What, you may ask, is a 1982 title doing in Recent Releases? 2017 is the 35th anniversary of several classic science-fiction and horror films, five of which were being screened at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland in July. I was there last week and saw a late show of my favorite John Carpenter film, a movie I consider to be his masterpiece. I also love the 1951 original, The Thing from Another World (even more than this one), but the Carpenter film, written by Bill Lancaster (Burt’s son), is very true to the classic John W. Campbell short story, whereas the 1951 adventure is its own animal.
John Carpenter’s film is a masterwork of horror, wonder and, best of all, mystery. Twelve men at Antarctic research station number 31 are startled when a Norwegian flies into camp shooting at a runaway dog, and is killed when one of the Americans is injured. The Americans visit the Norwegian camp and find it a burned-out ruin. Later, evidence gathered at the camp sends helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) and others to the biggest discovery in human history, one which has already killed the Norwegians and threatens to kill every human being on the planet.
While the alien menace is itself a mystery for nearly half an hour, the larger mystery continues as the dozen researchers realize that the alien menace is hiding in at least one of them, and probably more. Nobody knows who to trust and chaos ensues until MacReady comes up with a plan. Meanwhile, the alien organism makes its presence known in several sequences that remain beautifully, hideously grotesque even thirty-five years later. They were over-the-top then; now, as wild as they remain, they seem almost parochial in comparison to modern effects. The film revels in its nastiness, yet it remains classic and timeless because its characters are so beautifully rendered, and their anxiety is absolutely real.
I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times and it never fails to impress me. With its basso profundo Ennio Morricone score and Dean Cundey’s brilliant cinematography it gets me every time. Things happen, and you’re never quite sure who did what, and the mystery is all the more effective because you don’t know who to trust. The script and direction are superb, and I love the enigmatic conclusion, which at least gives the rest of the world a little hope. It’s a great, great movie. ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆. 29 July 2017.