A Cold War is fought in the Antarctic by an American research team who must battle a shape-shifting invader, a gruesome horror that absorbs its victims, both physically and mentally, and subverts the social structure from within. This classic film begins with a helicopter rising over stark jagged mountains chasing a seemingly innocuous Husky; then almost subliminally, Ennio Morricone’s eerie synthesizer score creeps into our subconscious and we realize that all is not what is seems. When the alien finally reveals itself in an awesome display of slime, blood, tentacles, and gore, the infiltration has already begun.
John Carpenter has created a sublime terror, an emotional tremor more powerful than any alien monstrosity because the enemy is unseen: it could be your best friend…or even yourself. As the death toll rises accusations begin to undermine their fraternity, and MacReady must discover a way to distinguish the human from the inhuman. In this truly fascinating and complex scene, blood samples are drawn and tested with a hot needle. Each character, especially the ones who are human, shows absolute relief as if expecting themselves to be revealed as monsters: how devastating to be unsure of your own identity.
The true power of the film is in the disintegration of Authority reflective of Reagan Era America, where the proletariat can no longer trust those in control; we’re still suffering the consequences from Oakland to Wall Street. Here, in the cold charnel house of Antarctica, it is MacReady the helicopter pilot and Childs the mechanic who potentially saves the human race, not the fierce leader with his “pop” gun. Carpenter’s nihilistic social commentary is perfectly revealed in the ambiguous conclusion, as MacReady and Childs confront one another, they futilely wonder, “Who goes there?” The only answer is a slow fade to black.
Final Grade: (A)