Norwegian through his eye.
- Musical Episode: John Carpenter's THE THING: THE MUSICAL is a very cheerful and upbeat nutshelling of the movie that actually lacks none of the original's Gorn or Squick—all in the musical style of Frank Sinatra.
- Mysterious Antarctica: Played straight.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Thing was frozen in ice for a very long time, but then a team of Norwegians found its ship and then it. One excavation and thawing later...
- Nigh Invulnerability: To destroy the Thing completely, not one single cell can be left alive, since even one cell is an independent organism with the power to assimilate an entire host body. The group burns them to ash, but realistically this would be unlikely to kill every single cell.
- No Biochemical Barriers: The Thing can infect Earth life just as easily as it did alien life. It's not clear how long this took or what the alien was like.
- Oh Crap:
- Windows gets several of these -- when the Palmer-thing drops down from the ceiling in front of him, when he sees Bennings being assimilated, and when he realizes whoever got to the blood did so by retrieving the keys to the fridge that he dropped.
- Everyone during the failed defib scene.
- When the 'lynch mob' breakdown of the storeroom door to find Mac holding a flare inches away from a bundle of dynamite.
- Paranoia Fuel: In-Universe.
- Partial Transformation: The Thing is sometimes caught in partial transformation.
- Poor Communication Kills: If only they knew to speak Norwegian or the Norwegian knew English.
- Precision F-Strike:
Palmer: (Upon seeing Norris' head grow legs and walk away.) You gotta be fucking kidding.
- And of course the probably most remembered line of the entire movie, right after one of the movies most intense fight scenes.
Garry: "I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!"
- POV Sequel: The short story The Things, which is told from the creature's POV, and makes it somewhat sympathetic.
- Re Cut: Of the TV variety. When the movie was due to premiere on TBS, a good deal of gore was cut out - to the point where they were falling under the expected runtime. To make up for the cut footage, previously cut material (such as character exposition) was edited in. A new twist to the ending was also featured in this version, but not in broadcasts on other networks (such as AMC or Sci-Fi).
- Red Herring/Red Herring Mole:
- All the characters set up to be The Thing turn out to be human. In fact, in the end it turns out that only 3 minor characters (Palmer, Norris and Blair) had been infected.
- Also, everyone who was the Thing in the original short story turns out to be human in the film, with the exception of Blair.
- Rule of Symbolism:MacReady destroying the chess computer by pouring whiskey into it mirrors the metaphorical game of chess played through the rest of the movie, and how he will destroy the game, or burn down the entire facility, to prevent his opponent from winning. Notice how in the end, he hands Childs a drink?
- Scary Black Man: Childs. He's the only one tough and smart enough to make it to the end with MacReady.
- Sealed Evil in a Can: Already opened when our guys find it.
- Shadow Discretion Shot: Right from the start, we can guess that that dog is the Thing. It's no spoiler to say that we're right. And in one bit, it's seen in shadow, licking the hand of a man who, from his shadow, is either Palmer or Norris, both of whom turn out to be the Thing as well. It's actually the shadow of a crew member, who looks a lot like both the relevant characters. Carpenter felt like being indeterminate again.
- Shapeshifter Mashup: The Thing, twice.
- Standard Hollywood Strafing Procedure: How the Norwegians in the helicopter attack the fleeing dog with a rifle.
- Starfish Aliens: There really is not a word other than "The Thing" to call it, because no one even really knows what it is. It is capable of perfectly replicating anything it has ever come in contact with, and every single cell of its body is a separate, hostile organism. It's so utterly alien that people aren't even sure if it has a true form or not, even the huge, grotesque monstrosity it forms in the end.
- The Stoner - Palmer. Openly smokes marijuana joints in front of the whole group, spouts off on how aliens are real and "taught the Incas everything they know." His generally non-threatening and comical personality might be why the alien assimilated him, because he didn't draw much suspicion.
- Suddenly Shouting: Garry has just been proved to be human and not a Thing, but he's still annoyed.
Garry: I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this fucking couch!
- Surprisingly-Sudden Death: Pretty much whenever the Thing's new host is uncovered. And who can forget the heart attack scene?
- Ten Little Murder Victims: The bulk of the film essentially boils down to the cast wanting to kill the Thing, but not knowing who is or isn't infected.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Discussed. The survivors wonder, if the Thing perfectly mimics who it copies, does it even know it's a fake? The novel claims it does, absorbing the memories and personality of the thing, and Carpenter in the commentary agrees that if it did, it wouldn't matter - it'd use their personality to react accordingly. Given that the Thing-imitations take several actions to frame unassimilated humans, and one of them is secretly building a hovercraft, it seems probable that they know what they are.)
- Trash the Set: The burned-down Norwegian camp was actually the same set as the American camp after the final battle.
- What Happened to the Mouse?:
- The fate of Nauls. The original script had him getting attacked by a jack-in-the-box like alien, only they cut the scene as the special effects didn't look real enough, and Carpenter liked leaving it ambiguous anyway.
