The Thing (1982 film)
The Thing, also known as John Carpenter's The Thing, is a 1982 science fiction horror film about an Antarctic science base which is infiltrated by a shape-shifting alien that assumes the appearance of the people that it kills. Ostensibly a remake of the 1951 Christian Nyby film The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s film is more faithful to the original novella “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell
- Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Bill Lancaster, based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr..
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- [talking into tape recorder] I'm gonna hide this tape when I'm finished. If none of us make it, at least there'll be some kind of record. The storm's been hitting us hard now for 48 hours. We still have nothing to go on. [turns off tape recorder and takes a drink of whisky. He looks at the torn long johns and turns it back on] One other thing: I think it rips through your clothes when it takes you over. Windows found some shredded long johns, but the nametag was missing. They could be anybody's. Nobody... nobody trusts anybody now, and we're all very tired. Nothing else I can do, just wait... R.J. MacReady, helicopter pilot, US outpost number 31. [turns off recorder]
- I know I'm human. And if you were all these things, then you'd just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn't want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It'll fight if it has to, but it's vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it's won.
- We're gonna draw a little bit of everybody's blood... 'cause we're gonna find out who's The Thing. Watching Norris in there gave me the idea that maybe every part of you bastards is a whole. Every piece of you is self-sufficient, an animal unto itself. When a man bleeds, it's just tissue. But blood from one of you Things won't obey. It's a newly formed individual with a built-in desire to protect its own life. When attacked, your blood will try and survive — and crawl away from a hot needle, say.
- [on finding a partially-assembled spaceship beneath the tool shed] Blair's been busy out here all by himself.
- [the Thing roars at MacReady] YEAH, FUCK YOU TOO!!! [throws stick of dynamite]
- Clark: I don't know what the hell's in there, but it's weird and pissed off, whatever it is.
- Garry: [after passing the blood test] I know you gentlemen have been through a lot. But when you find the time... I'd rather not spend the rest of the winter TIED TO THIS FUCKING COUCH!
- MacReady: I don't know. Thousands of years ago it crashes, and this thing... gets thrown out, or crawls out, and it ends up freezing in the ice.
- Childs: I just cannot believe any of this voodoo bullshit.
- Palmer: Childs, happens all the time, man. They're falling out of the skies like flies. Government knows all about it, right, Mac?
- Childs: You believe any of this voodoo bullshit, Blair?
- Palmer: Childs, Childs... Chariots of the Gods, man. They practically own South America. I mean, they taught the Incas everything they know.
- Garry: So, come on now, MacReady, Norwegians get ahold of this... and they dig it up out of the ice.
- MacReady: Yes, Garry, they dig it up, they cart it back, it gets thawed out, wakes up - probably not the best of moods - I don't know, I wasn't there!
- Nauls: [skates in with ripped long johns] Which one of you disrespectful men been tossing his dirty drawers in the kitchen trash can, huh? From now, I want my kitchen clean, all right? Germ free!
- Childs: So how's this motherfucker wake up after thousands of years in the ice?
- Bennings: And how can it look like a dog?
- MacReady: I don't know how. 'Cause it's different than us, see? 'Cause it's from outer space. What do you want from me? Ask him! [motions to Blair]
- Childs: You buy any of this Blair?
- Blair: [showing the remains of the dog-thing to the entire camp] You see, what we're talkin' about here is an organism that imitates other life-forms, and it imitates 'em perfectly. When this thing attacked our dogs it tried to digest them... absorb them, and in the process shape its own cells to imitate them. This for instance. That's not dog. It's imitation. We got to it before it had time to finish.
- Norris: Finish what?
- Blair: Finish imitating these dogs.
- MacReady: Somebody in this camp ain't what he appears to be. Right now that may be one or two of us. By Spring, it could be all of us.
- Childs: So, how do we know who's human? If I was an imitation, a perfect imitation, how would you know if it was really me?
- MacReady: All right, we gotta find him. Nauls, why don’t you come with me and we'll go outside. Palmer, you and Windows check the inside.
- Palmer: I ain't going with Windows. I ain't going with him, I'll go with Childs--
- Windows: Hey, FUCK YOU, Palmer!
- Palmer: I ain't going with you!
- Childs: Who says I want you going with me?!
- MacReady: ALL RIGHT, CUT THE BULLSHIT! Windows, you come with us. Norris, you stay here. Any of them move, you fry them. You hear anything, anything at all, you cut loose on the sirens. We all meet here in 20 minutes regardless. And everybody watch who you're with, real close.
