Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Thing”

tumblr_m06wk6ouuq1qebc5uo1_500

Fuchs: There’s something wrong with Blair. He’s locked himself in his room and he won’t answer the door to me or anyone. So I took one of his notebooks from the lab.
MacReady: Yeah… and?
Fuchs: Listen: “It could have imitated a million life forms on a million planets. It could change into any one of them at any time. Now, it wants life forms on Earth.”
MacReady: It’s getting cold in here Fuchs, and I haven’t slept for two days.
Fuchs: Wait, there’s more… “It needs to be alone and in close proximity to a life form in order for it to be absorbed. The chameleon strikes in the dark.”
MacReady: So is Blair cracking up or what?
Fuchs: Damn it, MacReady! Listen! “There is still cellular activity in these burned remains. They’re not dead yet!”

In 1978, John Carpenter put himself on the map with “Halloween”, a low-budget horror film that went on to become a major financial hit and a bona-fide horror classic. After doing two projects for television (including “Elvis”, which would star future frequent collaborator Kurt Russell), he returned to the big screen with 1980′s “The Fog”. “The Fog” was another hit for Carpenter. It grossed more than $21,000,000 domestically on a budget of just $1,000,000. He followed that with yet another hit, “Escape From New York”. With a $6 million dollar budget, “Escape” saw a $25 million return.

“Halloween”, “The Fog”, and “Escape From New York” had each been made independent of the Hollywood studio system. But in 1981, he would go to work for Universal Studios, directing “The Thing”.

thing_from_another_world_poster_03

who goes there 2Several years earlier, Turman-Foster Productions had proposed the project to Universal. The intent was always to make a film more faithful to the original story (John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?”), as opposed to remaking the 1951 Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby film “The Thing from Another World”. Out of caution, however, the studio acquired the rights to both the story and the original film. They also lobbied to keep “The Thing” involved in the title for publicity purposes.

Producer Stuart Coen had gone to USC with John Carpenter, and wanted to involve him on the movie right from the start. Both were fans of the ’51 film and the original story, and had spent a good deal of time at school discussing them together. They had both seen the movie when they were young, and it had made quite an impression on them. Seeking out “Who Goes There?” later, though, they were each impressed with the atmosphere of paranoia involved in the story as opposed to the Frankenstein’s monster quality of the film.

This was prior to “Halloween”, however, and Universal didn’t want to go with an unknown. Instead they pushed the producers to choose someone they had under contract. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper wound up with the job. However, after a couple of attempts. Hooper and writing partner Kim Henkel failed to submit a satisfactory script.

AlienIn fact, even after Hooper left the project, producers had difficulty getting a satisfactory script. Writers didn’t seem interested in dealing with the mystery and suspicion… the treatments they kept receiving focused on the more overt monster movie elements. Without a script and without a director, the project fell dormant for a couple of years… until 20th Century Fox scored a hit with “Alien” in 1979.

screenshot-lrg-05

By the time “Alien”‘s success spurred Universal to resurrect “The Thing”, Carpenter had made a name for himself, and was offered the helm. He didn’t want to write the screenplay, though, so the search for a screenwriter continued.

The producers turned to Bill Lancaster (son of Burt), who had written the script to “The Bad News Bears”. Lancaster wasn’t initially thrilled with “Who Goes There”, but eventually latched on to the heart of the material. He decided to emphasize the paranoia aspect to an extreme degree. He wanted to push the fear and paranoia to the point where the mistrust made it immaterial whether the monster was alive, or where it was, or if anyone was actually the monster at all, the men would be the biggest threat to themselves.

This was what the producers had been wanting to hear all along. Production could finally begin.

screenshot-lrg-02

A number of actors were considered for the lead role of MacReady. Initially Carpenter was reluctant to work with Russell as his lead again, and as friends, Russell actually consulted with Carpenter as to who he thought might be good in the role. Inquiries were made regarding Jeff Bridges, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Kris Kristofferson and Sam Shepard, but all either had scheduling conflicts or turned the project down. Producers met with Tom Berenger, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, and Scott Glenn without filling the role. Australian actor Jack Thompson (“Breaker Morant”) was flown in to read for Carpenter.

