So we decided we must see both movies. Years and years ago, in high school, I'd seen the original. I remember loving it...it was directed by John Carpenter, after all! We must rent them both! We must compare! It would be a campy scare-fest!
In the 1982 version, the scene opens to an American expedition in the Antarctic, which is disrupted by a helicopter full of wild-eyed Norwegians chasing a dog, shooting at it and trying to kill it. (Bad alien doggy.) This alien form has the ability to infect other organisms and mock its appearance, so pretty soon, the entire camp is paranoid and doesn't know who is human and who isn't. Everyone's worst side is revealed. Bizarre mutations follow, lots of explosions and blood. As one would expect.
The expedition is led by drunk rogue badass R. J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and if you've seen any camp horror flicks you know from the beginning that he will be the one to survive. These were the Kurt Russell heydays. My whole family had some fun guessing, based on the variety of stereotypical characters, who would be the next one to bite it.
Predictability aside, Carpenter does keep things tense (I mean, who can get through Halloween without ripping one's hair out? The dude rocks the tension), and makes the best of the special effects at his disposal in the '80's. In fact, at the time, the special effect makeup was totally cutting edge. And Carpenter employs the revered Ennio Morricone for the soundtrack. It is subtle and simple, but memorable.
So...you can figure out where it goes from there. This is the same baddie, that comes in the form of a dog to the Americans in the 1982 version. But before the dog escapes, there are a lot of bodies that pile up, are mutated, are set on fire, or explode. Same deal as the 1982 version except there are better special effects and less (correction...NO) big name actors.
I sound flippant about this second movie, and that is because it really is hard to take seriously. Both are actually good fun action films that you watch while drinking a glass of wine and can still follow the plot. Sometimes that is all one requires. The panache of Carpenter, his actors and soundtrack, however, win the competition.
And because I am a book blog, I must mention that the whole premise is based on a short story entitled "Who Goes There?" written by John W. Campbell Jr. under the pen name Don A. Stuart in 1938. Before these two films, it was adapted to a motion picture in 1951 as "The Thing From Another World".