Way back when, 1982 was a strange year for science fiction. While Steven Spielberg’s E.T. broke box office records and won widespread acclaim, other major genre releases didn’t fare so well.
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is the obvious example. An expensively-made, dark, and brooding sci-fi epic, boasting a leading man in the prime of his career and a memorable ensemble cast, it generated lukewarm reviews and struggled to find an audience. Blade Runner was released on June 25, 1982, the very same day horror director John Carpenter returned to the fray with a very different kind of scary movie.
The two films had more in common than just release dates though; both were initially seen as expensive examples of style over substance by the critics and both disappointed at the box office. As time has rolled on, both films have also enjoyed significant reappraisal, to the point where they are both now, rightly regarded as classics of the genre.
Blade Runner may be the film of choice among conscientious sci-fi fans but John Carpenter’s The Thing is more than a match for it. Like Blade Runner, The Thing continues to generate fascinating trivia, intense debate and even a few surprises along the way.
Here are the 18 Things You Didn’t Know About John Carpenter’s The Thing.
18. The Cast Almost Died On Their Way To Filming
Once the cast was assembled, they headed off to the set in British Columbia. After flying from Los Angeles to Vancouver and then on to Prince Rupert in British Columbia, bad weather forced the cast to take a six-hour bus ride for the final leg of the trip. Driving in the snowy darkness, the bus came close to sliding off the side off the road.
“The driver had momentarily lost control of the bus on the snow and ice, and the back of the bus slid to the left toward the mountain. He countered by turning to the right and the bus slid again, this time toward the unprotected edge of the road and a precipitous 500-foot embankment,” Joel Polis (Fuchs) told Halloween Love.
17. There Were Alternative Death Scenes
At least four members of the team from Outpost 31 had alternative death scenes which were either cut or went unfilmed after changes to the script.
In the film, the burned remains of Fuchs (Joel Polis) are found out in the snow but in a deleted scene, he is discovered by Childs (Keith David) and Palmer (David Clennon) impaled on the inside of the door of the station’s greenhouse. Another deleted scene sees Bennings (Peter Maloney) stabbed in the back with a screwdriver by an unidentified person in a blue coat inside the kennels.
Other alternative storyboarded scenes include: Bennings getting dragged beneath the ice by an escaped “dog-thing,” Nauls (T.K. Carter) dying in gorier circumstances at the hands of a “Box-Thing,” and Windows getting dragged off by the alien, swallowing a cyanide capsule before he is assimilated.
16. It Was Nearly Tobe Hooper’s The Thing
The Thing was in development for nearly a decade before Carpenter came on board. Producer Stuart Cohen was the first to see the potential in adapting Who Goes There?, having enjoyed the novella as a child.
Cohen met with Carpenter first and was keen to collaborate with the budding filmmaker but the studio, Universal, was hesitant – Carpenter had yet to make Halloween at this point. Tobe Hooper, fresh from the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was chosen instead.
According to Cohen, writing on his blog The Original Fan, Hooper and creative collaborator Kim Henkel wanted to make “a man versus monster epic set at the bottom of the world, a sort of Antarctica Moby Dick with an Ahab-like character … battling a large, but decidedly non-shape shifting creature.”
15. A Host Of Big Name Actors Almost Starred
With a sizeable budget behind them, Universal set about trying to cast some of the biggest stars and rising talent of the time for the film’s all-male cast. Jeff Bridges, Nick Nolte, Sam Shepard, Kris Kristofferson, and Nick Nolte were all approached and either turned down the project or were simply unavailable.
Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Peter Coyote, Fred Ward, Isaac Hayes, Tom Berenger, Tim McIntyre, and John Heard all held talks about potentially appearing in the movie, though those discussions also came to nothing.
Tom Atkins was also in contention though, in the end, Australian actor Jack Thompson came closest to changing the trajectory of The Thing. Thompson was hot property at the time, having won the Best Supporting Actor award for the Australian war and trial drama Breaker Morant at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, and was flown in to personally read for Carpenter. Ultimately, the director decided Kurt Russell was a better fit.
14. Carpenter Blamed The Film’s Failure On E.T.
The Thing opened at a disappointing #8 at the US box office, earning an opening weekend gross of $3.1 million, and remained in the top 10 for just three weeks. It went on to make $19,629,760 domestically and resulted in a parting of ways between Carpenter and Universal, who were entirely unimpressed with what was the director’s first major studio movie.
The consensus is that timing played a factor – The Thing arrived two weeks after E.T. Steven Spielberg’s film was a huge success and featured a friendly alien and a happy ending. Carpenter’s movie, by contrast, featured an evil alien and ambiguous ending.