John-Carpenter-e1350485979491The part finally went to Russell, however. It would mark the third time in Carpenter’s last four projects that Russell would be the lead (and they would collaborate twice more for a total of five films made together).

screenshot-lrg-10

With the script and star in place, it was time to focus on production. A camp for the exterior shots was built in Stewart, British Columbia, close to the Alaskan border, in order to guarantee snow. The temperature ranged between 0 F and -15 F during shooting. The indoor shots would be shot on refrigerated stages in Los Angeles. Ironically, LA was in the midst of a heat wave during the three months of shooting, creating some awkward changes in temperature for the parka clad cast as they made their way to and from the sets in 90 degree heat.

It was the special effects, however, that would provide the biggest hurdles. In the days of practical effects, Pre CGI, just how they would accomplish the desired shots was a challenge. Rob Bottin was in charge of special effects, fresh off of his first lead role on a special effects team on “The Howling”. Prior to that he had worked with famed special effects guru Rick Baker on “King Kong”, and was part of the crew for Carpenter’s “The Fog”.

He was 22 years old.

At the end of production, he would require hospitalization for exhaustion.

screenshot-lrg-12
Bottin worked with the storyboard artists (notably comic book artist Mike Ploog) in order to create the ghastly incarnations that the creature (who supposedly could turn into a multitude of forms) would turn into. Bottin’s team of illustrators, sculptors. painters, and mechanical effects technicians grew to over 40 members.

Over the course of that year, he and his team utilized every conceivable technique available at the time in order to achieve the creature effects. Hand puppets, marionettes, radio controls, wires, hydraulics, and pull cables were used to achieve motion. The gore came from heated bubble gum, strawberry jam, mayonnaise, cream corn, gelatin, and food thickener. Creatures were made of metal, urethane, fiberglass, foam latex, rubber and KY Jelly. Cameras were over-cranked, under-cranked, shot upside down, and in reverse, trying anything they could in order to make the monsters look strange.

screenshot-lrg-34

The special-up effects budget for The Thing was initially $750,000, but that number would double to $1.5 million as the production went on. Bottin would work on “The Thing” for over a year – from April, 1981 to late May, 1982. He was working round the clock and sleeping on the Universal lot. Reportedly he was living on a vending machine diet, as well. Upon the project’s completion he checked himself into a hospital and stayed for two weeks in order to recover from the stress and fatigue.

At the end, the special effects’ successes and failures helped shape the film itself. Certain effects which could not be achieved forced scenes to be dropped or rewritten, while some of the outrageous ideas the team came up with were worked into the film, such as the severed head which sprouts spider’s legs.

But as bizarre and disgusting as the special effects turned out to be, it was the way the monster effected the people in the film that turned the movie into such a classic.

screenshot-lrg-25

A dog is chased into an Antarctic research camp by a helicopter, and shot at by the ‘copters apparently unstable pilot. The research team is forced to kill the man, as he seems to be firing indiscriminately. After, however, they fly back to the Norwegian base he hails from in order to investigate and or inform people there of what happened, and there they find the base in shambles, with a victim of apparent suicide and a charred carcass of something strange outside.

screenshot-lrg-01They soon discover its nature. Not far from the Norwegian base, they find a downed UFO. Soon after returning to their base, they encounter something foreign attacking their dogs. They realize that they’re dealing with an entity from another planet, who crashed here countless ages ago, and was unearthed by the Norwegian team. Now, the creature can assimilate lifeforms that it touches, and then imitate them after they’ve been consumed.

The team also realizes that any one of them could have already been killed, and replaced by this creature.

screenshot-lrg-17

What unfolds is a tale of paranoia, suspicion, and mistrust. Once the team realizes that some of them may not be who they appear to be, doubt, fear and anger creep in. People lose it. Members of the team who wander off alone or were thought to be in contact with the creature are questioned. Threatened. Imprisoned and bound. Drugged. At one point, killed.

The cast, which also featured Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Donald Moffat, and Richard Masur, do a fantastic job of portraying unraveling men. Fraying sanities.

screenshot-lrg-28It’s the ultimate case of “how do I know you’re who you say you are?” as the team tries to figure out a method for determining who’s human and who’s not. Some way to be sure… to force anyone who’s actually the monster out in to the open. By the time they devise a blood test to isolate those who have been replaced, it’s practically too late. Their numbers have already dwindled to less than a handful.

