The Hawks original exalted human interaction, John Carpenter’s version sees it corroded by paranoia in a full-on Sartrean descent. The sole female voice at the Antarctic station belongs to an electronic chess game, the scientific crew is flabby and schlumpfy despite boasting a pair of badasses in Kurt Russell and Keith David. "First goddamn week of winter!" The intergalactic intruder enters as a gray husky zipping across the tundra, and infiltrates the base in a masterfully clipped sequence: A reverse tracking shot down the corridor, "Superstition" softly heard in the distance, the first victim’s shadow on the wall as the pooch enters the room, fade to black. The neighboring Norwegian camp, left in ashes in the creature’s wake, offers the first glimpses of unspeakable horror, mountains of churning, grimacing flesh like Bacon canvases. Wilford Brimley contemplates the virulent spread on a computer screen and, locked up after trying to isolate the shape-shifting invader from the outside world, can only murmur to himself: "I don’t know who to trust..." Peter Maloney crouched by the snow with monstrous hands and a steamy roar is from Munch; Richard Dysart with limbs ripped out by a ravenous torso is an unforgettable Lovecraftian vision, capped by the Redon sight of Charles Hallahan’s head coming unglued and sprouting arachnoid legs. Which is really to say that makeup artist Rob Bottin is a surrealist sculpting with latex and grue, adding squishy reds to the blinding whites and blues of Carpenter’s immaculately compressed frames. Dean Cundey’s cinematography keeps a sharp focus, yet the depth of field only heightens distrust, claustrophobia, the dread-awe of penetrating menace. "I know I’m human," Russell attempts to assert as nerves dissolve, tentacles spurt, and even blood itself twitches and hisses. A magnificent cabinet of grotesqueries, one of the decade’s great works, a cycle of evil perpetually frozen and exhumed. Hawks’ explorers finally break through and gaze ahead; Carpenter’s sit in the void, depleted, waiting for the encroaching cold and darkness. Music by Ennio Morricone. With David Clennon, T.K. Carter, Joel Polis, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, and Thomas Waites.
--- Fernando F. Croce