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The Thing (1982)

tn_thething“I don’t know what the hell’s in there, but it’s weird and pissed off whatever it is.”

In snow, no one can hear you scream. ‘Cause it’s cold. They stayed inside.

John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982) – not to be confused with Christian Nyby’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) or Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s THE THING (2011) – is straight up one of the best horror films achieved by mankind so far. It’s relatable but extraordinary, simple but original, blunt but ambiguous. It has quite possibly the most brilliant creature effects ever devised, or at least the only monster arguably weird enough to top ALIEN in the “well, shit, I never even thought of seeing anything like that!” department.

The Thing crash landed on earth some 100,000 years ago, and has only recently been unfrozen to raise a ruckus. A pessimist would say (as Wilford Brimley’s Blair does in the movie) that this is the type of shenanigans that could end the human race in a couple of years. An optimist would say hey, let’s just be thankful the flying saucer didn’t land properly in the first place, we got an extra 100,000 years out of that.

mp_thethingcThis is not the kind of monster that goes around eating people. I mean, it does kill people. But the terror of this creature is its ability to perfectly mimic other lifeforms. Like some fish or lizard that can change color to camouflage itself, The Thing can take on the shape of anybody. It’s scary because we don’t know if we’re looking at Wilford Brimley or some fucking tentacled alien motherfucker bending and squeezing its flesh into the exact shape of Wilford Brimley. Even doing his voice. No one can be trusted. Not even dogs.

As creepy as those implications are, it’s really catching The Thing in the act that keeps us up at night. This not a simple morph, like from panther to Michael Jackson. It usually takes a little time. The Thing is gonna want its privacy. But if you walk in on it when it’s in the middle of turning into some dogs or a person or something and it’s not ready yet, it freaks out and starts morphing and burbling and tentacling all over the place, the Thing equivalent of yelling “FUCK!” and trying to run away and pull up its pants at the same time. Then it gets confused and gets the coding wrong, or it just doesn’t give a shit and it improvises, so we see a big mouth in a guy’s chest, a bunch of dog parts melted together, an upside down severed head walking around on spider legs… all kinds of genetically incorrect madness. It’s a freaky fucking monster!

Let us take a moment to acknowledge Rob Bottin, the one of a kind bat shit factory who masterminded these effects. A protege of Rick Baker, he worked on the STAR WARS cantina scene and was the tallest member of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes, in my opinion the Booker T and the MGs of Tatooine. He first worked with Carpenter on THE FOG (1980), but he really broke out as a superstar of effects makeup in 1981 when his incredible THE HOWLING werewolf transformation beat his mentor’s AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON one to the screen.

bottinSince THE THING, Bottin has been less prolific than Baker or many of the other makeup legends, and he’s pretty much disappeared this decade. IMDb claims he did uncredited work on one episode of Game of Thrones in 2014, otherwise his last credit was MR. DEEDS in 2002. But if you look at his filmography you’ll see an unmistakable style of envelope-pushing effects work in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, EXPLORERS, LEGEND, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, ROBOCOP (yes, he designed Robocop), TOTAL RECALL, SE7EN, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. Think about the bizarre creatures in these. Of course they were made by the same guy who made THE THING. It makes sense, right?

But of all these brilliant works, it’s hard not to consider THE THING the best.

Now, for this baroque, constantly transforming pile of body horror to stand out, you need a simple backdrop: an isolated camp for a group of gruff working men – specifically a research station in Antarctica. The all male crew don’t seem like best buds – the first dialogue is between protagonist R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, ELVIS) and the computer chess program he chooses to hang out with – but they know how to work together. They inherit this alien intruder when the last survivor of the Norwegian team that found it chases it right into their camp. In THEY LIVE, Nada is just going about his business when he starts to see strange activities around the church, and curiosity about it eventually pulls him into an intergalactic conspiracy. Here the odd thing they witness is some guys in a helicopter trying to drop bombs on a dog! Obviously that’s gonna raise some eyebrows. Especially in Antarctica where you don’t get alot of excitement.

The fatal mistake is shooting first. They kill this apparent crazed dog hunter and have no one to ask questions of. Even if that’s a regular human dog and not an alien impostor – hell, especially if it’s a regular human dog – it’s not gonna be able to explain to them what’s going on. This is not Lassie. They blew it.

