There are essentially two types of Last Stand in a Haunted House movie, ones made for teens and ones made for adults. Much of the conventions of a Last Stand in a Haunted House movie apply to both types (re: different characters in the same boat surrounded by something trying to kill them) with some minor differences (i.e. only certain things appeal to teens, and by the same token, only certain things appeal to adults). Also, the Adult version of a Last Stand in a Haunted House movie is geared mostly toward a predominantly male audience. John Carpenter’s 1982’s The Thing, a remake of an old classic, is an Adult Last Stand in a Haunted House Movie.
The Thing stars familiar Carpenter muse Kurt Russell as Mac, a helicopter pilot who is part of an American research base in an isolated part of Antarctica. Trouble arises when a Norwegian gunman, chasing a dog through the snow, arrives at the station, shoots one of the American researchers by accident, and is killed in turn. The Americans investigate the cause of the shooting by traveling to the Norwegian research base, where they find the base in ruins and what looks like mass bloodshed and chaos. Meanwhile, back at the American base, the dog is not what it seems, and in no time has morphed into a creature of extraterrestrial origins. What’s worst, the alien creature can infect and literally “imitate” anyone it infects, which means the humans are now fair game…
The Thing is the kind of movie that made director John Carpenter famous in the first place. It’s an intense and highly inspired movie, filled with action and enough paranoia to make any fan of “The X-Files” happy. When the alien creature begins infecting the Americans at the base, things start to get really interesting, and before long no one is sure who is who, or even if they’re still who they think they are. Once the dog mutates and begins its infection, no one is safe, not even Mac. On more than one occasion, Carpenter and writer Bill Lancaster (adapting from a story by John Campbell Jr.) makes us question if Mac is still “one of us.” And throughout the film, the cloud of doubt hangs over everyone’s head, up to the very end.
The film moves at a very fast clip, and slows down only for a long, intense scene where Mac begins “testing” to see rather his fellow researchers have been infected. The scene is easily the movie’s best, and Carpenter films it with a great sense of paranoia and claustrophobia. The rest of the movie is equally good, and the isolated Antarctica locale seems to fit Carpenter’s style perfectly.
The loneliness and isolation of these researchers as revealed by Carpenter through languid shots of the iced landscapes only adds to the desperation of the characters. They are trapped far from the rest of the world and facing extinction at the hands of a creature that can look like them. Worst of all, if they don’t defeat the creature, there’s a chance it can threaten the rest of mankind. How’s that for pressure?
Kurt Russell once again proves why he was one of the few bankable actors in the ’80s. His Mac is clearly the alpha male and takes over when the chaos starts. Russell’s grizzled and bearded look fits his grumpy and slightly alcoholic helicopter pilot and gives him an Everyman quality.
The rest of the cast does very well, particularly in the intense scenes when no one is sure who is infected and who isn’t. Every single character, from the cool and calm Mac to the stoic Childs (Keith David) to the slightly deranged Blair (Wilford Brimley), all shows good range in what might have otherwise been a standard Last Stand in a Haunted House movie. Each actor brings very distinctive voices and personalities to their individual roles, making us share in their pain and confusion.
Did I mention that the movie is completely devoid of any romantic subplots? And you know what? I couldn’t care less, because a fake, hastily written-in romantic subplot would have added nothing to the movie, and would have only taken away from the male testosterone that covered the film from end to end.
The Thing is a man’s movie but that doesn’t mean even a tough guy can’t crack under the pressure of isolation and invasion.
John Carpenter (director) / John W. Campbell Jr. (story Who Goes There?), Bill Lancaster (screenplay)
CAST: Kurt Russell …. R.J. MacReady
Wilford Brimley …. Dr. Blair
T.K. Carter …. Nauls
David Clennon …. Palmer
Keith David (I) …. Childs
Richard A. Dysart …. Dr. Copper