“I’d made a really grueling, dark film and I just don’t think audiences in 1982 wanted to see that,“ Carpenter explained years according to Entertainment Weekly. “They wanted to see E.T., and The Thing was the opposite.” Interestingly, Richard Masur (Clarke) actually turned down a role in E.T. to do The Thing. Awkward…
13. It’s Often Mistakenly Referred To As A Remake
The Thing is often referred to as a remake of the 1951 monster movie The Thing from Another World but that’s patently wrong. Though both films are based on John W. Campbell Jr’s 1938 novella Who Goes There? Carpenter didn’t want to compete with the first film, which he was a fan of. So he instead returned to the source material for inspiration.
He did pay homage to the 1951 effort though – the screen where they find the alien has been excavated from the ice was a nod to the first film. Despite stressing the differences, the director of the 1950s version Christian Nyby was quick to criticise Carpenter’s movie – something that upset the filmmaker greatly.
“If you want blood, go to the slaughterhouse,” Nyby said at the time according to The Telegraph. “All in all, it’s a terrific commercial for J&B Scotch.”
12. John Carpenter and Adrienne Barbeau both had cameoes
Though the film is often credited as having an all-male cast – there was a scene involving an inflatable doll but it was left on the cutting room floor – Carpenter’s partner at the time, Adrienne Barbeau does feature on screen. Well, kind of.
Barbeau, who had previously starred in the Carpenter movies The Fog and Escape From New York, played the part of Chess Wizard, the chess-playing computer that Kurt Russell’s MacReady dumps a whole glass of J&B on after losing.
Carpenter, himself, also features in the film and has made a habit of appearing, albeit briefly, in the majority of his movies to. In The Thing, he plays one of the Norwegians seen on the footage found at their deserted and destroyed base camp. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role though.
11. A 22-year-old Was In Charge of The Effects
Rob Bottin was already an established name in the world of special effects when he was hired to work on The Thing, which is remarkable when you consider he was just 22 at the time. First hired by special effects legend Rick Baker at the age of 14, Bottin’s early credits included films like King Kong, Piranha, The Howling and even Star Wars.
His first collaboration with Carpenter came on The Fog, but it was on The Thing that he really made a name for himself. Bottin worked seven days a week on the movie and headed up a team of 40 technicians.
At one point, he even put himself forward for the role of Palmer, but ultimately had to relent as he was simply too busy. Eventually hospitalized through sheer exhaustion, Stan Winston was later brought in to help create the film’s first nightmarish “dog-thing” puppet. Winston insisted his work remain uncredited though.
10. Wilford Brimley Had A Lot Of Interesting Occupations
These days Wilford Brimley, may be better known for his warnings about the dangers of diabetes, but back on the set of The Thing, the actor who played Blair was pretty awesome.
Brimley didn’t break into acting until he was in his 40s, leading a colorful and varied life up until that point. In his younger days he worked as Howard Hughes’ bodyguard and was also a blacksmith, wrangler, and ranch hand.
He was certainly the toughest guy on the set of The Thing – during the movie’s famous autopsy scene, Brimley was the only actor who wasn’t repulsed by what the special effects team created.
9. The Sound Of The ‘Dog Thing’ Was Obtained In A Weird Way
One of the most shocking early scares in The Thing comes during the moment the Alaskan malamute from the Norwegian base camp is left alone with the station’s sled dogs; prompting the first major metamorphosis of the movie.
While Stan Winston was the brains behind the sequels visuals, the work of sound editor Colin Mouat often gets overlooked. To create the hellish dog wail “wall of sound” present in the film, Mouat went to some pretty unusual lengths.
He started by rounding up all of the dogs in his local neighborhood inside his house. He then began walking slowly around the house in a dark trench coat while tapping all of the windows and doors in an attempt to elicit a yowling, fearful response. It worked.
8. A Double Amputee Was Used In The “Chest Chomp” Sequence
The movie’s most shocking metamorphosis comes during the sequence in which Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) tries to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan) with a defibrillator following a supposed heart attack.
As Copper presses the paddles to his skin, Norris’ chest opens with the Doctor’s forearms dropping inside. In a split second, they are severed below the elbow by a set of jaws that form around the cavity on the Norris/Thing’s chest.
To achieve the effect, Bottin recruited a man who had lost both of his arms in a similar place. He was fitted with prosthetic arms consisting of wax bones, rubber-based veins and Jell-O blood along with a skin-like mask was created based on a mold of Dysart’s face.
7. Kurt Russell Nearly Blew Himself Up For Real
In the confrontation between MacReady and the “Palmer-Thing,” actor Kurt Russell came surprisingly close to very seriously injuring himself. During the scene, MacReady fights back against the alien by throwing a stick of dynamite in the direction of the Thing. What most fans probably don’t know is that real dynamite was used for the scene.