- MacReady: How you doin', old boy?
- Blair: I don't know who to trust.
- MacReady: I know what you mean, Blair. Trust's a tough thing to come by these days. Tell you what - why don't you just trust in the Lord?
- Blair: [throwing a fit in the radio room] Nobody gets in and out of here! NOBODY! You guys think I'M crazy! Well, that's fine! Most of ya don't know what's goin' on around here, but I'm damn well sure SOME of you do!
- MacReady: Christ!
- Childs: He got most of the chopper and the tractor. And he's killed the rest of the dogs.
- MacReady: [as Garry advances with his gun] Garry, wait a minute, wait a minute. Now, Childs, go around to the map room door. Talk to him.
- Childs: Yeah.
- [Childs exits]
- MacReady: Norris, get a table from the lab.
- Blair: [still smashing up the radio room with an axe while yelling] D'ya think that thing wanted to be an animal?! No dogs make it a thousand miles through the cold! No, you don't understand! That thing wanted to be US! If a cell gets out, it could imitate everything on the FACE OF THE EARTH! AND NOTHING CAN STOP IT!
- Childs: [appearing in the map room doorway] Okay, Blair. Come on, man, you don't wanna hurt anybody.
- [Blair whips a pistol out and shoots at Childs but misses]
- Blair: I'LL KILL YOU!
- MacReady: Blair... he got back inside and blew the generator. In six hours, it'll be 100 below in here!
- Garry: Well, that's suicide!
- MacReady: Not for that Thing. It wants to freeze now. It's got no way out of here. It just wants to go to sleep in the cold until the rescue team finds it.
- Garry: What can we do? What can we do?
- MacReady: Whether we make it or not, we can't let the Thing freeze again. Maybe we'll just warm things up a little around here. We're not gettin' outta here alive. But neither is that Thing.
- Childs: You the only one who made it?.
- MacReady: Not the only one.
- Childs: Did you kill it?
- MacReady: Where were you, Childs?
- Childs: Thought I saw Blair. I went out after him and got lost in the storm. Fire's got the temperature up all over the camp. Won't last long, though.
- MacReady: Neither will we.
- Childs: How will we make it?
- MacReady: Maybe we shouldn't.
- Childs: If you're worried about me...
- MacReady: If we've got any surprises for each other, I don't think we're in much shape to do anything about it.
- Childs: Well...What do we do?
- MacReady: [slumping back] Why don't we just...Wait here for a little while? See what happens.
- [from teaser trailer] Some say the world will end by fire. Others say it will end by ice. Now, somewhere in the Antarctic, the question is being settled forever.
- [from theatrical trailer] Twelve men have just discovered something. For 100,000 years, it was buried in the snow and ice. Now it has found a place to live. Inside. Where no one can see it. Or hear it. Or feel it.
- [from TV spot] Its origin: alien. Location: Antarctica. Age: unknown. Intent: survival. Destination: MAN.
- Man is the warmest place to hide.
- Look closely at your neighbors. Don't trust anybody.
- The ultimate in alien terror.
About The Thing (1982 film)
- Masur: My character's defining characteristic was that he wasn't really interested in people, but rather loved working with dogs. I got the idea for the character's personality from working with Jed the wolf-dog.
There was a little room off to the side in the sound stage. During the rehearsal period, dog trainer Clint Rowe brought Jed the wolf-dog in to get him used to the sound and smell of people. He was a young dog, so he was very jumpy. I worked with Jed and Clint for an hour on the first day of rehearsals and every day after that. It worked out very well during shooting, too. Jed would come and stand next to me, and he wouldn't do that thing that dogs do where they look back at their handlers. If you watch the scenes between us, he's never looking at my hand for a treat. He's just there with me; he's making his own choices. That’s what makes his performance so spooky.
- Masur: During rehearsal, [Keith David] and I started talking about how our characters felt about each other. That’s how we [knew we didn't like each other.] Like in the scene where Childs pulls a gun on my character and I pull a knife on him. Mind you: In California, it was really hard to get a knife that would flip open. I wanted it to be a buck knife, so I got one at a survivalist store. And while I was there, I also got a little attachment so you could flick the knife open with your thumb. I oiled the hell out of that knife and cut my hand several times.