Another mistake is bringing home the big pile of frozen weird they find in the Norwegian camp. “We found this,” he says! I know, it’s rare, and finders keepers and all that, but that thing is what we would’ve called back then a TV dinner from Hell. Do not defrost. And that dog hangs around and stares at it. Does this mean he is an alien, waiting for the thing to thaw so he can have some companionship? Or does it mean he’s a regular dog keeping an eye on the situation in case he needs to help out? I’ll tell you this, if he is not an alien he is definitely gonna try to eat some of that thing if he gets a chance, don’t you think? Absolutely he is. Dogs are nasty.

But as nasty as they are I feel sorry for the dogs in this. They’re the first ones to discover they’ve been infiltrated and get lashed by tentacles and messed up. When they see what they thought was a fellow dog turn into a spider thing they must be thinking “Oh jesus, the humans are never gonna believe this shit.” Thank God Clark (Richard Masur, FIRE DOWN BELOW) sees it for himself.

I’m not saying I agree with The Thing’s behavior, but I will say this: it would suck to be frozen for 100,000 years in my opinion. So maybe The Thing isn’t really being itself. For all we know it could be a complete gentleman most of the time, it’s just that right now it’s confused and irritable from freezer burn.

Poor guy must’ve been bored out of his mind down there. These scientists aren’t exactly having the time of their lives, but they have recreation. They have a Heat Wave pinball machine, Defender, the computer chess (voice of Adrienne Barbeau!), board games, Jim Beam, Smirnoff, Coors, a jukebox, Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book. Bennings (Peter Maloney, THE CHILDREN, MANHUNTER) refers to “crap” on the radio while “Superstition” is playing, which is why nobody can really argue with him being the first human to go. Sorry, bud. Shouldn’t have disrespected Stevie.

Speaking of music, that’s another pitch perfect element of this movie. The score by Ennio Morricone is as spare and haunting as the landscape. Carpenter went out and got one of the greatest composers who ever lived to make him music, then he didn’t use most of it. It’s interesting that unused portions ended up in another snowbound Kurt Russell-led ensemble, THE HATEFUL EIGHT. According to Quentin Tarantino, Morricone composed full orchestral and synthesizer scores for THE THING, but Carpenter only used the main synth theme. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive breakdown of the unused music, but apparently the tracks called “Eternity,” “Bestiality” and “Despair” are all used in HATEFUL EIGHT (but were also included on the THE THING soundtrack album).

I want you to check out the one called “Bestiality”:

Great music that’s hard to imagine in THE THING as it exists. Carpenter’s movie doesn’t dance around like that. It looks intently straight ahead. It is steady and single-minded. It sounds like a John Carpenter movie. He must’ve felt kinda bad getting the maestro to create that for him and realizing that he just couldn’t put it in the movie. He zeroed in on the simplest parts, the parts that helped build the mood of a slow, hopeless march straight into the heart of a snow storm.

Morricone’s score album is out of print, for some reason eclipsed by a still-produced re-recording produced by Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth and arranged by Larry Hopkins. They cover “Bestiality,” even though it wasn’t in the movie, and there are three additional tracks credited to Carpenter in association with Howarth.

If THE THING is Carpenter’s masterpiece, it’s weird that his masterpiece is the rare one that he didn’t compose the score for. Or at least most of it. It’s also Carpenter’s first film besides the ELVIS mini-series that he didn’t write. The “Who Goes There?” short story by John W. Campbell Jr. was adapted by Bill Lancaster, the son of Burt Lancaster and writer of THE BAD NEWS BEARS and THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN. No shit, that’s who wrote THE THING. And he was married to Ernie Kovacs’ daughter Kippie.

mp_thethingI never noticed until this viewing how much this has in common with ALIEN aside from just being another masterpiece of sci-fi horror dread with mindblowing creature designs. Both begin quietly, even peacefully, in space. In this, more than five minutes pass before there’s any talking. Then they introduce their teams of working class people on missions far away from other humans, trying to get through their long, shitty, lonely jobs without cracking. They find evidence of another group in distress, so some of them go explore the inexplicable scene of disaster, where they discover alien artifacts and the buried wreckage of a long-ago-crashed alien spacecraft. They accidentally bring a deadly predatory species back to the crib, and it’s hidden inside some of them. They argue, plan, try to burn it, get picked off one by one, and eventually try to blow up the whole place to destroy the thing.