What Russell evidently didn’t realize was just how powerful real dynamite actually is. As a result, he failed to take the necessary precautions to move further away from the blast radius.
The result was that Russell found himself literally blown backward by the explosion. Thankfully, he was unscathed though and the resulting blast, complete with Russell being thrown back looked so convincing on film, Carpenter decided to keep it in the movie.
6. The Secret Is In Their Eyes
Part of The Thing’s enduring appeal stems from the fact that it’s a film that keeps on giving, with any number of fan theories and subtle Easter eggs emerging in the decades since it was released.
One of the more recent of these concerns the work of cinematographer Dean Cundy and the film’s famous blood test scene, in which MacReady attempts to discover who is the alien among them by testing each character’s blood.
During an interview with Blumhouse for the 4K Blu-ray release of the film, Cundey revealed they created “a subtle way, to say which one of these [men] might be human.”
5. The ‘Norris Thing’ Nearly Killed The Entire Crew
During the movie’s “Chest Chomp” scene, the ‘”Norris-Thing’s” head famously separates from its body before growing legs and attempting to scuttle off into hiding. Rob Bottin used highly flammable materials to create the gooey, gross-out interior of the creature’s neck in the scene.
However, that proved a bit of a problem when Carpenter decided that, for continuity reasons, some flames needed to be included in the shots focusing in on the head as it separated away – MacReady had just torched the “Norris-Thing’s” body with a flamethrower, after all.
A fire bar was lit, almost without thinking, and the room erupted in a giant ball of flame caused by the flammable gases present. Thankfully no one was hurt, though the Norris-Thing model created for the scene was basically destroyed. Bottin had been working on it for months.
4. The ‘Blair-Thing’ Took Hours To Make And Was On-Screen Mere Seconds
Towards the end of the movie, MacReady takes on the “Blair-Thing” in the penultimate scene of the movie. It’s a sequence that took hours to create, with Rob Bottin recruiting stop-motion expert Randall Cook to help put the sequence together.
Cook, who went on to work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, created an entire miniature model of the set from scratch, filming wide angle shots of the alien using advanced stop-motion techniques that still took hours to complete.
However, when Carpenter viewed the resulting footage, he was dismayed with how fake the alien looked, and ultimately ended up only using a few seconds of the stop-motion sequence, despite it being one of the most arduous scenes to complete. A longer scene involving the stop-motion “Blair thing” scene still exists as a deleted scene online.
3. An Alternate “Happy” Ending Exists, As Well As An Even Bleaker One
The film’s bleak, ambiguous ending has been a source of much discussion over the years. Regardless of whether you think MacReady or, indeed, Childs is the alien by the end, one thing is for sure: it’s bleak.
So bleak, in fact, that editor Todd Ramsey was able to convince Carpenter to film a happy ending just in case the one in place ended up testing badly with audiences and needed replacing.
An alternative was therefore filmed in which MacReady is rescued and shown in a room, being given a blood test to determine whether or not he has been assimilated. He passes and the credits roll.
Despite being filmed, the scene has never seen the light of day, with Carpenter preferring to stick by the ending he intended for all along. Interestingly another, equally bleak, alternate ending existed for the TV version, which sees the alien transform into a dog and escape.
2. There Are No Female Characters In The Movie
Though John Carpenter’s wife at the time, Adrienne Barbeau, provided the voice of the film’s chess-playing computer Chess Wizard there are little to no female characters in the movie.
The closest The Thing gets to having a woman on the screen is the female game show contestant seen on the video Palmer is watching and an inflatable doll that featured in several scenes cut from the finished movie.
The doll was going to feature early in the movie and then be used again later for a jump-scare scene in which the team goes looking for the escaped alien. The “No Girls Allowed” vibe extended further though – there was supposedly only one female crew member on the production and she actually left the project, mid-way through, to be replaced by a man.
1. Fangoria Ran An Awesome Thing Competition
Long before the internet and social media, Fangoria Magazine attempted to drum up interest in John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1981 with a unique contest for readers called Draw The Thing.
The task was simple: readers were asked to try and draw a sketch of what they thought the Thing from Carpenter’s movie was going to look like, with the more vivid and inventive efforts likely to be given preference.
There was a pretty good prize available for whoever won it too: a trip to Universal Studios. Some of the entries are still available to view online and are astonishingly creative. Fortunately, the alien creatures that featured in the finished film more than lived up to the hype generated by these efforts. Well, eventually, at least.
Can you think of any other interesting facts about John Carpenter’s The Thing? Let us know in the comments!
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