Slowly, the situation turns hopeless as the losses mount. The weather outside is inhospitable, their vehicles have been disabled. They have no means of communication. And the creature is still after them one by one. It all draws to one of them coolest, bleakest endings in film as the team’s priority shifts from staying alive to making sure the Thing dies.

screenshot-lrg-37

Sadly though, “The Thing” was not received well.

It opened June 25th, 1982 (the same day as “Blade Runner” and two weeks after “E.T.“) and went on to gross a mere $3.1 million its opening weekend. Its total domestic take was $19,629,760, which barely eclipsed its budget of $15 million.

Critics were harsh on it as well, calling it out for its excessive use of gore.

screenshot-lrg-38It was not nominated for any Academy Awards.

It has, however, turned into a cult classic. It’s widely praised by horror aficionados as a classic of the genre, and embraced by pop culture as a great film. It’s found its way onto the IMDb Top 250 (#145). It was given a prequel/remake in 2011, but fans readily cite the 1982 version – made 20 years prior – as superior.

It’s a film that, due to its fantastic script and great cast still stands the test of time, in spite of effects which to today’s eyes may occasionally come across as dated. Those moments will be easily overlooked. What will stand out is the fear, the paranoia and the suspense.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See“.

screenshot-lrg-40

TTHUU

Daniel Fogarty

About these ads

71 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “The Thing”

  1. The Best Horror film since the Exorcist. It was scary as hell and well plotted. The pinnacle of John Carpenter’s craft. Opened the same summer as E.T., I think it moved into the Cinerama Dome after E.T. left but I am fuzzy on this memory since it seemed that E.T. was there forever.

    • Same month as ET, same day as Blade Runner. People were citing that as one of the factors in its poor BO performance.

      Yeah, I think I might be hard pressed to choose between this or Halloween for Carpenter’s best. Its definitely one of the two…

  2. YESSSSSSS! What an incredible write-up for a great classic! I love The Thing. For me everything from the old school special effects to the amazing claustrophobic setting works. This is a movie everyone should see.

    Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to read this again!

  3. After all of these years, it’s still freaky and still has me wondering just what the hell happened at the end. I mean we know who survives, but the fact of what they did after the movie and if one was infected or not, still stays clear in my mind. Nice review man. It’s a classic that shows John Carpenter, in his most intense state of mind.

    • True, easily one of Carpenter’s best if not the best. I wonder how it would fare head to head against Halloween in a poll to see which was his best.

      I dont think either survived or was infected. Just me, maybe, but I dont think the Thing had time to get Keith David, and we know MacReady wasn’t infected. Either way, I dont think anyone made it out of the camp alive, The Thing included. Thats how I like to look at it!

  4. Yeah, I’m not so sure this really stands the test of time, as you said, Fogs. I watched it for the first time about a year ago. It’s cheesy, campy, slow, and the effects haven’t aged well. I like practical effects, believe me, but they look fake as hell. Watching it without nostalgia goggles on makes me think this is one better left to the 80s vault.

    • Agree to disagree. The effects are fine for the most part, but admittedly spotty. Its the paranoia and suspicion element that really cranks things up. Punctuated by people getting their faces eaten off, of course.

      Totally confident that the commenting court will have my back solidly on this one at the end of the day ;)

      • It’s a cult favorite, for sure. I have no doubt the commentors will agree with you over me on this one. I can even see why people like it. But for me, I was definitely underwhelmed.

  5. I agree, it’s a must see. This was my dad’s favorite film so it has a special place in my heart. It’s amazing that they only spent $1.5 million on special effects, it’s as effective as anything you see today.

    • I dont know that the effects are as effective in terms of believability, but in terms of horror I think they’re very much as effective. There was some gross stuff going on there! LOL Plus the concepts they were presenting were pretty horrific. That was some sick stuff to imagine! :D

  6. Another top quality inclusion Fogs. This is one my very favourite sci-fi/horror film’s. It’s a shame that this and Blade Runner were overshadowed by E.T. That’s probably why I harbour some resentment to the Spielberg film, the way I do Titanic and LA Confidential. Lol.

    Great backstory as usual sir. Didn’t know Bill was son of Burt. Nice one man.

    • Thank you sir, thank you.

      I dont know that I “resent” ET… especially seeing as it got its turn at the Oscars, which was a total hose job too. :( ET is by far a more populist film. Blade Runner and The Thing were both awesome, awesome movies, but their appeal will be to more mature audiences, who dont mind dark themes… Thats a narrower field, and thus, less money.

