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THE THING II: CONTAGION
By Liam Ronan
Antarctica, Winter of 1982: More than 72 hours after losing all contact with their fellow countrymen at the Dronning Maud scientific research station, a Norwegian rescue team discovers the slaughter left in the wake of the Thing’s revival from the ice.
A body count establishes that two of the Norwegian scientists are not among the dead and also that the camp helicopter is missing. The rescue team checks out neighboring U.S. National Science Institute Station #4 and finds that it is also in ruins – except that two of its twelve personnel, helicopter pilot J. P. MacReady and mechanic Childs, have survived… barely.
MacReady and Childs are airlifted to the infirmary at Palmer Station, a sprawling informal military community of several hundred soldiers, scientists and civilians. Suffering from exposure and frostbite, both Childs and MacReady remain semi-comatose while a U.S. military operation is launched to secure Station #4 and find out what exactly happened up there.
Before long the UFO crash site is located and the ancient relic is cordoned off as a team of American military scientists under the command of Colonel Jefferson Horne arrives to investigate.
Time passes. MacReady awakes alone in a hospital bed at Palmer Station and panics when a nurse tries to administer an injection. Soldiers arrive and force their way into his barricaded room, but not before MacReady is able to give himself an impromptu blood test using a stolen scalpel and a Zippo lighter. The test proves negative: MacReady has not been infected by the Thing.
MacReady is quizzed by Horne and his chief scientists, doctors LaChance and Litchard, who have salvaged the tape recordings that Macready made as well as the damaged diaries of Fuchs and Blair from the ruins of Station #4. Eager to learn from the superior technology offered by the UFO, they want MacReady to tell them everything he knows about the Thing. Instead, MacReady demands the destruction of the crashed spacecraft and the mass testing of everybody in the settlement for signs of contamination.
Horne tells MacReady that they are very aware of the deadly risk of contamination posed by the Thing and that all necessary precautions have been taken - including locking Palmer Station down tight. No one has been allowed to either leave or enter the area since the UFO was discovered. Refusing to assist the operation, MacReady demands that he be shipped back to McMurdo. Horne refuses.
Intent on finding out if Childs was infected prior to their rescue, MacReady slips away from his bed to find his co-survivor being treated in a neighbouring room. However, he is prevented from forcing the aggressive mechanic to take the blood test by the arrival of a detachment of Horne’s soldiers led by Corporal Piper, a familiar face from MacReady’s former military service who threatens to lock MacReady away.
Growing increasingly paranoid, MacReady becomes a virtual hermit, isolating himself in a supply shack at the edge of Palmer Station. He eats only out of cans, keeps flares within reach at all times and hangs a large noose from the beams of the shack, Blair-style, just in case. He toys with the idea of stealing a helicopter but quickly realises that the only place he will be able to go is McMurdo Station, where he will no doubt be shot down on Horne’s orders before he can land.
All the while, Horne is carrying out a massive excavation and exploration of the UFO up at the crash site. Everyday, MacReady watches transport planes fly troops and personnel in from the site and back out again, terrified that the contagion may be somehow spreading amongst them and that he can neither escape nor combat it.
MacReady begins to see a familiar pattern emerging at Palmer Station as complex machine parts go missing and discarded clothing is found which may or may not be a by-product of the contamination procedure. While he can find no concrete evidence to confirm this, it provides MacReady with plenty of fuel for his increasingly paranoid mind.
When attempts by Corporal Piper fail to convince MacReady to assist Horne, a fully recuperated Childs visits the pilot and reveals that he has agreed to act as an advisor to allow him to get closer to the crash site and destroy the UFO, thereby eradicating any possibility of the Thing’s survival. Disagreeing with the pilot’s suspicions that Palmer Station has already been infiltrated, Childs maintains that Horne has locked everything down so tight around the UFO that not even a microbe could get through. Childs tries to convince MacReady to join him in his bid, and urges the pilot to co-operate.
