Especially today, in the wake of the abysmal ‘prequel’ recently released.
Here is a remake that is at least up to par, or surpasses the original and does so by being closer to the source material.
The shape shifter in this film is honestly more alien than much else seen in western live action films up to that time. Even with the Thing’s shape shifting prowess, some basic facts of the Thing’s biology can be deduced.
Like the Vajra, the Thing operates in part through a hive mind at least on a cellular level. It may have means of coordinating itself across various forms, but what communication there is appears to be minimal. Each individual cell of the Thing is, in and of itself, a Thing: a single organism working together en mass to better survive. There actually is an animal alive on earth today with something similar. Though despite popular portrayal, it does not live in pineapples.
The common sponge is not so much a multi-cellular organism, but a group of single celled organisms working for mutual benefit and sharing food energy amongst themselves.
The infamous Blood Test of this film indicates that, at least to a degree, the Thing has a similar set up, albeit one that is much more complex and for a creature that is far more intelligent.
Whether it has something akin to a central neurological processor is unknown, but extremely unlikely. That it survives so long frozen in ice may indicate a simple neurology, but its behavior definitely speaks of intelligence. Perhaps, given its absorbing and shifting, its level of intelligence varies based on the biological forms it has absorbed.
The other ‘organism’ that the Thing resembles is, of course, a virus.
Viruses are not actually living things. They lack the ability for them to reproduce themselves independently, and thus can’t be classified as alive. The first dog, the ‘carrier’ if you will, manages to infect several of the men there during its 24 hours wandering the compound.
The virulence is pretty high; infection of earth’s population once it reaches civilization is projected in the film to occur within 27,000 hours – a little over 3 years.
Do these viral attributes apply to the Thing? A little bit. It may have some ability to reproduce itself outside of infecting other organisms, but we simply do not know if this is the case. The heroes don’t give it a chance.
One of the things I enjoy about this film is the transformation sequences – and the time it takes.
One of the mistakes of the recent prequel (of which there were many) was making the Thing a fast and agile creature in its various transformations. In John Carpenter’s film, the monster’s transformations take time, and render it rather vulnerable and horrific to behold. Its first transformation on screen, to adapt itself better to assimilate the dogs, takes a good minute before it goes on the attack, and the dogs are unwilling to attack it. This could be due to the sounds it was making, or the various smells it must have been emitting or the sheer oddity of what was before them—I can’t say.
Another thing that was of interest to note was that the Thing did not create organs and appendages it did not already assimilate. Once it had the information to create something (the DNA), it could create it in layers or twist the growth to suit its purposes. This is best exemplified by the “Flower” form taken after it completely assimilates the dogs and just before that “Thing” was destroyed. This “Flower” busts from a cavity and is red and lined with odd teeth. But it’s not a flower, nor is it anything it hadn’t encountered before: the “Flower” was a circle of tongues on an arm-like appendage, with the rows of teeth being regular dog’s teeth just all canines and in rows down the tongue’s center. A creative use off what it already had. There’s a few times it shows things that can’t be drawn from any earthly biota it encountered, but most of it can. It’s fascinating.
And the prequel just made it a standard tentacle monster. I blame Anime.
The thing is truly the perfect monster of Paranoia. Unlike the equally paranoia inducing “Body Snatchers”, the thing’s methodology and the film’s setting lend it much more credence and different forms of horror. The first part of the equation is the isolation the Antarctic provides. That compound may as well be the world itself—but also a family. Everyone knows each other there, and knows them pretty well. They are friends and co-workers.
* An “other” being a general designation for a group or individual who is treated with fear simply for not being part of the group.
“If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?”
The viral nature lends it open to another metaphor which was popular in the 80s, and many writers on the subject of horror have identified it as a potent symbol from that time: AIDS.
There are two real hallmarks that can lead to this identification. The first is the viral nature I already mentioned. At the time, people weren’t quite sure what was causing AIDS to spread. Here, it’s pretty much confirmed to be cellular contact, though fluid contact seems to work best as near as I can figure. The first thing the Thing-Dog does is try to lick the face of the first unknowing human it found—and then tried to bite and nip them when it can.
Today, we know that fluid contact is AIDS vector, though saliva to blood is not the best method for it to transfer through.
The other part of the AIDS identifier is the Body Horror. Body Horror is, well, horrific mutations inflicted on the body within the course of a horror film. And I got to say, The Thing is my favorite Body Horror film. And I honestly dislike gore. Here, it’s almost beautiful in how alien and extreme it is. It’s also masterfully done, but I’m getting side tracked.
Usually, when connected to AIDS, the Body Horror is limited to slow degradations over time, mimicking the ‘wasting away’ many AIDS victims suffer through. Here, though, more attention is given to the hidden and unknown nature of the Thing.
The Director even referenced AIDS as one of the things the Thing could represent, but felt the need to state that it really was open to interpretation as to what the creature could represent—other than paranoia and fear.