  7. I harbor the same feelings as Mark. The Thing is my favorite JC film and in my Top 10 list of all time favorite movies. This was an incredible read, Fogs! A great essay on a classic and timeless sci fi movie that still holds up stunningly well. i will pass this post around! Good job! Thanks.

    • Yeah, one of these days I’m definitely going to have a great debate and see if people think this or Halloween is the better film from Carpenter. I’m not even sure which way I’d vote!

      Glad you enjoyed it Vic. Love doing these. I’m always hoping that if someone really loves a film, I’ll do it justice when I post about it, you know? :D Thanks again!!

      • I am so there for that debate and discussion if you’ll have me! “The Thing” gradually overtook Halloween on my list. There is also a great book by Anne Billson of the BFI that is a must own for big fans of the film. There is an e book out too called “All about The Thing” over at http://www.outpost 31.com I believe.

      • Heh. I hit Outpost 31 up for some info when I was putting this together. That’s a great fan site.

        Not sure when or if that’ll get up, but of course you’re there man. :D

        I gotta think of one to get that series going again!

    • The other being Halloween, I presume? I’m not sure which of the two I would vote for for my favorite of his. I think this one might be the more polished effort, but Halloween is just iconic. Tough call!

      This one definitely is all about the atmosphere though. ;)

  8. I have vivid memory of the night I saw this. A night of club hopping with 2 managers of said clubs led to the brilliant idea, “Let’s see a movie!” It couldn’t have been more than 30 minutes in when the God Vomitus spoke to me. All three of us rushed out just in time. It was the combo of booze and animal autopsy that did it for me. It was quite a while before I dared to brave a reviewing. While I think this is a powerful “in the gut” movie, It owes a tremendous amount to the original. Carpenters’ “Thing” just wasn’t that shocking after we’d been exposed to “Alien”. But in 51 Hawks’ movie was light years ahead of the pack. Audiences were used to cheap Frankenstein type monsters back then, not realistic horror. I still liked it a lot, just not classic like.

    • Well. What an… illuminating story. LOL

      Its been a long long time since Ive seen the ’51 version. I liked that one, no doubt. Definitely a classic monster film. I dont know how much this version “owes” to that one though, especially seeing as they took the walking Frankenstein element out of it. They very much seem different to me.

  9. Hi, Fogs and company:

    Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is his best work in the Sci-Fi genre. And hold more closely to Campbell’s very short story, ‘Who Goes There?”. Carpenter was also correct in making the film his own. Probably aware that he couldn’t compete with Hawks’ layered, often jumbled dialogue. He opted for a monosyllabic lead, over the top special effects, paranoia and claustrophobia and created a great stand alone project.

    Though I was raised on and still prefer Hawks’ “The Thing from Another World’ for its palpable 1950s “Red Scare” message running throughout. Carpenter pulls the plow. And his take would make a superb double bull opposite Hawks’ original.

    • Yeah, easily his best Sci Fi no doubt. Its got that horror factor too though, so I’d have to weigh it against Halloween there and thats when I get stuck. LOL

      It’s been too long since Ive seen the ’51 version. Although I know I like that one too. I should keep an eye out for it, I’d love to revisit that one. Of course Netflix streaming doesnt have it. I dont think they ever have a title when Im looking for it.

  10. Excellent pick. I remember having some friends over after work to watch my VHS copy. It was my 3rd time but their 1st. So when the scene comes on where the test is being done with the hot wire, I had forgotten when it was supposed to happen. When it did, I think I jumped higher than anybody there. That’s when I realized how FN cool this movie is. I even have it on Blu-ray now. The quality is so good that when people are outdoors in the movie, I can feel the cold. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the original also. But this is one remake that surpasses the original.

    • LOL. That is quite a “Jump” moment, isn’t it? I love the havoc that follows, too. Probably the most classic scene from the movie I think.

      Definitely concur. This is one of those films that I point to when people talk about the evils of remakes. I dont wish Remakes would stop, I just wish cheap, shitty remakes would stop. LOL.

      This, The Fly, Scarface, The Maltese Falcon… there’s a lot of movies out there that were remakes that were better than the first ones !

  11. Enjoyed 1982′s The Thing. I always the felt the story (that whole paranoia vibe) was a solid base for the movie and adding the effects which were inventive for the time and still probably work well (I differ from Brik point here) though I haven’t caught this one in a while. Never realized what an impact Carpenter had on Russell’s career; cool info (5 films). Great addition to your other films and worthy MTESS.

