This year marks a milestone for horror fans everywhere as John Carpenter’s “The THING” get’s a lot of attention. The film takes us on a journey to Outpost 31 in Antarctica, where an alien life form takes on the shape of anyone it kills. This year the film is getting not only a prequel, but two houses at Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, one in Orlando, one in Hollywood. For the next seven days we’re going to take a look at not only the John Carpenter film, but also everyTHING that has inspired it and was inspired by that film. In other words…Now I’m going to show you what I already know.
Part 3-John Carpenter’s The Thing
John Carpenter’s 1982 film is a common staple in any nutritious horror fans diet. It tells the tale of a group of researchers at an Antarctic facility who have an unwelcome and unknown visitor. The trouble is, no one really knows what this thing is. Sound familiar? Director John Carpenter grew up a fan of the 1951 classic film, “The Thing from Another Planet”, as well as other films by producer Howard Hawks. He was also a huge fan of the original story “Who Goes There?” and it’s author John W. Campbell. In 1976 producer Stuart Cohen decided that the story would make a great feature film, straying away from the campy science fiction version of the 50’s. A deal was made wit Universal Studios and in the summer of 1981 the film began production. The finished product is 108 minutes of claustrophobic, paranoid terror as the men of Outpost 31 try to survive a nameless monster that can look like anyone it devours.
The shoot took twelve weeks and involved shooting about a half dozen Universal Studios soundstages. The temperature was bumped down to around 20 degrees and used extremely low and tight camera angles to give off the feeling of confinement.
The original story was the basis of this version of the film, and though there were some changes to fit the time period and thought of the time. Instead of the North Pole, Antarctica was the back drop. Instead of starting off finding a UFO as it goes down, the film opens with a sled dog being chased by a helicopter and a madman trying to shoot the dog. The men are instantly bewildered and instantly thrown into something they don’t understand. The key characters are included in the film, including the “Man of Bronze” MacReady, though he’s not a “God out of a forgotten myth”, it’s Kurt Russell. The film very much deals with the “Trust no one” feel of the short story, and takes it to all new levels with special effects by Rob Bottin. Unlike the first film and story, the Thing is never really seen in it’s true form. There is no “defrost” and any time you see the monster, it’s always in some kind of transitional phase. It’s truly a work of suspense and horror. It’s not until the crew decides to find the Norwegian base camp that we get an idea of what we’re dealing with.
The stand out in the film is clearly the special effects as they convincingly turn normal people into freaks with more than one head, giant traps and of course an eight foot tall dog monster. At the time of the filming, AIDS was just rearing it’s ugly head, something the film (unknowingly or not) hits dead on the head. An alien microbe infects your body and wreaks havoc on not only you, but anyone you come in contact with. In fact, one can go so far as to say that the themes of the original story fit so well with the AIDS epidemic that it was almost before it’s time. Think about it, you can trust no one, because if you turn your back on them, or (in have unprotected sex) let your guard down, you could be one of them. In fact, you could be one of them and not even know it.
The film also ends on such a downer that it’s amazing that the film was ever made. Surely by today’s gun shy studios it would never happen.
MacReady and Childs blow the research facility to kingdom come, and are left in the cold until help arrives. Since they have just started their time at the outpost, it’s presumed that it’s going to be quite a while before anyone comes to check on them. Also the plot in the movie makes it look as if one of the men could be the Thing, or both could be. Regardless, the film just ends with Ennio Morricone’s pulsing score throbbing. It was a risky move as a filmmaker, but it just works and it’s considered to be one of the best endings to a film. This film also takes a jump away from the Sci-Fi aspect of it’s predecessor and goes for straight up gory horror with the help of Bottin’s creations.