Almost 40 Years Later and The Thing Still Scares the Crap Out of Me

1982. What a fantastic year for science fiction fans. Steven Spielberg’s E.T. won the year by breaking box office records and receiving widespread acclaim. Two weeks after Spielberg’s movie premiered, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing hit the box office. What unfortunate timing.

In my humble opinion, E.T. doesn’t stand the test of time. However, both Blade Runner and The Thing age like a fine wine. Since it’s nearly winter, I decided to focus on a cold-weather themed movie: The Thing. 

Carpenter’s movie combines my two favorite genres – horror and sci-fi – into one magnificent, bone-chilling film. Bill Lancaster wrote the frightening screenplay based on the John W. Campbell Jr. novella Who Goes There? published in 1938. The film follows a group of American researchers in an Antarctican outpost who discover the “Thing,” an alien lifeform with parasitic abilities that allow it to imitate other organisms it assimilates.

Plot

The film focuses on protagonist R.J. MacReady, portrayed by actor Kurt Russell. MacReady, the research team’s helicopter pilot, and Dr. Copper, played by Richard Dysart, investigate an accident at a Norwegian base. You can watch the 2011 movie of the same name, which acts as a prequel for the 1982 film. The 1982 movie picks up where the 2011 movie ends.

MacReady and Copper find the Norwegian outpost’s frozen yet charred remains and recover one deformed body to the American base. The duo discovers a sled dog, bring it back to their base, and that’s when all hell breaks loose. 

So, how do we know who’s human? If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?

-Childs (Keith David) talking to MacReady (Kurt Russell)

10 Interesting Facts

1. An alternate happy ending of the film exists, where MacReady receives a blood test, and it comes back negative. However, the director said he’ll never let that scene see the light of day, preferring his ending. Imagine how different a movie The Thing would be if MacReady was rescued? I like the ending where MacReady remains at Outpost 31. What about you?

2. The cast experienced a near-death moment while traveling from Los Angeles to British Columbia. Inclement weather forced the cast to take a bus ride. While driving in the snowy darkness of B.C., the bus driver lost control of the bus as it neared an unprotected edge of the road on a 500-foot drop. Luckily the driver regained control, and the crisis was averted!

3. Director John Carpenter blamed E.T. for the film’s disappointing box office results. The Thing opened at #8 at the U.S. box office and made enough money to cover the cost of making the film. As a result, Universal Studios decided to part ways with Carpenter.

4. The Thing is considered a trilogy of movies, versus remakes of predecessors. The first film, The Thing from Another World, released in 1951, is also based on Who Goes There? Carpenter is a fan of the 1951 film and didn’t want to compete with it. Instead, Carpenter chose to pay homage to the first film by including discovering the alien via an ice excavation. 

5. Rob Bottin, in charge of special effects for Carpenter’s movie, was only 22 years old at the time. Bottin worked in special effects since he was 14, having worked on Star Wars, King Kong, and others. His work ethic is second to none. He worked 7-days a week during The Thing filming and even got himself hospitalized due to exhaustion!

6. Bottin hired a double-amputee for the scene where Dr. Copper attempts to revive Norris (portrayed by Charles Hallahan). Norris’s chest opens, and the doctor’s arms slip and fall inside the open cavity. They’re immediately severed, creating a devastatingly frightening scene. The man Bottin hired put on prosthetic arms designed to look real on the inside, so when the forearms were ripped off, the scene looked real. I doubt CGI today can make that scene look better!

7. Director John Carpenter decided to use real dynamite in the film, and it nearly killed Kurt Russel. While filming a scene where MacReady battles The Thing, he throws a stick of dynamite. Apparently, Russell didn’t realize how powerful an explosion would occur and was blown back when it exploded. Carpenter even kept that MacReady footage in the film since it looked so real.

8. If you pay close enough attention, you’ll notice the actors that are still human always have a little light in their eyes, while those infected with The Thing do not. Cinematographer Dean Cundy alluded to that during a recent interview. It reminds me of the light effect Ridley Scott used in Blade Runner, which only showed up in the replicant’s eyes.

9. Guess how many female characters are part of The Thing? Zero. Zilch. None. Even the film crew was 100% male, which initially had one female member that was eventually replaced by a man. The only association the film has with a female is Carpenter’s then-wife, Adrienne Barbeau, who voiced the chess computer. Unreal.

10. Kurt Russell almost didn’t get the role of MacReady. Carpenter worked with Russell on Elvis (1979) and Escape from New York (1981) and felt trepidation on using him too many times. Luckily Jeff Bridges, Christopher Walken, Sam Shepard, Nick Nolte, and many others either turned the role down or were not interested! Fortunately, Russell landed the role, and the rest is history.

Want to learn interesting facts about another classic sci-fi movie? Check out this post!

Different Types of ‘Things’

The film portrays many variants of The Thing. Which is your favorite?

The Kennel Thing, aka The Dog Thing

The Kennel Thing

The Bennings Thing

The Bennings Thing

The Norris Thing

The Norris Thing

The Blood Test Thing

The Blood Test Thing

The Palmer Thing

The Palmer Thing

The Windows Thing

The Windows Thing

The Blair Thing

The Blair Thing

Conclusion

The Thing is a sick, gory, sci-fi at it’s worst movie – and I love it! To me, it epitomizes the horror flicks of the 80s, with all the jump scares, gory blood, and hideous monsters. Today, many films wouldn’t be as good as they are if it weren’t for creative geniuses like Carpenter and Bottin. The Thing ranks high in my list of favorite movies, and rightfully so. Where does it rank on your list?

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