(After writing all this I listened to the co-producer’s commentary track, and he says that the success of ALIEN helped them finally get the movie off the ground. It had been previously in development for Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel.)

The biggest difference is that THE THING is more body-snatcher paranoid. It’s about fear of betrayal, of hidden motives, and the dangers of disunity. At first they approach this situation as a team. They discuss plans, delegate tasks. As in the Howard Hawks produced 1951 version they are professionals. Early on we see them all standing around this Thing on a slab, hands on their hips in some cases, examining it, offering their expertise, considering possibilities.

still_thething

But the very nature of The Thing is to create division. It does it just by living. By exactly mimicking other lifeforms so that nobody knows who goes there, who’s who and who’s Thing, it makes sure the group is torn apart by suspicion. Natural divide and conquer.

The blood test is a brilliant invention on the part of the characters and the filmatists. Every part of the Thing is designed to defend itself, so stick a drop of blood with a hot poker and it will put up its dukes. I assume the same would be true of a sweaty towel or a pile of poo.

But it’s not an easy test to administer. They had to tie each other up and collect the blood. Really makes you appreciate the convenience of those sunglasses in THEY LIVE. So much more user friendly.

The ambiguity of the rules of Thingsmanship add an extra dab of existential terror. I’ve always wondered if the people who are The Thing would necessarily know they are The Thing. Behind-the-scenes materials confirm that Russell asked about this during filming. Isn’t it possible that this lifeform mimics not just physical characteristics, but memories? This would explain how they can speak and still seem like the humans they’re replacing, and why Thing-Blair knew so many ways to sabotage the team. It could also explain why the people who turn out to not be Things still seem scared to take the blood test. Or at least that seems to imply that they don’t know how it works either and fear the possibility that they could be The Thing without realizing it. In a way the idea of not knowing if you’re a human or a monster imitating a dead human is scarier than all your friends being replaced by monsters.

And that makes the hall-of-famer inconclusive ending even better, because maybe neither of them knows what’s gonna happen either. I really have no interest in that debate about whether MacReady or Childs (Keith David, MARKED FOR DEATH) is assimilated at the end. The answer is obvious: MacReady is or Childs is or both are or neither are and they just have a few drinks and then freeze to death. It could be any of these things, that’s the point, why would there be a correct answer?

This is legendary as a nihilistic ending, but there’s a possible victory in it if we assume Thing-Childs or Thing-MacReady are limited to human frailties and will die. But what happens if The Thing does manage to escape the camp is fascinating to contemplate.

First, though, I have to wonder, is there The Thing or are there Things? Since the individual cells can function as separate organisms, does that mean everyone assimilated shares one consciousness? If so, The Thing’s goal could be to have one mind populating the entire planet. Or multiple planets – maybe it still knows what’s going on back at home, and anywhere else it has spread.

If there’s only one Thing it seems logical that it will take its methodology to its logical conclusion of killing and replacing every last person on earth. So how does that work? How far does it go into that couple of years before it dispenses with the “we’re humans” bullshit and starts wrecking shit in its primary form of weird misshapen body part piles? Or is that even its primary form? In fact, does it have a primary form? I guess its primary form is each individual cell. They just work together in different systems based on the lifeforms they encounter. Were they even the ones flying that saucer, or were they an infection, like in ALIEN?

Would it end up like the aliens in THEY LIVE, a secret class hiding among us? And what kind of sense of humor would it have about it? What if it continues with this M.O. of imitating humans and waits until it has only one person left to assimilate and then it says “Surprise!” and that’s the signal for the entire rest of the population of earth to simultaneously Bottin out? That would be pretty upsetting if you were that last human, but pretty funny if you were The Thing.

