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 neighboring 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 video game sequel was made in 2002. Please go there for game related tropes.
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[when?] event.
- 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 Beard/Badass Long Hair: Mac.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Boring but Practical: The alien blood was made to "move" simply by tilting the table.
- 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.
- 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.
- Death by Adaptation: Dr. Copper and Norris actually survive in "Who Goes There?", with Norris even saying the story's last lines.
- 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
- 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.
- Easter Egg: During the kennel scene, one of the Kennel Thing's tentacles hits it in the right eye. Then the head turns to the right and growls, before looking back at the men. It requires a frame-by-frame or .12 or slower DVD viewing to catch the tentacle striking the eye. This actually explains why the kennel thing turns to the side and growls, in the first place.
- Could also just be an extraordinary Special Effects Failure coincidence.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Thing either approaches this or embodies it completely.
- 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.
- Eye Scream: The Norwegian is shot in the eye.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Improbable Age: The makeup effects, a landmark at the time and still very impressive, were done by Rob Bottin, who was only twenty-two at the time. Although Bottin did work for a year without giving himself a day off, often sleeping and eating on set and John Carpenter sent him to a hospital for exhaustion.
- 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 the doctor 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.
- POV Sequel: The short story The Things, which is told from the creature's POV, and makes it somewhat sympathetic.
- 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!"
- Recut: When airing on basic cable, the movie is naturally cut for extreme violence and to make room for commercials. However, a special re-cut was made for airings on TBS/TNT. Much gore was cut out - so much so that some deleted scenes were restored to fill out the running time. Additionally, there are opening and closing narrator sequences (the former providing exposition for the main characters and the latter running over an alternate ending).
- 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.
- The scientists finding the saucer is an exact recreation of the scene in the 1951 film.
- The effect used for the main title is a slicker version of the one used in 1951.
- 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.
- They Look Like Us Now: Played for all the Paranoia Fuel it's worth.
- 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.
- 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.
- Virus Victim Symptoms: Averted for the most part, although played with in a scene with Blair, which just underscores the paranoia.
- 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.
- You Will Be Assimilated: The entire modus operandi of the alien entity.