Carpenter’s direction, Rob Bottin‘s special effects make up, the ensemble performances, Dean Cundey‘s visuals and Ennio Morricone‘s chilling score are just some of the elements that combine brilliantly.
This making of video from the time depicts the gruelling shoot in British Columbia:
The negative reactions when it first opened were unfortunate, but also part of the reason why the film has endured over the years: unlike a lot of horror films, it is genuinely horrifying.
The central premise of scientists coming across an alien in the Artic was adapted from both the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, and the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr. which inspired it.
But Carpenter goes much further, turning the Cold War fears of the original into something darker and more primal.
Not only is the Arctic setting claustrophobic and lonely, it plays on the paranoia of a group confronted by something they cannot comprehend.
This is also true of the audience as try to get a grip on what the Thing actually is.
Most aliens and monsters are vaguely humanoid but the Thing is such an uniquely revolting villain precisely because it is genuinely ‘other’.
As a shape-shifting parasite it is also doubly unnerving as it can be anyone at any time.
After watching it – yes, this is a spoiler warning – check out this IMDb FAQ and you will see some tantalising ambiguities in the story (my favourite being ‘Was Blair assimilated?’) which add to the mysteries on screen.
Back in 2008 Carpenter did a video introduction before a 70mm screening of the film in Bradford and described his approach to the film and why it upset people at the time.
It is rare that films flop because they are too successful at what they do, but The Thing is one of them.