But what I really wonder is what if it replaces the whole human race and then it never drops the charade? Maybe the mimicry is not just to deceive, but a way to adapt to different environments, and then it would make sense to stick with the human form or some evolved variation on it. Even if that’s not The Thing’s instinct, who is to say it won’t find itself comfortable enough that it will continue to live as human, or even identify as human? It has killed every human and now there are billions of fake humans. A whole planet of The Things forever going through the motions of being people, like some crazy, soul-less puppet show from space.

Maybe at first it’s real stiff. “Hello, how are you?” “I am fine. I hope that you are fine also.” But over time it gets better at it. It gets so involved in the human ways that it sympathizes with them. It becomes invested in the lives it fakes. It started as a joke and it became serious. It forgets it was a put on. It just becomes its life.

If The Thing picks up people’s memories and mannerisms, would it pick up on our differences enough to imitate our class and race prejudices? Would it erase these conflicts to make itself happy, or stay faithful to the original source material and fight amongst itself?

Oh shit, and what about animals? It took over dogs, would it have to take over the other animals? I’m gonna say no, or if not the Thing people should be vegetarians so they’re not eating Thing animals. That would be gross.

So there’s this whole Thing civilization, The Thing pretending to be humans, interacting with each other, working together and for each other, exchanging money for goods and services, eating food, building families, making love, getting an education, still not knowing what to do with its life, never quite feeling like it made the right decisions, not being able to make life work like it used to picture it when it was younger, feeling unfulfilled, fearing death, taking a job out in the middle of fucking Antarctica, away from most of the other Things, typing in numbers, performing tests, learning about this planet…

Then one day it finds the flying saucer. It remembers where it came from. The Thing, during this mid-assimilation crisis, could decide to drop everything and shift to any other form. But it could also stay fake-human. Maybe try to make some little adjustments, little improvements, see if it can make it work.

This would be the real test for humanity. What would it do? Why don’t we just… wait here for a while. See what happens.

mp_thethingb

Thanks for reading, everybody, and happy Halloween!

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, October 31st, 2016 at 12:42 pm and is filed under Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

52 Responses to “The Thing (1982)”

  1. Funny. I was watching THE HOWLING the other night and the thing that struck me, like THE THING, is that it is kind of effects -fetichism. The shots stays for a long time on the transformation, seemingly more occupied with the effects themselves. Not that I am complaining, but it i something that would not be happening now. The werewolf-transformation of LAST PHASES goes by incredibly quick, unlike AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING. And also like THE THING. The effects make it kind of a rhytm to it in a different way.

  2. I think about the They Live alien invasion every day. I’m not convinced it hasn’t happened already. I’m certainly not getting the special treatment. The Thing invasion would be like a zombie invasion. Probably better to be Thinged or turned into a zombie when you think about it. No more responsibility or boring jobs. Do you think the Thing me is going to put up with the shit I do. Not a chance, Thing me would sit down for a production meeting and just tear my head off and grow some crab legs and fuck off out of work. It’s time we all went full on Thing and got the fuck out of my meeting.

  3. The Thing are the Body Snatchers. They do not care about petty decisions. they (Thing) just except what they would need done. Which is actually, when you think about it, is what we need. We need less people reading human science. We need more drones.

  4. I would be surprised if you hadn’t come across this in your research, Vern, but the TV edit is apparently a completely different cut of the movie with an ‘extended’ ending that I have heard people say explains who is human and such but it really does not.

    The 2002 video game (which is pretty bad, unfortunately) picks up after the movie and just straight-up says, though. I don’t remember if Carpenter had anything to do with it or if his love of video games is more recent.

  5. Asteroids Deluxe not Defender. You OK, Vern? I can’t believe you made that mistake. You ought to see a doctor.

  6. Birch – I actually never heard of the TV cut until it was included as an extra on the new Scream Factory blu-ray. I haven’t checked out the whole thing yet, but the beginning part I watched is amazing because of the narrating explaining the background of each character.

    Feet – Are you sure there’s not a Defender in there? I wrote it down in my notes, having seen it in the background.

  7. There’s a Blade Runner narration cut of The Thing? Did Kurt Russell do it in a terrible flat voice like Harrison Ford did in Blade Runner?

  8. No, it’s not any of the characters, it’s a third person omniscient narrator! I’d really like to know if the character information came from the script, the novelization, Carpenter, or somebody not involved in the actual movie. Since Carpenter shot extra scenes for the TV version of HALLOWEEN (and HALLOWEEN II also?) it seems conceivable that he was involved.