MacReady’s only answer is to try and force Childs to take the blood test. When Childs becomes angry at his colleague’s refusal to trust him, MacReady threatens to burn the big mechanic with a makeshift flamethrower he has fashioned using acetylene canisters.
‘You’re crazy, Mac!’ Childs shouts. ‘What does it take to make you realise that we’re on the same side?’
‘You want crazy?’ MacReady answers. ‘I’ll show you crazy.’ So saying, MacReady sets the shack on fire. The wooden building goes up in flames and Childs and the rest of the community turn out to fight the blaze while MacReady deliberately uses the diversion to slip away.
As the blaze rages on, MacReady’s looming madness reaches its peak when he slaughters every husky in the station kennels and is caught rigging thermite charges around the camp. Due to leave for the UFO crash site, Corporal Piper decides that MacReady’s recent experiences have unhinged his mind and orders that the pilot be sedated and restrained while he informs Horne.
Strapped to a trolley in the infirmary, MacReady rants that the contagion is already spreading throughout Palmer Station while medics prepare to inject him with sedatives. Dr. LaChance enters and orders the medics to leave so that he can reason with MacReady alone.
Arguing that MacReady’s first hand knowledge of the Thing makes him an invaluable asset, LaChance attempts to persuade the pilot to co-operate, explaining that their exploration of the UFO is yielding fabulous secrets – MacReady can either share the information locked in his head willingly, or have it taken from him via truth drugs.
‘Why can’t you just conform and be a good soldier like everyone else?’ asks LaChance
‘Because then I’d be no different to one of those Things,’ MacReady answers, surly as ever, adding that if he had his way, Palmer Station would be scorched down to the ground along with every man, woman, and child.
‘You’re a stubborn man, MacReady,’ replies LaChance. ‘That’s why we need you on the winning team.’ So saying, the doctor explodes in a shower of tubes and tentacles – he’s been infected by the Thing!
Sprouting organic needles from its fingers, the LaChance-Thing prepares to inject the helpless MacReady with a solution of its own. Before it can do so, MacReady lashes out with a foot and triggers a nearby wall-mounted fire alarm. Childs and several soldiers rush into the room as the Thing whirls like a spinning top, peeling the men closest to it with multiple lacerations. The remaining soldiers ignore Childs’ urgent shouts to open fire, afraid to shoot in case they hit their injured colleagues. Suffering from no such qualms, the Thing reveals fresh horrors as it attacks them.
MacReady’s trolley topples over in the struggle and he frees himself using a scattered tray of surgical cutting tools. At the same time, Childs ignites the emissions from an oxygen bottle and sets fire to the Thing. Escaping from the room, MacReady tears a grenade from one of the terrified soldiers and blows the Thing to pieces. He and Childs leave the soldiers to mop up and rush outside, hurriedly discussing their next move.
But it’s too late – now that the Thing’s presence has been exposed, something is happening to the inhabitants of Palmer Station.
MacReady and Childs can only watch helplessly as half of the station’s entire population suddenly transforms en masse and attacks those who remain uninfected. Children assault parents, wives slaughter husbands and soldiers massacre their comrades as the extent of the contagion is revealed amid a chorus of unearthly howls that drown out the alarms ringing throughout the camp.
‘Paranoid, huh?’ MacReady says to Childs sarcastically as they witness the macabre scene.
Realising that the contagion is far too widespread for them to fight alone, Childs and MacReady break into a store and stock up on arctic clothing, flamethrowers, flares and explosives before trying to steal one of the base helicopters. However, the Thing has other ideas, and with the only available aircraft destroyed they are forced to flee on a stolen snowmobile against a backdrop of insane slaughter: the terrifying, flesh-ripping, legion-faced fury of the Thing revealed in the annihilation of Palmer Station.
Spotted as they head out into the Arctic Wastes, MacReady and Childs fight a running battle against two infected soldiers who follow on snowmobiles of their own.
