The Thing takes place during the winter at the Antarctic in 1982. We find an American Research Team standing outside their camp; watching some crazy Norwegians spin around the sky in a helicopter. They frantically try to shoot an Alaskan Malamute, but have the accuracy of an Imperial Storm Trooper. Eventually, the helicopter lands as the dog runs into the American camp.
Since the sniper’s bullets are barely able to hit snow in this snow-covered wilderness, the helicopter pilot takes out grenades to kill the mutt. In all the excitement, he drops the grenade, and then dies from the explosion as he recovers it. The remaining Norwegian calmly tells the baffled Americans, “Hey, that’s not really a dog. It’s an alien that will rip your mother fucking head off, and take your place before anyone knows it,” but this dumb-ass foreigner doesn’t speak English. Obviously, the Americans must kill him, and take the dog as their pet.
Next, we learn the camp is unable to contact the outside world via radio since this is many years before the Chinese made all of our electronics. For our young listeners out there, two way radios were these big boxes that people used to speak into to talk over long distances wirelessly before God invented cell phones.
So, instead of reporting the big shooting incident to any authorities, our hero, RJ MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Cooper (Richard Dysart) fly to the Norwegian camp for answers; that’s if anyone can understand their questions. They find the camp destroyed, and dead bodies everywhere. The mystery deepens when they find a large block of ice that looks about the size of a large coffin. Its interior has melted, and a little bit further down a mangled, hideous corpse sits inside. It kind of looks like a human, kind of doesn’t. What should our heroes do? Well, when in doubt, bring the ominous object back to study it. What could possibly go wrong?
Back at camp, Doctor Blair conducts an autopsy, and declares that this mangled mass has normal, everyday human internal organs. Meanwhile, this weirdo character named Clark is in charge of the dogs. He puts the stray dog in the kennel with the other sled dogs, and then leaves. The alien attacks them using sticky green radiatoresque fluid and stop motion limbs. This commotion causes so much noise that MacReady and Clark order the crew to the kennel with guns. Childs (Keith David) brings a flame thrower for good measure. Yes, once upon a time, scientists brought flame throwers to research facilities. Since this creature doesn’t speak English, Childs burns it to death.
This turns out to be a good kill as Blair learns from its autopsy that the stray “dog” is actually a mimetic extraterrestrial life form that assimilates and imitates other life forms on a cellular level. That’s probably what the Norwegians were trying to say in the first place, but that language barrier is a bitch. Realizing the implications, Blair withdraws from the team, and he becomes wary of everyone.
Now somehow, Norris (Charles Hallahan) figures out how to read Norwegian, and using their research from the destroyed camp, he and MacReady fly off to find an alien spaceship. From there, shit starts to go down.
Windows (Thomas G. Waites) finds the alien assimilating Bennings, and the group burns it. Meanwhile, Blair calculates the alien will assimilate the entire planet within 27,000 hours once it hits the mainland—that’s a little over 3 years to you and me. Now, the group needs to figure out who is an alien and who is still human. Then, they can burn all the aliens. Cooper comes up with a blood test, but someone sabotages the blood supply. Now, everyone suspects the other of not being human. The tension mounts. MacReady decides to put Garry, Copper, and Clark into isolation. He orders Fuchs to continue Blair’s work, who had now gone mad..and the alien may or may not have infected him at this point. The power goes out, and Fuchs disappears. As the blizzard approaches, the group finds his burned remains outside.
The camp chef Nauls (TK Carter) finds MacReady’s torn clothing in his shack’s oil furnace—a sign that the alien has assimilated him. While deciding what to do with MacReady, MacReady storms in and threatens to blow up everyone with dynamite. A stand off ensues.
During this time, Norris suffers a heart attack, and Cooper uses a defibrillator on him. For his thanks, Norris‘ stomach turns into a big, alien mouth, and it bites off Cooper’s arms. Cooper bleeds to death while MacReady kills the creature. This leads to an awesome scene that made me LOL when Norris’ dead head sprouted crab legs, and tried to walk away. Time for more fire, and another alien is toast.
As MacReady orders another blood test, Clark, the kennel guy flips out, and tries to stab MacReady. He shoots Clark in the head. With the death of Norris, MacReady explains that every individual piece of the alien is a distinct unit with its own survival instinct, and a sample of the alien’s blood will react defensively. It will try to move away when touched with a heated metal wire. Drawing more blood than is really necessary, the remaining members test themselves. MacReady, Windows, Copper, and Clark are human, but copilot Palmer (David Clennon) is an alien, and it kills Windows before MacReady kills it. More burning of dead bodies ensues.
Leaving Childs behind for security, the others go to test Blair who has been in the tool shed since he flipped out. Blair has escaped the tool shed by tunneling underground. Here they find a flying saucer Blair built with pieces of the helicopter and radio equipment. At this point, Childs is seen inexplicably leaving his post just before the entire camp loses power.
MacReady, who now knows everything but Norwegian, concludes that the alien intends to freeze itself in the storm, and await the arrival of the rescue team in the spring. He knows they will not escape alive, so he and the two remaining team members blow up the entire complex. While rigging the generator room to explode, Blair kills Garry and Nauls. Blair transforms into a large monster, and destroys the detonator with more outdated stop motion photography, but MacReady is ready. He destroys Blair and the rest of the base with dynamite—of course none of the explosions around him cause him any harm.
The movie ends with MacReady wandering the burning camp, waiting to freeze to death when Childs returns. Childs says he’s been lost in the storm pursuing Blair, but his story is unconvincing. With the freezing temperature affecting both men, there is no real way to determine if either of them is really human. So, instead of fighting, they share the remainder of a bottle of “Scotch” as the screen fades to black.