  9. It’s definitely an Asteroids Deluxe cabinet, not Defender, but I guess the marquees look kinda similar. One thing I liked about the 2002 video game is the AI squadmates. They had sanity meters and if you didn’t watch it they’d flip out and start shooting wildly or commit suicide. They could also be Things in disguise. It was completely broken, of course, sometimes they’d turn into Things even if they’d passed the blood test or they’d bug out for no reason, but it made it a little more interesting than just another Resident Evil knock-off.

    It bugs me in movies whenever someone has to give blood and they cut the tip of their finger or the palm of their hand. It’s a huge bundle of nerve endings (i.e. painful), it’s prone to infection and it’s gonna take forever to heal because you’re constantly doing shit with your hands. And if you’re being stalked by a horrific alien tentacle monster you want full dexterity, you don’t want a bunch of bandages getting in the way.

    I’ve always assumed that the Thingified people have all the same memories of the originals and aren’t aware that they are Things. In other words, everything that makes you a human being is simply a collection of cells and neurons with nothing special or supernatural about them. Like the survey team, we’re all stranded on a rock in a cold, unfeeling universe.

  10. If this film came out today, all of the questions the film purposefully left unanswered would be considered “plot holes” by the internet. My favorite part of this film might be when the thing freaks out and turns into the spider/head combo, and one of the guys just says, “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding.” The delivery is such a perfect mixture of fear and frustration.

  11. Thought I’d chime in on the TV cut on the new Scream disc and a few other things… This was made without the knowledge or involvement of John Carpenter or myself and originally aired on CBS TV in 1987, a full five years after the films theatrical release ( the original introduction is on YouTube ). We were thunderstruck by the destruction, but the cut can be viewed as a template for Universals concerns at the time ( slow, boring, cant tell the characters apart without a narrator, ect.) which they were able to act on.The ending for this was cobbled together by someone else using inferior outtakes of Jed from the opening sequence…

    All of the music Morricone recorded for THE THING was released at the time on the original soundtrack, just not used by John…

  12. Wow! Thank you so much for clearing that up, Stuart. I thought that would go on being a mystery. I really appreciate you chiming in.

    And I know I speak for all of us here in saying thanks for such an amazing movie!

  13. Have you guys seen the interview with DP Dean Cundey from a year or so ago? He puts forth a fascinating tidbit about shooting light reflecting from the eyes of the living and not from those who are The Things. Makes for an interesting rewatch.

  14. “It’s also Carpenter’s first film besides the ELVIS mini-series that he didn’t write.”

    Just so you know, Vern, Carpenter apparently did massive uncredited rewrites, resulting in reshooting big chunks of the picture. One of the producers does a deep dive into that creative evolution in the link below.

    http://theoriginalfan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/when-thing-became-john-carpenters-thing.html

  15. I really love the idea of The Thing taking over, realizing humanity is terrible, and flying back home or assimilating another life form. It would have made a much more interesting film than the “re-imagining/prequel” from a few years back. (Which isn’t so much bad as wholly unnecessary).

  16. I appreciate your mention of FX master Rob Bottin, as I think his work in the ’80s was ground-breaking. Also possibly of interest to some of your readers is the involvement of comic book artist Mike Ploog, who did some design work and storyboards for the film. Ploog was best known for his horror-related comic book work (doing Frankenstein, Werewolf By Night, and Ghost Rider for Marvel) and was a natural fit for The Thing.

  17. Good news is that Rob Bottin is slated to direct Freddy vs. Jason 20 years ago in an alternate universe. Also, the Thing is a great film.