They manage to kill one of the soldier-Things, but the second follows them all the way to the edge of the ice-shelf where MacReady and Childs find unlikely help from a Japanese whaling vessel. Taking the two men aboard, the ship is attacked by the Thing as it rapidly mutates and drags the craft up onto the ice shelf, grounding it.
Ripping through the crew, the Thing pursues MacReady all the way to the prow of the ship – where the pilot uses the vessel’s huge whaling gun to harpoon the creature, blowing it over the side and skewering it to the ice. MacReady leans over the railing and watches as the Thing screams in fury.
‘Yeah, well fuck you too!’ he yells, tossing down a handful of explosives before it can react. The Thing combusts in a huge wave of searing heat.
Burning the infected corpses of the crew, Childs and MacReady escape using the craft’s small Hughes 500 chopper. Airborne and with precious little fuel to allow them to travel very far, the two men head for the only place left to go: the UFO crash site beyond Dronning Maud.
Forced to make an emergency landing, MacReady is amazed to discover that an entire temporary base complete with an aircraft runway has been constructed at the crash site. Horne’s men have erected a huge hanger over the UFO crater and have recovered the spacecraft from the ice. Technicians and scientists swarm over the vessel’s hide, restoring complex circuitry and fantastic machinery.
Already alerted by Corporal Piper of MacReady’s attempts to burn down the camp, Horne contacts Palmer Station by radio and is informed by the ‘operator’ that Childs has assisted MacReady in escaping, killing several guards and Dr. LaChance in the process. Horne brands MacReady and Childs terrorists and places them under arrest, ignoring their protests.
Locked into a barred holding cell, MacReady and Childs are surprised when Corporal Piper approaches and disables the guards left to watch over them. He reveals that they are not alone in wanting to destroy the craft and that he is one of several officers within Horne’s operation who are willing to help MacReady and Childs ensure the eradication of the Thing.
As he searches the unconscious guards for a key to the cell, Piper informs them that the UFO has been refurbished to the point where Horne’s technicians believe it is capable of short-range flight and voices his suspicions over Dr. Litchard’s particularly adept ability at restoring the vessel. Could he be infected?
MacReady points out that the Thing only wants to make it to a populated area so that it can maximise the contagion, and that the UFO is its only way out. He surmises that Horne’s team has been contaminated and that the Thing is now prepping the battered UFO for an escape to McMurdo, where it will be able to use the settlement’s trade and communications network to spread the contagion across the globe.
‘We blew up our own camp trying to kill this thing,’ MacReady tells his former colleague. ‘If it comes down to that, can we trust you to do the same?’
Having failed to find a key, Piper smiles and approaches the bars. ‘Trust is a hard thing to come by, Mac,’ he says. ‘Guess we’re just going to have to do this the hard way.’ And Piper’s mouth stretches open impossibly wide to reveal rows of moving saw teeth!
Childs and MacReady are attacked once more as wet, fleshy appendages burst from the chest of the Piper-Thing and wrap themselves around the bars of the cell, dissolving them with acidic secretions. Thinking quickly, Childs kicks a hole in the toilet, flooding the small space with water, while Mac wrenches a power cable away from the wall.
Just as the Piper-Thing steps into the cell, MacReady plunges the cable into the spreading water while he and Childs climb up out of the way. The Thing is electrocuted in the surge, finally collapsing into a smoking heap as the power blows and the base is plunged into darkness.
MacReady and Childs escape the cell and head for the UFO, retrieving the explosives they brought with them along the way. They sneak on board amid the confusion and are planting the charges when they are discovered by Horne’s men. MacReady plays his trump card by revealing that he’s holding a flare dangerously close to the explosives.
‘Anyone messes with me and the whole camp goes,’ he tells them. Childs stands at his shoulder, urging MacReady to do it anyway before the soldiers decide to open fire. But the pilot does nothing until Litchard and Horne arrive to take charge.
‘Good,’ says MacReady. ‘Now I’ve got all my bastards.’ So saying, he ignites the explosive.