- We never find out who got to the blood.
- The alien blood is unaccounted for.
- Wham! Line: “Assimilation time after reaching mainland: two years.”
- The Virus: Possibly the ultimate example. It can consume and imitate any life. Someone infected, assimilated and replicated by the Thing is such a perfect imitation that they never break character until either an opportunity arises for it to kill a bunch of people or it gets exposed. Even if other people get exposed as a Thing, a still-in-disguise Thing will remain in-character and even attack the other of its own kind, just to keep up the act. Worse yet, the monster apparently retains the knowledge of everything it's eaten (one isolated one is trying to build a spaceship to escape) and can even mix-and-match parts from the various creatures it's assimilated.
- They Look Like Us Now: Played for all the Paranoia Fuel it's worth.
- Virus Victim Symptoms: Averted for the most part, although played with in a scene with Blair, which just underscores the paranoia.
- You Will Be Assimilated: The entire modus operandi of the alien entity.
The 2011 prequel provides examples of:
It's Not Human. Yet.
- Badass: Lars, who seemingly out of nowhere appears with a flamethrower when a Thing attack occurs. Kate also applies, who by the third act is even referred to as "The Boss."
- Badass Adorable: Kate, intelligence and bravery aside, has been described by a review as "looking like a cute teenager trying to buy booze with a fake ID rather than an actual adult."
- Belly Mouth: the Thing loves to pop out of the chest and turn the ribs into teeth.
- Black Dude Dies First: Subverted. The resident black guy is directly set-up as The Thing's first victim, but it completely ignores him after breaking free. He later survives a seemingly fatal helicopter crash, and ultimately doesn't end up dying until the mid-point/climax of the movie where all the secondary characters get slaughtered.
- Body Horror: Due to CGI, there's a LOT more gore, tentacles, fangs, teeth, and bodies splitting apart then in the original. The two-face thing is the embodiment of this trope.
- Chekhov's Gun: It's discovered early on that the Thing cannot duplicate inorganic material, such as metal. This comes back when Kate checks people's mouths to see if they have dental implants or not. It's also used to reveal that Carter is a Thing at the very end of the film, due to his missing earring.
- Chekhov MIA: The husky. It appears he's dead at the beginning of the movie, but then we see him running during the credits, trailed by Lars.
- Combat Tentacles: Used by the Thing to kill or wound several people, usually as a prelude to assimilating the surviving biomass when it has time.
- Conspicuous CG: All over the place, which is a real shame since the animatronics the CG painted over were great on their own.
- Continuity Nod: Being a prequel, this is to be expected. Among them are:
- The fire-axe, and how it got stuck in the door.
- The UFO, discovered in a massive chamber underneath the ice.
- The two face-thing, and how it eventually appeared in it's melted state.
- The block of ice, and what it looked like before it was found by MacReady.
- Who ended up being the suicide victim found with his throat and wrists cut.
- Those flamethrowers they give the Antarctic teams sure do have a bad habit of failing at critical moments.
- Lars is the only one of the Norwegians who can't speak English and knows where the grenades are. Sure enough, it's him at the beginning of the original film who shouts useless warnings in Norwegian at the Americans and tries to toss a grenade at the Thing.
- Things love the chest-mouth thing they pulled on Norris.
- Also comparing stored blood with blood samples taken from everyone. In the prequel the Thing hastily burns the lab -- whereas the Thing at Outpost 31, knowing in advance that this test will likely be used on it, has the time to destroy the stored blood in a way that implicates the camp leader.
- There is also a combination Chekhov's Gun Continuity Nod, because at the end of the 1982 film, Childs still has his earring.
- Cosmetically Advanced Prequel: Being released almost 29 years after the original, CGI is heavily used this time around, with relatively few instances of puppets or other practical effects being utilized.
- A Crack in the Ice: The movie opens with the Norwegians in a snowcat homing in on a Distress Signal. They discover where it's coming from when the ground opens beneath them and they become wedged in a crevasse with their headlights shining down on a Flying Saucer.
- Distress Signal: How the Norwegians find the Flying Saucer. The signal sounds even more creepy and otherworldly than the signal in Alien.
- Downer Ending: While the Thing is prevented from escaping in its UFO, everyone but Kate and Lars is dead. Kate's nowhere to be found when help arrives at last, and Lars goes after the last Thing (in the form of a husky). If you've seen the original film, you know what happens to him.
- Doomed by Canon
- Executive Meddling: According to screenwriter Eric Heisserer, the studio wanted a "leaner and meaner" film. The result was that the film has been gutted of most tension-building or exposition scenes, leaving just the straight-up violence with the monster. Worse, they built very expensive animatronics for the alien which look genuinely horrifying, but the final version of the movie switched to CGI effects to make the alien's attacks faster. The CGI is okay, but its truly shocking when you see the level of detail that went into these animatronics. Further, we can tell from various cast and crew interviews that a lot of the movie's runtime was cut to focus on the action scenes and for pacing.