    New Line taps Bottin for ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

    :New Line Cinema is sealing a deal with special effects wiz Rob Bottin to direct the much-awaited battle between Freddy Krueger, the scissor-fingered slasher of the “Nightmare on Elm Street&#…

  18. Not much I can add. This one is a straight up masterpiece and has been discussed in detail by many much better writers than me. I’ve always been fascinated by how much critics despised this thing when it came out. There’s this one older gentleman who’s reviews I used to read had a to-the-point complaint that the movie’s effects ‘wag the dog.’ Leonard Maltin had a similar complaint and now Shoot brings it up (though he does in a positive light). I remember the mini discussion here about the climax of POLTERGEIST is a bit too overblown and wonder if that is the case critics had with it back in the day. The older gentleman I mentioned before likes monster movies (why I used to follow) but he too felt Carpenter should have went with a less is more approach. If I remember right there is a Tom Savini interview I watched where he kinda says the original THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD is better because it didn’t get hung up on special effects. Apparently Wilford Brimley, on the set, had similar opinions. As many times as I watch the movie and try to see where they are coming from I just can’t and I honestly have never met anyone else who’s felt the same way (including many who saw it in theaters when it came out).

    btw Vern you forgot to mention that Morricone’s score got nominated for a Razzie.

  19. Vern your review made me think of the short story “The Things” by Peter Watts which is the story of the movie told from the point of view of the Thing:

    Clarkesworld Magazine - Science Fiction & Fantasy

    Subscribe to Clarkesworld and never miss an issue of our World Fantasy and Hugo Award-Winning Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine. This page: The Things by Peter Watts

  20. Holy shit Vern, can you interview Stuart Cohen and ask him a billion questions for us? I trust you to ask the right questions. So cool! I recently saw ET and let me tell you The Thing is the movie that actually holds up. No justice in 1982 I tell you.

  21. I know somebody who had a meeting about writing for the Bottin version of FREDDY VS. JASON. He thought Bottin’s storyboarded plans were reprehensible and claimed he wouldn’t want the job if he was offered it. But he wasn’t allowed to talk about it so I don’t know if that means it was really extreme or if it just offended him as a Jason/Freddy nerd. At the time I took it to mean the former.

  22. Coincidentally I just bought the Blu-Ray for 5 bucks yesterday.

    Man, I love the movie (obviously). I saw it the first time in my early 20s and when that dog’s face opened and the skull fell off, I was standing on my bed. Among many other thing, this movie is the perfect example, that blood and gore CAN be scary! Yes, Carpenter also milks the maximum of atmosphere out of the movie and actually, it’s the main ingredience, but the dog mutation is already so fucked up, that you are actually scared of what the next mutation will be. (While on the other hand being super excited for it.)

    A few months ago I tried to watch X-FILES for the first time. Unfortunately I had to stop early in season 2 when Amazon streaming removed the show. Isn’t streaming great? Anyway, there is one episode in season 1, which is such an obvious hommage to THE THING. That wouldn’t be too remarkable, but it came out in 1993 or 94, which means that when it filmed, THE THING came out a bit over 10 years ago and was still considered horrible trash that deserved to bomb, in the eye of the public. Not to mention that the hommage must have gone straight over most of the audience’s head, because they hadn’t seen the movie. Man, time flies and changes, amiright?

  23. Also Carpenter is playing his only German concert this weekend and I can’t go. Fuck.

  24. The dog effects were actually done by Stan Winston, when Bottin had a breakdown during production. Also, according to imdb Eastwood was on the shortlist for MacReady and Lee Van Cleef could have been Garry. How cool would that have been?!

  25. Great essay here, as well. Wonderful to have the Vern perspective on such classics, even if he has been assimilated by the THING. Your observations will definitely enrich my viewing, Vern-Thing. Thanks!

  26. Just want to second that Watts short story The Things mentioned above. I read it a couple years ago and it is quite fantastic

  27. CJ: As I was alluding to my post, did the public ever see THE THING as some horrible trash? The only ones I’ve ever ran into who didn’t like it were the critics. Every single “norm” I’ve met agree with us nerds that it is great (even my live-in mom who who is super critical of any and all remakes (not from her childhood). Arguably I’m on the younger side of the spectrum with this one, I wasn’t born when it came, and by the time I came of age maybe the public consensus changed by then.

  28. Geoffrey, I just assumed that it was like that, because of the critics’ negative reception and its status as box office bomb. You know how it goes. The public doesn’t need to see a movie to hate it, they just need to read what critics say and look at low box office numbers. I was born in 82, so I can’t tell if it was like that for real, but from my perception, it was beloved by horror geeks only, until the rest of the moviegoing public caught up with it in the late 90s/early 00s, due to the rise of internet and re-releases of many forgotten and underrated movies on DVD.

