The Thing (1982)

Film and Plot Synopsis

The Thing begins when some crazed Norwegian scientists show up near an American scientific expedition in Antarctica; shooting at a dog from an overhead helicopter. After the helicopter explodes, and both Norwegians wind up dead, the Americans are left puzzled over the incident. That the night, the dog from that attack mutates into an alien creature and attacks other dogs in its cage. When the American team investigates, they quickly discover that they have a deadly creature with the ability to take the form of its victims in their midst. Now, suspicion and paranoia grows in the camp as the team can’t tell who the alien has already infected, and who’s still human.

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‘The Thing’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Thing (1982) - Theatrical Poster - Courtesy of Universal PicturesThe Thing begins with an alien spaceship flying through space before it enters Earth’s atmosphere near Antarctica. What happens to that ship next, we never see.

We next cut to an Antarctic winter in 1982 to find a helicopter frantically flying after a husky. The passenger uses a rifle to shoot it, but when that doesn’t work, he begins dropping grenades from it. The dog makes a beeline for the approaching American research base called Outpost 31. There, a 12-man research crew prepares for the upcoming winter.

The Americans recognize the helicopter as being from a Norwegian research base as it lands. They look on very puzzled as the two men excitedly exit the helicopter—rambling at a frantic pace in their native language.

One of them pulls the pin on another grenade, but in his delirium he accidentally throws it behind him. In a moment of horror, the pilot frantically fumbles in the snow to retrieve it. However, it explodes first—killing him and taking out the helicopter.

The other man continues shooting in a frenzy and babbling on at an equally dizzying pace—no one can understand a word he says. When the man shoots Bennings (Peter Maloney) in his left leg, Garry (Donald Moffat), the station commander, shoots and kills the man in self-defense.

Time to investigate the Norwegian camp

It’s quite puzzling as to why these two men would fear this dog so much. So, the team’s helicopter pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell), and their doctor, Copper (Richard Dysart), go to the Norwegian base to investigate.

They find signs of fire and explosions which have destroyed the entire base—everyone’s dead. When they find one of them had barricaded himself in the radio room, his wrists and throat were slit in an apparent suicide.

As Mac and Copper explore further, they find a large block of empty ice. Outside in the snow, there’s the charred remains of two human bodies along with a burnt corpse of an unrecognizable creature. It’s not human, but doesn’t look like any known animal either. The boys bring it back to their own base for examination—big mistake. Resident biologist, Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), performs an autopsy on the remains, but finds nothing other than an ordinary set of organs.

The first signs of trouble

That night, the team locks that stray husky in a kennel with their sled dogs. However, the other dogs greet it with fear and constant growling. Suddenly, the new Husky transforms into an alien creature, and uses its tentacles to attack the other dogs. The dog’s handler, Clark (Richard Masur), can only watch in horror as it happens.

When Mac hears the ruckus, he immediately sounds the fire alarm to wake up the entire camp. They quickly run to the kennel where they see the creature consume the other sled dogs. Part of the creature then separates from itself and heads into the ceiling. The crew shoots at the thing with their guns before turning their flamethrower on it.

Blair does an autopsy on this thing’s remains, and learns the creature can reshaping its body to replicate any animal or person it kills. Later that night, the crew watches a videotape retrieved from the Norwegian site that shows them working at a remote location. They form a circle around some object in the ice before using Thermite charges to uncover it.

An open crater reveals alien life

At daybreak, MacReady flies Palmer and Norris to the very site. Sitting in an open crater is an alien spaceship. The men rappel down for a looksee. When Mac asks Norris how long the ship has been there, he replies that it’s been there for at least 100,000 years.

Above the crash site rests a block of the ice cap missing where the Norwegians removed the Thing. Once they return to Outpost 31, Mac hypothesizes that the Norwegians woke the creature once the ice block thawed. It then immediately began its attack on them.

That evening, as Blair studies cells from the Thing, his computer reports that there’s a 75% chance that the creature has already infected one or more team members. Furthermore, if the alien reaches civilization, that creature will take over the Earth’s population in exactly 27,000 hours after first contact (that’s 37 months to you and me).

As the team prepares to place the creature’s remains in a storage room, Fuchs (Joel Polis), the crew’s assistant biologist speaks with Mac in private. He says that he’s thumbed through Dr. Blair’s notes, and he believes the organism’s cells are still alive and well in those charred remains. Blair believes that the alien has imitated thousands of other lifeforms across space.

Back in the storage room, Windows (Thomas G. Waites) and Bennings prepare the remains recovered from the Norwegian base for safekeeping. The remains quietly come back to life under a blanket. As Windows returns to the room, he finds the creature attacking Bennings with its tentacles.

Windows runs off to alert the other team members as Bennings escapes through the storage room’s window. By the time the crew catches up to him in the snow, the alien’s transformation is nearly complete—sans his hands, which are hideously large. Mac and the rest of the crew burn him alive before burning the remains of the two other Things with him.

The first scientist snaps

Dr. Blair can not come to terms with the possibility that this creature could take over the world if it got out. He snaps before going on a destructive spree. He takes out the surviving sled dogs, destroys the helicopter, the communications equipment—even injures poor Windows—trapping the remaining crew without any hope of rescue. The others subdue him before locking him in the camp’s tool shed with some heavy sedatives.

