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  • Writer's pictureAdam Williams

10 Things You May Not Have Known About John Carpenter's The Thing

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

John Carpenter's The Thing celebrates its anniversary today, so to celebrate in style we thought we'd give you a few fun facts about the film you may not have known. Enjoy folks!

1. The film flopped upon its initial release.

The film opened to unfavourable reactions from both critics and fans alike, panning the films gory effects and bleak tone. Famed film critics Siskel and Ebert split on this movie. Ebert called it a "barf bag movie", and said it was inferior to other earlier genre entries like Alien. One review actually described Carpenter as '"a pornographer of violence". The film only managed $19 million gross in its opening week.

In an interesting turn of events the film also opened the same day as Blade Runner, which was also met with bad audience and critic reactions. Whilst the film performed badly in most of the world, Finland actually banned it upon its initial release.

Director John Carpenter has said he takes all his failed movies pretty hard but this disappointed and hurt him the most. To make matters even worse for Carpenter, the director of The Thing From Another World (the film which Carpenter's reimagining was based on), Christian Nyby, publicly denounced the film.

"If you want blood, go to the slaughterhouse. All in all, it's a terrific commercial for J&B Scotch."

The producers put its failure down to multiple factors, one of which included Spielberg's E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. The producers felt audience members were still busy looking for a more family-friendly, benign interpretation of an alien on earth after E.T. released a few weeks prior. Obviously Carpenter was thrilled when the film went on to find success via home video and television releases, and the film going on to become a cult classic and fan favourite in the horror community.

2. The iconic opening titles were made using a fish tank.

The opening titles were done in an attempt to replicate the titles of the original 1951 film, The Thing From Another World.

To create the effect of the title, an animation cell with "The Thing" written on it was placed behind a smoke-filled fish tank which was covered with a plastic garbage bag. The bag was ignited, creating the effect of the title burning onto the screen.

3. If any of the crew at Outpost 31 actually spoke Norwegian, the film would've been a lot different.

The opening of the film featured a Norwegian chasing and shooting at the shapeshifting Thing that had made itself appear as a normal sled dog. However, what the man shouts actually translates into a warning. So had any of the crew at the outpost spoken the language, the film would've been drastically different or a hell of a lot shorter. The lines literally translate into-

"Get the hell outta there. That's not a dog, it's some sort of thing! It's imitating a dog, it isn't real! Get away, you idiots!"

4. Tobe Hooper was originally set to direct.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filmmaker Tobe Hooper was originally slated to co-write and direct the film before Carpenter came on board. He was fired and replaced with Carpenter after producer Drew Turner was appalled by the pitch Hooper put forward.

Hooper's version would've been drastically different from the Carpenter version, featuring an alien that did not shapeshift or assimilate, and following an Ahab-like character named The Captain who goes on a quest to find and kill The Thing. The film would've served as both a sequel and remake to the 1951 film with little influence from John W Campbell Jr.'s novella. Hooper also wanted the film to be a dark horror comedy with slapstick humor.

5. Donald Pleasence was first choice for a character.

Pleasence was in fact the first choice actor for the role of Blair. However, due to scheduling conflicts he was unable to perform the role. Actor Wilfred Brimley was then cast in the role. In a wierd turn of events Jay Leno, Garry Shandling and Charles Fleischerall all read for parts in the film as it was customary of studios to seek out stand up comics as the next potential up and comers. Nauls is played by T.K. Carter, a stand up comic.

6. Kurt Russell was almost badly injured whilst filming.

Kurt Russell was almost injured in the scene where he blows up the alien Palmer with a stick of dynamite. Apparently, he had no idea exactly how big of an explosion it would produce, and the reaction that he has in the movie is genuine. Ironically, one day after shooting a scene with the flamethrower, Kurt Russelll pulled a practical joke on John Carpenter by covering his face and head with bandages and claiming he had gotten burned.

7. The Thing was a game-changer for Universal regarding budget.

Universal originally only offered $200,000 for special effects work on the film. They were truly shocked when the production came back to them asking for more, they stated that budget was as much as they'd ever spent on a monster movie. Of the film's $15 million budget, around $1.5 milion ended up being used solely for Bottin's ground-breaking special effects and make-up.

8. Rob Bottin ended up in hospital due to exhaustion.

Of course the special effects in this film were, and still are, considered a benchmark in special effects make-up and effects. Unbelievably Rob Bottin was only 22 when he began on The Thing, he was head of a team of over forty people. During the making of the film, Rob lived on the set in Los Angeles, California, where he worked seven days a week for over a year. He slept on set and in laboratories. When the film went into post production Bottin was diagnosed with extreme exhaustion, admitted to hospital and took a break from The Thing. Bottin had contacted Stan Winston early into his prep work to secure them should they need his assistance with the film, so Winston and his team were brought in to finish the film.

Most of the special effects and creature work was done by Bottin and his team, however a lot of the creature work for the scene inside the dog cage was done by Stan Winston and his team as Bottin was in hospital at this point. He sounded glad to hand this over to Winston though.

"It got to the point where I was thinking 'if I have to do another stinking mechanical dog, I'll go nuts! I'd already done The Howling, and I didn't want to see another dog! I didn't care if it was mutated, I didn't care if it was riding a skateboard. And I did not want to do Cujo either. No more dogs!"

Although the dog/Thing was created by Stan Winston he declined screen credit as he didn't want to take away from Rob Bottin's work. Winston receives a special "thank you" in the closing credits.

9. Kurt Russell wasn't first choice to play Mac.

Nick Nolte turned down the role of MacReady, as did Jeff Bridges. Bill Lancaster initially wrote the script with Harrison Ford or Clint Eastwood in the lead role, and both men were considered. On top of this, a relatively unknown Fred Ward campaigned for the role. The role went to Russell who was involved early in production prior to be cast anyway, he was helping John Carpenter develop his ideas. Random fun fact- it actually took Russell a year to grow that iconic hair and beard Mac sports in the film.

10. The film has become a tradition for some research stations.

The film has become part of the culture in Antarctica. It is a long-standing tradition in all British Antarctic research stations to watch John Carpenter's The Thing as part of their Midwinter feast and celebration held every June 21.

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Just remember if anyone of your friends start acting odd, man is the warmest place to hide. Now I'm off to enjoy this incredible film for the millionth time!


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