  29. Crushinator Jones

    November 1st, 2016 at 8:44 am

    CJ, by ’84 The Thing was universally loved. And every single X-Files fan got the reference in season 1.

  30. It was definitely only critics who hated THE THING. Everybody who was inclined to see it and managed to do so always knew it was amazing.

    The original reviews of it are some of the worst critiquing I’ve ever seen. They border on thought-policing. The movie wasn’t panned for its filmmaking, but for espousing a socially inconvenient point-of-view. “Stop thinking like this,” they told Carpenter and crew. “It makes your betters feel uncomfortable.”

    I recall that my old nemesis (and poster boy for moralistic film critics who think it’s their sworn duty as upright citizens to inform the public of what kind of stories they’re allowed to not be ashamed of enjoying) Leonard Maltin gave it *1/2, at least in the editions of his movie guide that I had. I don’t know if this happened for THE THING, but I loved seeing some later editions of the guide that revised his original smug, scolding reviews for a lot of the dark classics of this era so that they would fall more in line with what common sense would tell anyone with eyes about these movies. I would have paid money to be a fly on the wall when that decision was made and it became fully clear to him that it was now his uptight, hectoring point of view that society had come to find unacceptable, that the barbarians he’d been working self-righteously to keep away from the gates for his entire career had now taken over the city. It was too late, though, and now his reputation rests almost entirely on his history of being entirely wrong about almost everything…especially THE THING.

  31. “It was definitely only critics who hated THE THING. Everybody who was inclined to see it and managed to do so always knew it was amazing.”

    One of the problems I had with some of the criticisms surrounding STRANGER THINGS, that someone actually owned a poster for a film nobody should have seen because everyone takes for granted that just because it was never a big success that automatically meant that there was no awareness of the film at the time.

    I always felt that was a revisionistic and simplistic and quite frankly incredibly shallow complaint. The science teacher , who was a big fan, which we saw in a scene as he could not stop talking about it while watching it with his girlfriend. And kids connected to him as we were shown, so they obviously got the poster from him.

    So, yes, genre fans I think took to it even though it was perhaps not a mainstream hit and was perhaps more of an underground “thing”.

  32. Well, good to hear about the early revision of THE THING’s status as an awful piece of shit. I guess Germany caught on later.

    Can’t say much about Leonard Maltin, but whatever he said and did, someone who is willing to appear in the sequel of a universally beloved movie that he hated, only to get strangeled by its monstrous protagonists, can’t be that much of a jackass. Hans-Ulrich Pönack would never do something like that!

  33. Majestyk, I think Ebert did some of the same moralizing and then revisioning. He was initially very, moralistically critical of the Freddy and Jason flicks,but then eventually got around to liking New Nightmare…and even friggin Devil’s Rejects!

  34. I just heard this recently, although it may be old hat to some of you:

    That MacReady figures out a new test at the end, and hands Childs a bottle of gasoline. And Childs drink it obliviously, because he doesn’t know, as a thing, that he is supposed to be drinking alcohol.

    And then MacReady smiles, because now he knows that Childs is a thing. Cut to credits.

    I don’t know if that is scripted but not spoken/ apocryphal/ crazy fan theory.

  35. Oh definitely. When Ebert got up on his soapbox, he was insufferable. All the sleaze and grime he enjoyed was just good clean fun, but take it a step past his personal threshold and it was an affront to everything that was good and decent about mankind, which mean that if someone else enjoys that level of sleaze and grime, well, that person must be a reprobate. Horribly hypocritical of a critic who was normally able to judge art on the set of criteria it set for itself rather than the one that could be superimposed on it.

  36. There’s also the theory that Childs must be The Thing because you can see MacReady’s breath but you can’t see his. Of course, Childs is sitting directly in front of a fire (as a warm-blooded mammal who wishes to stay warm would do) while MacReady is several feet from it.

    However, I agree with Vern. The point is the ambiguity. There’s no hidden “yes or no” answer. The answer is and always will be “maybe.”