As the next day dawns, fear and paranoia takes hold of the camp. It’s unclear as to who is the Thing and who isn’t. Dr. Copper believes he can quickly develop a blood serum test to see who might be infected. However, when Copper finds that someone (or something) has slashed the lab’s blood bags, the test can’t happen.

Now Gary and Copper are suspected as Things due to their access to the blood storage as is Clark due to his proximity to the imitation dog. MacReady, who’s now taken over as the team’s de facto leader, quarantines the three men.

However, a whiteout (an Antarctic winter-type hurricane) hits the camp which quickly drops the outside temperature to dangerous levels. The remaining team must hunker down even though they can not trust anyone. Mac again consults with Fuchs, but he’s only come up with a few very weak ideas from Blair’s notes. Instead, he recommends that everyone prepares their own meals and eat only out of cans.

The following evening, as Fuchs researches the Thing’s ability to reproduce, one of the unknown infected crew members disables the power to the lab. Fuchs tries to find and kill them, but winds up killed himself off-camera. Mac, Nauls (T.K. Carter), and Windows find his charred remains out in the snow a few hours later.

More deaths lead to more confusion

It’s unclear whether the Thing burned Fuchs to death, or if he burned himself to prevent it from taking him over. Mac orders Windows back to the main building while he goes with Nauls to his shack to investigate it. When he left two days before, he’d turned out the lights, and now, for some reason, they’re back on.

Some time later, Nauls returns to the camp where he nearly collapses from hypothermia. He reveals to the remaining crew that he found torn clothing with Mac’s name on it in the oil furnace inside MacReady’s shack. There was a struggle back to the main compound, and Nauls was forced to cut Mac’s safety line so he could made a break for it.

Mac’s now locked outside, and breaks storage room’s window to enter it. There, he arms himself with a small bundle of dynamite before threatening to blow himself (and everyone else) up if they don’t back off.

When Childs (Keith David), and the remaining few, mutiny against MacReady—because they think he’s the Thing—Norris collapses from an apparent heart attack. As Dr. Copper tries to revive him using defibrillator paddles, Norris’ chest suddenly explodes with a monstrous mouth that bites off Cooper’s arms. MacReady uses a flamethrower to kill the Norris Thing. Only his head remains which sprouts legs before trying to run off. They take it out too.

A final test to see who’s human and who’s not

With few remaining choices, MacReady orders everyone to take one more test to determine who is and who isn’t infected. Everyone must give him a blood sample which he will then poke with a hot piece of wire. He reckons that each part of a Thing will try to survive independently. Therefore, the blood sample will transform to defend itself.

Suddenly, Clark tries to kill MacReady with a scalpel, but MacReady shoots and kills him first. He then ties up everyone, including the dead Clark and Copper while he performs the test. Windows goes first. He’s still human. MacReady gives him another flamethrower in case he needs to torch anyone who might be revealed to be a Thing.

As MacReady continues the test he finds the dead bodies of Clark and Copper are not infected. Next, he accuses Garry of being a duplicate, but instead finds that Palmer (David Clennon) is. As Palmer transforms, MacReady’s flamethrower misfires. Windows hesitates to kill it with his.

That moment’s hesitation is all the Palmer Thing needs to kill Windows. Its head splits open, and bites Windows’ head off. MacReady gets his flamethrower working in time to set the Palmer Thing on fire. It then crashes through the wall where it dies in the snow. MacReady then blows it up with a stick of dynamite. Now that the Thing has infected Windows, MacReady torches him too.

Only a few remain

We are now down to four remaining, uninfected crew members: MacReady, Childs, Garry, and Nauls. MacReady orders Childs to stay behind to watch the camp, while he, Garry and Nauls check on Blair to give him the blood test. The arrive to an empty shed. Blair not only escaped through the floor, but was secretly building a small spacecraft in the tunnels under the camp.

There’s a moment of confusion when they spot Childs run off into the storm. However, when the compound’s power suddenly turns off, they decide that Blair is the last Thing, and it wants to freeze into hibernation since it has no way out of its current situation.

With the realization that there’s little chance for survival, the men decide to blow up the base to prevent the Thing from freezing again. MacReady, Nauls and Garry set fire to the complex using homemade Molotov cocktails.

When Garry goes down into the camp’s basement to set TNT charges, the infected Blair kills him. Nauls next disappears where he’s never seen again. MacReady then comes face-to-face with the Blair Thing, and it’s able to destroy his detonator. MacReady makes a last-ditch effort to kill it with a lit stick of dynamite. Both the Thing and the compound explode in flames—MacReady survives.

Who is deceiving whom?

He stumbles to his ruined shack where he finds Childs waiting. He claims he saw Blair, and then got lost in the storm when he ran after him. Neither man knows whether the other is really the Thing. As they both sit opposite on another, each man is ready to kill the other at the first sign of deception. While the viewer knows MacReady is not the Thing, there’s a hint that Childs might now be one from when he wandered off earlier.

Both men take swigs from their respective bottles—exhausted from the ordeal. MacReady lets out a wry laugh as he looks at Childs’ bottle. Did he just drink from an extra Molotov cocktail sitting on the ground instead of whiskey? Only MacReady knows for sure.

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Universal Studios released The Thing on June 25, 1982. John Carpenter directed the film which starred Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David.

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