- Clennon: We wasted hours and hours of rehearsal time discussing fucking metaphysics! Some of the actors were obsessed with this question: When you become the Thing — when the alien takes over your mind and body — do you know that you've become the Thing? Or do you just go on thinking that you are your old self? I couldn't see the point of solving that silly riddle. What difference was it going to make in anybody's performance? The story's point was that every creature looked, sounded and smelled exactly the way it did before the alien took it over.
- Masur: There were two sets that were refrigerated, but I didn't work on either of them. There was the Norwegian camp, and then the room with the ice block. Those sets were on the same stage. They figured out how to make the sets look very cold from the original The Thing from Another World. You have to keep the sets at about 40 degrees, just above freezing. And then you have to spray humidity into the air. It's the humidity that makes it possible to see the actors' breath. But most of the time, we were working in full arctic gear on a nicely air-conditioned sound stage. It was only horrible when we went outside.
- Clennon: It was all happening in front of us: We didn't have to imagine some post-production [computer-generated] effects and then pretend to be shocked or mesmerized. Rob Bottin gave us all we needed to be well and truly freaked.
- Brimley: I've personally never been a big fan of rubber dogs, monsters, special effects and stuff like that. But on this occasion, it seemed necessary. These things did not look like puppets. They were hideous. I mean, the dogs in the movie — the real dogs — were nice to be around. But the creatures that that kid Rob created were horrible! [Editor's Note: Stan Winston designed the dog-related special effects.]
- Carpenter: I'm always concerned about safety, so any time you set somebody on fire … jeez. We also held our breath every time the actors used [flamethrowers]. [Laughs] These things shoot gasoline and are on fire! And these are actors. You just don't know. They might turn around to ask you a question and burn you up. We trained the actors to put out the fire during the scene in the dog kennel. They ran in and put it out. They actually put out the fire too quickly. But I didn't worry about it then … and I usually worry about everything.
- Clennon: I think I saw the film at a cast-and-crew screening. Alien was still fresh in my mind. That film was very effective because you had a clear fix on who each of the characters were. So when the alien was stalking a particular crew member, you had an emotional investment in that character. Take Harry Dean Stanton and his kitten, for instance. You really didn't want the alien to shred him or his kitten.
In The Thing, [screenwriter] Bill Lancaster had written scenes that introduced each of the 12 men. And we shot those scenes — maybe two, three minutes total — but John left that material out during editing. I felt the audience didn't have a chance to identify each character before they got sucked up into being a Thing. It was a little fuzzy at first: "Who's that guy? Is he the biologist? The geologist? The company doctor? Should I care?" I think that made it harder for a general audience to get involved in The Thing. Maybe that's why Alien had a broader appeal and drew bigger crowds into the theaters.
Then again, The Thing has its own integrity. It's a colder, harder, darker world. The outpost culture is totally male, and the outlook at the end is grim and pessimistic.
- Simon Abrams, Matt Zoller Seitz, "The Men Who Were The Thing Look Back on a Modern Horror Classic", L.A. Weekly, (October 13, 2016).
- While The Thing is now regarded as the pinnacle of practical prosthetic effects, its power comes equally from its oozy tactile quality and disturbing flights of twisted imagination; a dog splits in two, a chest undergoing an autopsy grows fleshy jaws and bites a surgeon’s arms off, a head sprouts spider-legs and toddles off. The Thing became became Bottin’s labour of love and it nearly killed him.
“I wanted this stuff to come out great,” he remembered. “So I actually lived at Universal for a year and five weeks, without taking a day off. I’d sleep on the sets, in the locker rooms, in the labs. I ended up in hospital at the end of the show.”
- Rick Baker, as quoted in "Paranoia, claustrophobia, lots of men: how The Thing inspired Tarantino's Hateful Eight", by Ian Freer, The Telegraph, (7 Jan, 2016).
- There are significant differences, too. For where Alien boasted an on-board computer nicknamed ‘Mother’, a female protagonist and an egg-born nemesis, The Thing is set in an all-male environment, and is as much a study of masculinity in crisis as an update of the sort of siege scenario that Carpenter had already played out in Assault on Precinct 13.
The first time we meet chopper pilot and hero RJ MacReady (Carpenter regular Kurt Russell), a loner who lives apart from the rest of the crew’s quarters in a shack outside, he is in the rec room, pouring himself a scotch on ice, and resuming a game of chess – not with one of his companions, but with the computer. “Poor baby, you’re starting to lose it,” he comments, before the Chess Wizard checkmates him. With his masculine ego damaged, MacReady’s response is to pour his drink into the computer’s circuitry, frying it with the words, “Cheating bitch.” It is a misogynistic slur (accompanied by an absurd destructive act) against the only presence on the station that might be deemed female – for the Chess Wizard, despite its masculine name, has the distinctive voice of a woman (in fact Carpenter’s then wife Adrienne Barbeau).