  37. Yeah, I love that ending. Badass.

  38. I appreciated some of Ebert’s insights, even if I didn’t go for the type of high-brow films he used to hold up. I quit regular reading over at that sight not long after he passed, when I realised that the (not all of them) assembled team of over-educated cafe-latte-enema’d intellectuals couldn’t tell their assholes from their elbows when it came to certain beloved genres. Matt Zoller Seitz excluded, he conveys a certain joy in his writing. His MAN OF STEEL take is pretty impressive, compared to the fanboy bullshit we had to endure. The only negative he pulled a star on was for the diminishing of a strong female role. Other than that, he mostly nailed it.

  39. I really enjoyed Ebert’s writing, but he was a little late to the game on splatter films.

  40. Blowing my mind with this review, Vern. But doesn’t the existence of Blair’s spaceship (how about that fucking thing, anyway?) kind of throw off your theory that they would take over the planet?

    I’ve always loved the performance of the dog, especially right before it enters the room where “someone” is sitting and then just FADES TO BLACK. Also, the power struggle that Macready has to thread during the second act – going from natural leader to prime suspect and back to being a leader (though by force the second time). Let’s not forget Blair’s hand melding with Donald Moffat’s face.

    One of my favorites. If I had to pick one Carpenter movie to watch for an Eternity in Hell I think I would pick BIG TROUBLE, but it’s a close one.

  41. related:

    new trailer just came out for “LIFE”

    top notch cast and a definite THE THING/ ALIEN vibe

    and… spam filter won’t let me link

    just google “life trailer”

  42. The defibrillator scene is still one of the biggest shocks I’ve had watching a movie!

  43. Good pun.

  44. Probably my favourite film ever, and I’ve watched it about 20 times including again last Saturday night. I know I’m biased, but it totally holds up. The matte paintings and special effects are still jaw-droppingly good and I don’t think they’ve ever been bettered. I always feel the scene where the Blair Thing comes up from under the plank floor in the furnace room is a bit lacking, but I know they had to ditch the stop motion and then cut around what they had at the last minute, but no matter. Amazing cast, brilliant direction, top notch music, and a great script, this one knocks it out of the park in all departments and is undoubtedly my favourite Carpenter film by a country mile. The defibrillator scene is just incredible.

    I was 11 when I first saw this in 1983 during the rise of un-certificated video rentals in the UK before the ‘Video Nasty’ debacle. Seeing this always takes me back to those halcyon days when I saw lots of films I should probably have never watched at such a tender age, but laid the foundations for me being a die hard horror fan for life. Good times.

  45. I’m not really a fan of this one.

  46. To quote Palmer :”You gotta be fucking kidding…”

    What kind of passive agressive trolling is this?

  47. I’m behind Mr McKay all the way on this one! It should be against the law to drop bombs like that on an unsuspecting group of free spirited movie guerrillas like us! Do you know in how much regard snow movies are held here in Scandi?

  48. I think MacReady is joking. The name and avatar is a sure giveaway.

  49. You mean he’s using that humor thing on us?

  50. Last night I saw it on the big screen (an old, scratchy, pink-tinted 35mm print) and can confirm that yes, the video game is Asteroids (Deluxe? the smaller word below ‘Asteroids’ was hard to read) and not Defender.

    What this really reminded me of more than ALIEN was actually PREDATOR – a bunch of tough guys in the wilderness being picked off by an alien. I personally liked PREDATOR better – it’s got more showmanship and crowd-pleasing moments in my opinion – but I liked both.

    I like the kind of horror movie where it’s a bunch of tough, competent adults facing the threat, rather than dumb or frightened kids. I like the combo of a horror-movie situation / threat with action-movie type badass heroes. That describes THE THING, ALIEN, and JAWS … and I’m not enough of a buff to know what other ones qualify as well. I’m sure there are others, but the few other possible candidates I can think of (ALIENS, FROM DUSK TIL DAWN) are more towards action rather than horror-style suspense or shocks.

  51. Also, when MacReady and another character sit in a parked helicopter to privately share their suspicions about a colleague, it immediately reminded me of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. So that’s at least two Carpenter films paying homage to that film (the other of course being DARK STAR).

    And the fact that RJ MacReady in this thread doesn’t like THE THING just proves he’s not the real MacReady – he’s the Thing!

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