    “You guys gonna listen to Garry? You gonna let him give the orders?
    I mean, he could BE one of those things! ”
    -Windows, the Thing(’82)

    • Its worth sitting down with if it crosses your path. Excellent flick. Totally had me sucked in. I was planning to write a bit AS I watched and that plan went right out the window as I just watched :D

      Meanwhile, thank you sir! Appreciate the support as always, I definitely think this one is worthy, without a doubt.

      Now if I could only sell people on “The Fog” :D

  12. I think I might’ve caught this when my brothers were watching. Well, as I don’t do horror, let’s just say I didn’t sit down and watch it w/ them, ahah.

  13. The widescreen photography by Dean Cundey is electric! Definitely one of my faves films. Plus, Kurt Russell and Keith David kick all kinds of ass. That ending! lol.

    • Yup yup yup! Lots of good things going on. The setting is almost a character in the film, I really should have written that in more… and a lot of that goes to the photography, especially those freezing outdoor shots.

      The cast IS great, no doubt. And hells yes… the ending is awesome, isn’t it? I love the end of this flick. :D They tried to get him to change it, and reportedly the shot a “happy ending” where Macready gets picked up on a helicopter AND the blood test him to prove he’s human. Thankfully Carpenter never had to use it!

  14. Like I mentioned on Twitter, this film holds a very special place in my heart. Not only was it the first R-rated movie I saw and the first horror movie I saw, but it was the first movie my step-dad and I ever watched together after my Mom got remarried. It really brought us closer together and we still look back on that memory fondly.

    Sentiments aside, it really is one of the best horror movies of all time. The setting, the claustrophobic and cold atmosphere, the paranoia and the darkly funny humor blend perfectly together alongside the brilliant script, special effects and acting. I can think of very few movies that can still scare me after all these years and The Thing is still one of them.

    Great write-up Fogs. Hopefully more people do give this movie a chance. It’s a true classic through and through.

    • That’s cool that you have such fond memories Travis, and nice for you that they come attached to such a great movie. Trust me, a lot of times those things dont align. You get those special memories, but the movie is like “Maximum Overdrive” or something. LOL

      You know, I’m with you. I may have to formalize my list and do a top ten or something, but THIS is the kind of movie I like. The suspense, the psychological horror. I dont need freaking jump scares (though this movie has a couple), I want to be scared throughout!

      And thanks, glad you stopped by, nice to hear youre a big fan of this one!

  15. Great work as always, Fogs. I saw The Thing for the first time a couple years back and I was surprised at how well the special effects hold up. Plus it doesn’t get much better than that freakin’ beard!

    Cool to hear that it’s in the IMDB Top 250. Didn’t know that.

    • I see you the beard, and I raise you that freaking sombrero hat he wears. LOL. I want that thing. That would be an AWESOME prop to have :D

      The effects dont neccesarily look real, but theyre effective because theyre still gross and bizarre. So they get the job done!!

  16. Great write up Fogs. I love The Thing and agree that it’s something everyone needs to see. Your review got me all excited to go and watch it again…. Out of curiosity, what did you think of the remake/sequel/prequel ?

    • It sucked. Very disappointing. All the good parts were the moments they basically stole from the 82 version and redid. Anything they did that was original basically left me flat :(

      Glad to hear youre a fan, I think this movie is a great one. :D

  17. Superb stuff, my friend. Not seen this in quite some time but I can’t argue with its inclusion here. I’m not a huge fan of horror films but this is one of my favourites. Think it’s about time I gave it another viewing at some point.

    • Thanks Chris! :D

      Its worth revisiting, there’s no doubt about it. Still holds up remarkably well, I enjoyed watching it to write this piece – big time!

      Most horror films dont rise to this level, that might be a part of why you’re not a big horror fan. LOL

      • It could well be! To be honest, I get scared quite easily by them (i know that’s the point) so I prefer films that have a little something more to them than just ‘quiet, quiet, quiet, LOUD’, and that’s what I like about this, the feeling of isolation and paranoia.

      • Exactly. I’m not a huge fan of the movies that just rely on jump scares, myself. Or gore. I need something psychological… something to think about in order to actually scare me.

Join in the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s