Smartly tense and a cabin fever setting helps rack up the horror of identity. It does suffer dull character work and some slow stretches but they don’t make the entire film bad. The ‘thing’ in question is still remarkable, even now, a solid animatronic effort that gives this movie the weird alien factor and makes it one of its kind to this day.
Set in the Antarctic at an US research facility a group of Americans start to uncover some hideous threat after a Norwegian base leads them to a grisly discovery. Clearly something bad happened there and now whatever killed them all is lurking in the US camp. It doesn’t help that it’s a shape-shifting alien making the entire team question each other as to who they really are.
Sadly this film felt a tiresome slog for a while. It had an interesting and well built opener concerning a helicopter, a gun and a husky but then it seems to simmer down to a whimper. It made a lot of the film feel longer than it really is, not in an excellent way of being steady to raise tension, just long. I do feel that some of the film could have been chopped out, making it a quicker more suspenseful ride. Also, it feels like the whole mystery madness of who could be a devilish creature suddenly happens which could have been dealt with better but aside from these slightly major problems we have a good horror film here.
It’s a good John Carpenter feature, nowhere near as good as some of his other work and it shows, it struggles to be really horror or really sci-fi, it kind of wobbles between both never getting a sturdy foot on either genre. I did really like aspects of it though and his directing works nicely to play on the whole paranoia level, one of the stronger elements of this story. Bill Lancaster who wrote the screenplay seems to thrive when dealing with the character focused finger poking. The scene where MacReady is testing dishes of blood is one of the better sequences as the harmony of directing and writing come together to make you bite your lip at how tense this scenario is.
Rob Bottin has a lot to take a bow for, he should be taking multiple bows for his job as make up artist on this film. It certainly helps the grim nature take flight with no qualms whatsoever. There’s no holding back concerning the effects of this violent alien. The bloody special effects are bold and effective. It’s magical and terrifying to see these practical designs come to life and the creature is horrid to look at which ticks the box required. You don’t see much at first and then a transformation does enough to put you off dogs for life. Sprouting red tentacles, extra eyes and spewing liquids are just tips of the gross out iceberg and it’s great watching the creature do it’s ‘thing’, ey ey!
I must say on a brief note that I liked the score also. It’s no ‘Halloween’ number but the dark quality still lingers and it works in providing a suitable level of tension. The main theme and the creature effects are the redeeming factors making this film come across as better than it truly is, I think without them it would be dire. It’s just a shame that it feels laborious at times getting bogged down in setup which causes no stir. It might be too over the top for some as well possibly.
A fine attempt at a tense horror but the moments of slowness drag it back from brilliance. Thank goodness for some outstandingly out there alien make up wonder making this film a ‘thing’ of tension and goo.