It's not the same old "Thing," not a frozen, vengeful space vegetable this time, not at all like James Arness, the original "carrot with a brain." No, "The Thing," a remake of the 1951 B-chiller, is more like the "Alien" rebirthed, ripened up, and not quite so well- done _ burnt would be more the word.
The "Alien" came from within, a visceral, screeching whip of goo; "The Thing," a 100,000-year-old bit of space debris, makes a similiar debut at a scientific station in Antarctica.
It first arrives among the isolated American scientists as a blue-eyed malamute. After licking a few faces, The Thing erupts from the innocent pup, ripping its furry little face apart. It wraps a few more sled dogs in its tentacles and sucks them up, all the while making sounds like two balloons being rubbed together. After its gelatinous metamorphosis, it has a couple of dog heads, lots of paws, and spider legs with claws. The bloody end-product -- dispatched with flamethrowers -- looks like the leftovers from a grisly barbecue, sauce and all.
But it's not over yet. After dogs come people. "The Thing" is an imitative organism which enters its host, hoping to look human so it can take over the earth. By the time the station's burly chief scientist learns that the monster's highly contagious, several staffers are infected and soon to be roasted.
Hero Kurt Russell, playing a rough-and- ready helicopter pilot, ties everybody up until he can figure out who's human by doing blood tests. There are close-ups, since even little things mean a lot in the horror biz. John Carpenter doesn't miss a drop.
And for gore galore, his work tops such recent competition as the remade "Cat People," in which a zookeeper's arm is ripped from its socket. The Thing jerks off two arms when the station's doctor tries to refibrillate a heart-attack victim. The organism pulls kindly doc into the body, melds the doctor with the patient and spatters the place with plasma. The flame-throwers do up a fricassee, but a green head, upside down with stalks and spider legs, almost gets away. Then they stir-fry him. And that's not the finale -- it's just one of those Things.
It seems the carnage will never end. The film is not a movie but a showcase for visual giblets. The acting is good, yes. The soundtrack, cinematography and sets have moments, but when up against "Cat People" and "American Werewolf," two films that mingled fantasy with horror, style and suspense, "The Thing" falls short. Still, if it's ripping and dripping you want, not mystery or dark eloquence, this may be your thing.
And with two characters not quite frozen solid by film's end, we could be in for a sequel. As Elbert Hubbard used to say, "life is just one damn thing after another." THE THING -- At AMC Academy, NTI Springfield Cinema, NTI Tysons Center, Roth's Randolph and Tenley Circle.