There's an underlying tension to John Carpenter's The Thing that permeates every shot. It starts from the very first moment that we see a dog running along the Antarctica snow-scape and doesn't relent until the credits roll. It's a brilliant motion picture and one that time has been very kind to.

It's odd to think that it's underlying status in 2017, as a revered classic of the horror genre, is largely down to its resurrection on home video. The nascent VHS market saved the film after it went down smoking at the summer box-office of 1982. The marketing contributed, but it was unfortunate timing more than anything else: the summer being dominated by ET: The Extra-Terrestrial. If it had been released a few months later, it might have stood a chance. Blade Runner faced the same fate.

A lot of John Carpenter's films have faced the same fate. The Thing was his first big studio movie, after making a name for himself as the new auteur on the block with Halloween in 1978, The Fog in 1980, and then Escape From New York in 1981. Carpenter really put his all into this one, hoping to transcend the genre and have it be recognised as a true work of art. Its relative box-office failure hit him hard, and a few of his regular collaborators have made the point, in contemporary interviews, that he never really got over it.

But why is it regarded in such high esteem? Certainly, it's a cut above the kind of horror pictures being produced in the early eighties -Halloween and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining aside- and it's less interested in jump scares or cheap thrills than it is with, if you will excuse the vague contextual joke, in getting under your skin.

As opposed to Howard Hawks 1951 The Thing From Another World, an adaptation of the same short science-fiction story –“Who Goes There?”, written by John W. Campbell and first published in 1938- Carpenter's version stays true to the text, leaving the creature as a shape-shifting alien, able to imitate any creature that it assimilates. That gives it a different feel and allowed the imagination of effects supervisor Rob Bottin to go wild, with crazy near-hallucinogenic visions of differing versions of the creature. Some of which were of extra-terrestrial origin, mixed in with earth dwelling creatures. 

The casting was crucial. Carpenter's regular collaborator Kurt Russell in the lead as McReady was a good choice. He brings his usual charm and charisma to the role as the de-facto leader of the Antarctica research facility, with the benefit of one of cinema's greatest beards. Surrounding him is an ensemble of gifted character actors, including Wilford Brimley -best known for another ensemble piece, Ron Howard's CocoonRichard Dysart, Keith David – who would go on to a memorable further Carpenter role in They Live David Clennon and Richard Masur. Thanks to the unique shooting conditions and a two week rehearsal period, the cast bonded very quickly and added subtle dimensions to distinguish the characters, that didn't exist on the pages of Bill Lancaster's screenplay.

Dean Cundey had already collaborated with Carpenter on Halloween and Escape From New York, and the cinematographer was beginning to make a name for himself with his visual compositions. Indeed, he would spend the latter half of the eighties as Robert Zemeckis go-to lenser and eventually wound up shooting Jurassic Park for Spielberg. Here, his widescreen – scope to be precise – compositions add an extra element of tension to the film. With the extra space, Cundey and Carpenter leave room on the edges of the frame for occurrences. Using the depth of field, one scene in particular shows off their use of the space. Just after a particularly grizzly body-split for one of our ensemble, the ‘thing’ literally splits the head away from the lifeless corpse it currently rests upon, and begins to wander away, by sprouting its own legs and becoming an entity of its own. It quickly scurries off whilst McReady and company look at something else in the distance, occupying only a fragment of the frame. The infamous reaction shot when the creature is spotted, with the highly quotable line “You gotta be fucking kidding” from Clennon's Palmer, is another moment where the tension is used for effect; this time in a humorous manner.

At the time, all of Carpenter's theatrically released feature films had been scored by the director himself. He has often referred to these, primarily synth based compositions as minimal and has never felt that his talents lay as a composer. Audiences were enjoying them though and in recent years Carpenter has taken to touring them, but The Thing represented the first time he could afford to hire a big-name professional composer. The choice was that of Ennio Morricone, the Italian maestro synonymous with Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Western Trilogy -often referred to as The Dollars Trilogy.

The score represents a bit of an anachronism in Carpenter's career, in that it sounds exactly like something he would have done if he had composed it. Rather than being an orchestral piece, as Morricone was famous for, the composer intentionally imitates the electronic soundscapes of Escape From New York and Halloween. The result perfectly accompanies the white snow-laden environment of tension.

Thirty-five years on from its theatrical release, the film continues to find new admirers and has undergone countless home-video releases, the latest being a full 4K restoration for the UK market by Arrow Video and unleashed on Blu-ray. Its complete critical reprisal has justified the vision of its director and his collaborators and it's now regarded as a classic.