- Expositron 9000: The base computer, during the explanation of The Thing's infection and replication mechanism.
- Fate Worse Than Death: When the Thing assimilates some of its victims via direct contact, they're aware of what's happening, and are clearly in great pain during the process. One of them, with a Thing lodged in his mouth, silently begs Kate to kill him. Another is practically melted into one of the things, then dragged off before we see the process completed.
- Genre Savvy: The Thing becomes progressively more intelligent after each of its encounters. After being burned under the shed, it learns to try and isolate the cast members one by one. When's it's overpowered anyway, it starts trying to sow dissent amongst the group. In addition, it shows that it's perfectly willing to sacrifice parts of itself in order to take the pressure off it. Finally, it keeps its dog form in hiding in case all of its other forms are killed.
- Hope Spot: Kate and Carter have stopped the Thing from escaping, head back to the snowmobile, and are going to head for a Russian research station about fifty miles away. Then Kate notices that Sam is missing his earring...
- Impostor Exposing Test: It's theorized that Thing blood will react when exposed to human blood, so a test is quickly created in order to see who's human or not. The Thing then sets fire to the lab, destroying the test, and forcing the humans to use a more primitive method of seeing who has dental implants or not.
- Idiot Ball: The Thing, after it exposes itself, can't help but to assimilate anything in its path, even when it puts it in danger. For example the Leah-Thing stops to assimilate Karl, leaving it exposed in the hallway. Also the Carter-Thing could have easily killed Kate and simply drove to the Camp by itself, but doesn't in the interest of preserving its cover, despite Kate being clearly suspicious. Kate herself makes some bad judgement calls like ordering everyone to split up despite not being enough weapons to go around.
- It Can Think: The Thing cleans up one of its murder scenes, attempts to extinguish a fire (though this may be pure luck on the Thing's part), leads Kate into a trap, and finally briefly manages to power up the ship.
- It Was There I Swear: Kate realises the Thing has assimilated a human when she finds blood in the shower. When she goes back after the helicopter crash, the shower stall has been cleaned up. While this removes the evidence, it also tells Kate that the Thing is still among them, and wasn't just on the helicopter.
- Jerkass: Dr. Sander Halvorson
- Let's Split Up, Gang!: After the Thing is fully revealed and everyone believes Kate, the expedition still ends up splitting into teams of two even after it's been made abundantly clear this is a terrible idea. It turns out that ultimately nothing bad comes of this tactic, but it was still rather careless on their part.
- Load-Bearing Boss: The flying saucer's power system shuts down after both its control system and the Thing is destroyed.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: If the American pilots hadn't escaped, overpowered Lars and taken over the base, the Thing probably wouldn't have had the necessary chaos to continue its spree.
- Not His Sled: The director stated there was originally a shot of a laboratory on the ship, which would have proven that the Thing is a different species than the creatures who made the ship. The original film shows that the Thing is perfectly capable of building its own ship, however.
- Nothing Is Scarier: The Thing's original form is vaguely insectoid, but we never get a very good look at it.
- Oddly-Named Sequel 2: Electric Boogaloo: In spite of being a prequel and not a remake, the film has the exact same name as the original.
- Prequel: It starts three days before the events in Carpenter's film, and ends with everyone but Lars and Kate dead, and the Thing, in the shape of a husky, running across the snow, where it will eventually reach Outpost 31, and Lars will be killed.
- Retcon: What the UFO looked like and its condition at the end of the film, the manner of the Split-face Thing's death, and of course the original number of people at Thule station.
- Red Herring: Just like in the original film, none of the characters seemingly set up to be the Thing actually turn out to be the Thing.
- The Un-Reveal:
- While a shape can be seen inside the block of ice, we never see exactly what the thing looks like inside. What few glimpses we do get suggest that it looks like a massive, tentacled, multi-limbed insect of some kind.
- Some fans theorized that the film would explain what the Thing was doing in the UFO. While we do see inside the UFO, we never get a clear answer as to what its relationship is toward the Thing. Director van Heijningen originally intended to show that the Thing was an alien sample collected by the UFO's pilots that broke free, but the subplot was cut for pacing issues.
- Trailers Always Spoil: Most if not all of the trailers for the prequel have footage that clearly shows that Griggs, Juliette, and Edvard are all assimilated and replaced by the Thing during the film. This is particularly egregious as it turns out they were the only characters that were secretly assimilated by the Thing. Also, recent television spots very briefly show Carter being lit on fire by Kate in the snowmobile at the ending of the movie.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We don't have any clue what Kate will do at the end of the film. We do, however, find out that Lars and the Huskey-Thing were simply hiding while the climax took place.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Edvard acts dazed and stunned by the Flamethrower explosion in order to get closer to two of the station workers.