"If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really 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.It stars Kurt Russell, Keith David, and Wilford "Diabeetus" Brimley.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 and is seen as one of the best uses of Paranoia Fuel in cinema.Its visceral depictions of the anatomically creative forms the lifeform adopts when attacking or threatened were milestone achievements in both Special Effects rigging and creature design, and have been cited as influences for later franchises like Dead Space.The film is also unusual in the sense that it subverts Nothing Is Scarier while retaining every ounce of Paranoia Fuel. It was one of the first films to believably pull off Daylight Horror sequences, thanks to a fusion of masterful puppetry, makeup, and advanced FX rigging, bolstered by new green-screen effects like high-end claymation, matte painting, and early CGI. By using each for the tasks it did best, and combining several approaches in a single shot to create seamless composite effects, Carpenter left surprisingly little room for Narm to set in. Even to the jaded eye decades later, only few scenes suffer Zeerust.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.Its popularity has caused the story to be continued in other media. In the 1990s, Dark Horse Comics published a series of four comics continuing the film's story, called The Thing from Another World. A video game sequel was made in 2002. (Please go there for game related tropes.) Lastly, a similarly named 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).Unrelated to that thing,those things,this thing,this other thing, the ever-lovin' Thing,you know, that thingy thing, or an alternate English name of Mothra.Has a character page under construction.
This film contains examples of:
Anyone Can Die: By the end of the movie only Mac and Childs are shown to be alive, each unsure whether or not the other is the Thing. Since they are stranded, with no provisions, it's implied that they will both die.
Antagonist Title: The Thing is the alien creature trying to take over the protagonists.
Asteroids Monster: Every cell of the Thing is an independent organism. At various times during the film, it gets parts chopped off it, which grow new appendages and scuttle off.
Badass Normal: Everyone, whenever they fight the thing, but especially Mac, who manages to go toe-to-toe with it.
Bilingual Bonus: The Norwegian pilot explains that the dog is a shapeshifting Thing right in the opening scene.
"Se til helvete ĺ kom dere vekk. Det er ikke en bikkje. Det er en slags ting! Den imiterer en bikkje! Den er ikke virkelig! ...kom dere vekk, idioter!", which, translated, means "Get the hell away. It's not a dog/mutt. It's a thing! It's imitating a dog/mutt! It's not real! ...get away, idiots!"
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 dead. Maybe. 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.
Black Dude Dies First: Inverted. Of the two black dudes, both survive into the final act, when there are four humans left including them. We don't actually see either of them die, although it's implied that everybody dies.
Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to the 1950s 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.
It's even bloodier than the prequel made in 2011 thanks to, ironically, having little CGI technology to work with.
Body Horror: And how! This film is infamous for its transformation sequences. Once a Thing is forced to reveal itself, Eldritch Abomination is the most charitable way of describing what pops out - a head growing extra eyes on stalks and skittering away on spider legs is perhaps the most tame example.note That particular scene had such a level of Gorn and Nausea Fuel that Carpenter actually had to cut in a Precision F-Strike to make it watchable by his standards, and was extremely unhappy cable airings cut it out.
Book Ends: Of the most nightmarish variety imaginable. The first good look we get at a live Thing is the Dog-Thing, whose centerpiece is a mangled dog head. The very last Thing to come out of the Blair-Thing before MacReady dynamites it is another twisted dog head. In the cable version it gets even worse - the movie ends the same way it began, with a disguised Dog-Thing running across the Antarctic plains.
Bowdlerization: Subverted; a lot of the harsh language was cut out in cable airings, but that made certain scenes relentlessly bleak and nauseating without even a bit of comic relief (see Body Horror above). The Cable ending involved the most Grim Dark ending possible, worse then the original: The base is wrecked, everyone is dead - and a disguised Dog Thing runs off across the plains.
Chromosome Casting: All of the station members are men. Don't want any hanky panky down there! Indeed, the only female presence in the film - Mac's chess computer, voiced by Adrienne Barbeau - is destroyed at the beginning of the movie.
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.
Creepy Long Fingers: The Bennnings-Thing is also "creepy misformed fingers", but they're clearly playing off the horror this trope provides when his hands are revealed. The poster of the 2011 prequel also utilizes it.
