Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
I picked up a fairly new copy of the DVD for John Carpenter’s The Thing: Collector’s Edition, which was released in 2004, last week for a couple of bucks. The movie itself came out on June 25th, 1982. That was the summer filled with blockbusters, or at least great movies: Blade Runner, E.T., Poltergeist, and John Carpenter’s The Thing.
I’d already read John W. Campbell’s short story, Who Goes There, several years before the Carpenter movie came out and had also seen the original 1951 film, The Thing From Another World, that was directed by Howard Hawks and starred James Arness as the creature.
John Carpenter’s The Thing, however, blew me out of my seat.
The special effects for the creature were awesome, and the actors had me believing I was right there with them at the Antarctic research station, trapped in a snow blizzard with the Thing coming after my sorry ass.
Anyway, when I purchased the DVD I hadn’t seen the movie since it had been out in the VHS format, which was at least fifteen years. I also saw that this particular edition of the film had an 80-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, and I wanted to see it. That’s what caused me to buy it on DVD.
For those of you who don’t know the movie, it’s about a group of American scientists and a helicopter pilot who find themselves stranded at an Antarctic research station during a snow storm. What creates the tension for this movie is that a very aggressive alien is also at the station with them. The alien and its space craft were discovered by a Norwegian station several miles away. The alien wiped out everybody there, except for two men who chased it in the form of a dog across the snow to the American station. The two Norwegians die, and then the Americans take the animal in, not knowing a pissed-off alien is inside of it.
I mean the alien was frozen in the snow for like 70,000 years, so it was a little cranky when the Norwegians thawed it out.
The alien is a shape changer and can take any form it desires. So, it doesn’t take long before the scientists realize the alien is amongst them. They just don’t know who’s real or who’s an alien. In other words, they don’t know whom to trust. The film is therefore filled with a strong sense of claustrophobia and distrust, not to mention violence when the alien rags on someone. To add to the utter sense of isolation is a great musical score by Ennio Morricone that’s both haunting in nature and adds to the sense of loneliness at the research station.
Besides Kurt Russell who plays the helicopter pilot, MacReady, John Carpenter was able to assemble a strong cast of secondary actors who brought their superb skills to the set and delivered really excellent performances. You have Wilford Brimley (before he grew his white mustache) as Blair, Keith David (Platoon, Marked For Death, Pitch Black) as Childs, Donald Moffat as Garry, Richard Masur as Clark, and Charles Hallahan as Norris, whose head rips off during the movie, falls to the floor, develops crab-like legs, and then scuttles hurryingly out of the room, hoping to escape the flame thrower.
The great Stan Winston did the creature/dog special effects as a favor to Robb Bottin (The Howling, The Fog and Robocop), who was busy doing the special effects for the rest of the movie. In many ways, this was Robb’s picture because without his special effects, it would’ve been just a good horror film, instead of a great one. His creatures (remember, this was pre-CGI) took special effects to the next level with their awe-inspiring believability and astounding gruesomeness.
Though a lot of the movie was filmed on sound stages with the temperature turned down, much was filmed in Stewart, British Columbia because of the snow there. Though it was a grueling shoot, the actors loved it and felt it made their character’s reactions more real to the audience.
The Thing was John Carpenter’s first big studio project, and everyone was expecting great things (no pun intended) from it at the Box Office. When it didn’t happen, it was a letdown for all involved as they tried to figure out what went wrong. Of course, the movie has since become a classic and has sold a ton of DVDs to its legion of fans.
I need to point out that the screenplay was written by Bill Lancaster, who is the son of the late Burt Lancaster, and who had written The Bad News Bears. He gave the film its foundation, and then it was up to the cast and crew to bring the movie to life.
The Collector’s Edition of this DVD has a great documentary that’s nearly an hour-and-a-half long and tells you everything you need to know about the making of the movie and about its after affects. There’s also a look at the production design, some other special effects, and trailers.
This is truly a great horror movie that still holds up well after thirty years with special effects that will knock you right out of your little white cotton bobby socks. It’s good that the movie has finally found its audience and the deserved recognition for such fine directing, acting and mind-blowing special effects. The Thing is a classic in every sense of the word and a fantastic movie to watch, especially during the winter when it’s cold outside. Watch out for those stray dogs!