‘No!’ screams Dr. Litchard, rushing forward in a bid to prevent MacReady from destroying the ship. The threat to the UFO forces the Thing out into the open once more as a huge spear-like claw bursts through Litchard’s chest and tears the explosives away from MacReady, extinguishing the flame. MacReady jumps back, realising that the appendage hasn’t originated from Litchard - but from one of the soldiers standing directly behind him.
The soldier erupts in a writhing mass of pincers and teeth as Litchard dangles from the limb that has impaled him. Confronted by the truth at last, Horne orders his men to open fire on the creature.
But Horne is in for a nasty shock - most of his entire company has already been infected. A mass transformation takes place as a battle breaks out between the Thing and the few soldiers who remain uninfected. Outnumbered, the soldiers retreat helplessly as the Thing secures the UFO once more and the distant hum of massive engines warming up reverberates throughout the base.
Realising that the ship is about to launch, MacReady, Childs and Horne make it to the runway and escape in a DC-10 as the hum turns to a deafening roar. Horne reveals that they have about twenty minutes before the craft is ready to fly. Whatever else may happen, the three men know that they cannot allow the contagion to reach McMurdo, and MacReady proposes that they crash the DC-10 into the UFO and bring it down in a suicide dive. The only snag to the plan is that it doesn’t leave anyone to deal with the infection at Palmer Station.
But Horne comes up with another idea and bails out near the ice shelf where the grounded whaling vessel lies, telling MacReady and Childs that if his scheme fails, they can always use the kamikaze plan as a back-up.
MacReady and Childs circle above, waiting for the UFO and watching as Horne climbs aboard the grounded ship. As the massive craft rises up out of the crater and destroys the temporary base in the blast of its thrusters, Horne races against time to assemble another harpoon for the whaling ship’s huge gun, firing just as the UFO passes overhead.
The harpoon sets off an internal explosion. Wavering and in flames, the UFO dips wildly before crashing in a death dive towards Palmer Station.
The township is wiped out in the ensuing fireball, and every last vestige of the Thing’s contagion is erased. Horne is killed in the massive shockwave.
MacReady struggles with the controls of the DC-10 as the turbulence washes over them, bringing the plane back under control as Childs whoops in victory. MacReady asks him what he’s so happy about.
‘Just glad to be alive, baby!’ Childs replies.
He isn’t happy for very long. It dawns on Childs that MacReady is piloting the plane not towards McMurdo, but far out over the freezing waters of the empty ocean. To make matters worse, he’s jettisoning all of the DC-10’s fuel.
‘You never did take that blood test, Childs,’ MacReady explains. ‘Seems to me that something as clever as that Thing – something with enough wits to protect itself by setting man against man so it can stand back while they fight it out - will always have an escape plan. This is the only way to be sure.’
‘You ain’t no hero!’ Child shouts, panicking as the plane’s engines begin to stutter and fail. ‘When the hell did you start wanting to save the world?’
‘Never gave a damn about being no hero,’ MacReady replies. ‘But I guess I’m just a real sore loser, Childs.’
And the final twist is revealed – Childs has been a Thing since the very beginning!
The Childs-Thing attacks MacReady, who retreats into the hold. Before the Thing can kill the pilot, the plane crashes into the freezing ocean. A rush of water floods the DC-10, forcing the Thing deeper into the hold and pushing MacReady out of the plane.
Suffering the effects of the freezing water, MacReady hauls himself up onto the overturned fuselage of the downed plane as the last of the fuel leaks out of the tanks. The Thing suddenly surges to the surface and attacks; using his last flare, MacReady ignites the fuel on the surface and watches as the Thing burns in a sheet of flame.
‘Last goddam week of Winter,’ he whispers to himself.
The Thing is dead, burned to a crisp and lost in the icy depths. The film ends with MacReady, lying on the floating wreckage in the middle of the freezing blackness of the ocean, surrounded by a circle of flames, once more waiting to die…