Cruel and Unusual Death: Assimilation by a Thing counts as this by default. In addition to that, Windows is brutally mauled by one of the Things (and then set on fire for good measure), Copper bleeds to death after having his forearms bitten off, Garry gets a Thing arm down the throat and is dragged around by the Blair-Thing as additional biomass for a One-Winged Angel transformation, and Fuchs is impied to have set himself on fire to avoid assimilation.
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.
Death by Pragmatism: Blair is the first character to realize how incredibly dangerous the Thing is, and flips out, destroying the radio, the vehicles, and killing the surviving dogs. Admittedly, destroying everything the team could have used to warn the surrounding station about the Thing isn't a particularly pragmatic solution, but considering what will happen if the Thing escapes the Antarctic, it's at least partially justified. This gets him locked in a storage shed, alone, while multiple Things start freely roving the base. Eventually, the inevitable happens.
"Warn others"? Ha! The Norwegian tried that, IN PERSON, and look where that got him. Now try it over the radio. You think they'll believe you? How 'bout saying there's a crazy person on the loose? So what to do? Obviously they'll try to restrain him when they see him. How? By getting close enough for the Thing to dismember and attack every person close enough.
That, of course, assumes that Blair wasn't already a Thing. After all, his shirt had changed from the last time he was onscreen.
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.
Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: Played with. The Thing, if it landed most anywhere on the planet, would easily assimilate all higher life on it, including us. The crew of the spaceship, however, crash lands it into just about the only place where it wouldn't be easy for the Thing to take over the planet. There is hardly any life around to assimilate, and it freezes before it can get to any. The base crew also has flamethrowers, which is the only reliable way to kill it.
The End... Or Is It?: Even after 30 years, fans still debate if the last survivors were infected, allowing the Thing to possibly live to assimilate once more.
Establishing Character Moment: In keeping with Mac's strategy against the chess computer, he will do whatever it takes to win against the Thing, even if it means blowing the base - their only shelter - to bits.
"Yeah, FUCK YOU, too!"
Everyone Is a Suspect: The movie creates its notorious sense of paranoia from this, though in this case it isn't so much "anyone could have committed the murder" as "any one of twelve men could in fact be a hostile shape-shifting alien capable of creating a perfect copy of people that it kills". Naturally, a good chunk of the plot is simply driven by the guys trying to figure out who to trust.
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, such as the Norris-Thing having green-and-yellow slime for blood.
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 transferred 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.
The men quickly burn all of the Thing they come across, killing every single cell, so they don't find out until it's too late that each part of the Thing is an individual organism..
Gorn: And so, SO much of it in the John Carpenter version.
Grand Theft Me: The Thing's MO. It's unclear if it directly robs the victim of their consciousness, or slowly subsumes it, bit by bit, to maintain a guise. Carpenter kept it ambiguous.
Heal It With Booze: In the beginning, the Norwegian shoots Bennings in the leg and they're given a flask of booze that they take a swig from before pouring it over the wound.
Heroic Sacrifice: MacReady, Nauls and Garry decide to destroy the camp and themselves with it to prevent the alien infection from spreading to the rest of the world.
"Whether we make it or not, we can't let that thing freeze again. Maybe we'll just warm things up around here. We're not getting out of here alive... but neither is that thing."
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.
Idiot Ball: People make a lot of mistakes throughout the movie, which is really what drives a good part of the horror - people are fallible, and, under this kind of pressure, will inevitably screw up a lot. Special notice should go to Nauls at the end of the film, who walks towards a moving form ( The Blair-Thing pulling Garry's body) without telling MacReady, who's literally 3 or so feet away from him at the time. We never see Nauls again
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, so therefore, they can determine who is the Thing by how their blood samples react to a match. It works... horribly so.
It Can Think: During its initial appearances, the Thing only makes incoherent animal noises and appears to be driven by simple instinct, but it soon becomes apparent that it's highly intelligent. Granted, this was already strongly implied by the spaceship (assuming the spacefarers weren't its victims, too), but that doesn't change how unnerving it is when the ruined blood samples make it clear just how intelligent it is.
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.
MacReady's test makes the Thing's Alien Bloodscream and jump out of the dish.
Also, when Copper is trying to use shock paddles on Norris, and a giant mouth opens in his chest and bites off Copper's hands.
Let's not forget the scene where the lights go out. Fuchs takes out a flare, and a shadowy figure suddenly slips across the room quickly with a horrific noise so unnerving that no words in the English language (or ANY language, for that matter) can describe what it sounds like.
Kill 'em All: Implied. Only Childs and Mac are alive in the end, and Childs might be a Thing. Even if he isn't, they'll both freeze to death in the Antarctic winter without shelter.
Kill It with Fire: Flamethrowers, kerosene and explosives, no other way. Shotguns won't "do the Thing." Notable examples include:
When Mac torches one of the Things with a Flamethrower, then blows it to pieces with a stick of dynamite for good measure.
In another scene, after killing the Bennings-Thing, they bulldoze snow around it to form a pit, pour kerosene on it, and take several minutes to make sure it's completely burned.
Losing Your Head: Decapitating the monster doesn't work; in one instance, the head grows legs and walks away.
Meaningful Background Event: When Mac visits the imprisoned, oddly much calmer Blair, a noose is hanging from the rafters. Neither character comments on it.
Not His Sled: The effect isn't tremendous because Who Goes There? isn't that well known, but everyone who was the Thing in the original short story turns out to be human in the film, with the exception of Blair.
Windows gets several of these — when he realizes whoever got to the blood did so by retrieving the keys to the fridge that he dropped, and when he sees Bennings being assimilated, the Palmer-Thing drops down from the ceiling in front of him.
Everyone during the failed defib scene. Especially Palmer, who has that one great line.
When the "lynch mob" break down the storeroom door to find Mac holding a flare inches away from a bundle of dynamite.
The look on Mac's face when Fuchs, reading from Blair's journal, tells him that there's still cellular activity within the burnt remains of the Thing, and it's not dead yet.
One-Winged Angel: Whenever the Thing is exposed, it assumes very dangerous, monstrous forms to attack the protagonists with. Particularly noteworthy when it confronts MacReady at the end, and the Thing turns into a huge monster shapeshifter mash-up. Also an example of Clipped Wing Angel.
Personal Arcade: There is an Asteroids arcade machine at the ice station, one of the few times this trope is not played for laughs. In fact, it foreshadows the idea that each component of the monster is a danger in and of itself.
Palmer:(Upon seeing a human head grow legs and walk away) You gotta be fucking kidding...
Mac:(Upon seeing a monster crawl out of the stomach of another big monster) Yeah? Well fuck you, too!
Right after one of the movie's 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!
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).
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 characters (Palmer, Norris and Blair) had been infected.
Also for those sci-fi fans who'd read the short story Who Goes There?, in which Palmer and Garry are the Thing.
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?
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.
Shock and Awe: Sufficient voltage can cause a Thing to lash out instinctively (this is how Norris is outed as a Thing during the defib scene).
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: An inversion with the cable cut: All their suicidal efforts to stop the Thing are in vain. The end result: the shaggy dog running across the Antarctic plains, headed for life to infect and ready to take over the planet.
Childs: I just cannot believe any of this voodoo bullshit.
Palmer: Childs, happens all the time, man. They're falling out of the skies like flies. Government knows all about it, right, Mac? Chariots of the Gods, man. They practically own South America. I mean, they taught the Incas everything they know.
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.
The Assimilator: Let's face it, almost any villain in any medium that can absorb or infect people to replicate them draws some inspiration from Carpenter's The Thing. It's a monster that's best described as a living virus as each part of its body can live and act autonomously from the main body and all it needs to do is infect a person with even a small piece of itself for its tissue to spread, grow, replicate, and consume the host. It has the ability to partially or completely assume the form of any creature it has previously infected and absorbed and can use the knowledge and skills of the people it has copied.
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 says 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 craft to attempt to escape, it seems probable that they know what they are. That said, the actor playing Norris mentions in the commentary that he played his character as being worried that he might be the Thing without knowing it. (He's very much correct.) Note his reaction when offered Garry's gun - "I'm not up to it.".
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?: We never find out who sabotaged the blood samples, whose shadow it was on the wall, or what happened to Nauls. They did film a resolution for that last one, but they weren't happy with the special effects on it, and Carpenter decided it would be more effective just to leave that particular thread hanging.
The blood sabotage mystery has been solved. When Bennings is being assimilated, you can hear the sound effect of Windows dropping the keys in a panic, leaving the Thing to steal the keys and sabotage the blood. However, since Bennings was dragged under an ice shelf in the novel, this plothole still stands there.
The funny thing is that by this point, Palmer is most certainly a Thing himself, which changes the tone of the scene completely. Rather than reacting in terrified disbelief, Palmerthing in fact appears to be sarcastically ribbing its comrade about its rather absurd-looking choice of transformation.