With that word ‘bitch’ still ringing in the audience’s ears, Carpenter cuts away to the husky outside, racing from its armed Norwegian pursuers to the relative shelter of the American station – and through the magical implicature of editing, we infer that this new arrival is also a bitch, come to invade this male community with her feminine otherness – even as it smuggles in all the alien cells that will be these men’s ultimate undoing.
- Anton Bevil, "How John Carpenter’s The Thing became a horror/sci-fi classic", Little White Lies, (23 Oct 2017).
- “It was so frightening that my popcorn flew out of my hand,” said Carpenter who included clips of the film in his 1978 box office smash Halloween. “The original story was like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with the creature imitating one or all of them. And that idea fascinated me.”
- “A lot of movies up to that point had always ended up with a man in a suit,” Carpenter recounted in the documentary Terror Takes Shape. “Even in Alien, as well done as it was, there’s one shot where this thing stands up and you realize it’s a big guy in a suit. Great suit, but still a suit. So the whole point of The Thing was to say, “Let’s do the granddaddy of monsters, and let’s actually show it.”
- Basking in the afterglow of a warmer alien visitation – E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial had opened two weeks earlier and was charming everything before it – Ronald Reagan’s America rejected The Thing’s ambiguous nihilism wholesale. It was, in Carpenter’s words, “El Tanko”.
“It was unpleasant for audiences for deal with,” he later reflected. “I think the social climate in the country at that time had a lot to do with it. There was a recession under way and people rejected its downbeat, depressing view of things. They didn’t like the horrible inevitability of the movie.”
- It is annually the film of choice for the scientists arriving on the first night at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station on June 2 (they end their stay by watching The Shining, perhaps when the madness has set in) and inspired a short story by Canadian writer Peter Watts that recasts the events of the film from the point of view of the Thing itself, struggling to understand why it is receiving such hostility.
- John Carpenter as quoted in "Paranoia, claustrophobia, lots of men: how The Thing inspired Tarantino's Hateful Eight", by Ian Freer, The Telegraph, (7 Jan, 2016).
- People hated it. It was HATED. Especially by the horror fans. I thought that was the best film I’d made but everybody dumped on it
- John Carpenter as quoted in "John Carpenter Discusses Lost Themes Scream Queens and The Thing" by Clarke Wolf, Nerdist, (Jan 30, 2015).
- [Morricone] did all the orchestrations and recorded for me 20 minutes of music I could use wherever I wished but without seeing any footage. I cut his music into the film and realized that there were places, mostly scenes of tension, in which his music would not work... I secretly ran off and recorded in a couple of days a few pieces to use. My pieces were very simple electronic pieces – it was almost tones. It was not really music at all but just background sounds, something today you might even consider as sound effects.
- John Carpenter "John Carpenter's 'Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998' Resurrects the Horror Master's Classic Music". /Film. (October 19, 2017)
- I've asked [Carpenter], as he was preparing some electronic music with an assistant to edit on the film, "Why did you call me, if you want to do it on your own?" He surprised me, he said – "I got married to your music. This is why I've called you." ... Then when he showed me the film, later when I wrote the music, we didn't exchange ideas. He ran away, nearly ashamed of showing it to me. I wrote the music on my own without his advice. Naturally, as I had become quite clever since 1982, I've written several scores relating to my life. And I had written one, which was electronic music. And [Carpenter] took the electronic score.
- Chris Evangelista, "John Carpenter's 'Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998' Resurrects the Horror Master's Classic Music". /Film. (October 19, 2017)
- The professional reviews were similarly damning. “The quintessential moron movie of the eighties” screamed Vincent Canby in the New York Times. “The Thing is so single-mindedly determined to keep you awake that it almost puts you to sleep,” derided David Ansen in Newsweek. Adding insult to injury, even Christian Nyby, the director of the original, weighed in. “If you want blood, go to the slaughterhouse. All in all, it's a terrific commercial for J&B Scotch.”
- Ian Freer, "Paranoia, claustrophobia, lots of men: how The Thing inspired Tarantino's Hateful Eight", The Telegraph, (7 Jan, 2016).
- “It was the way I felt watching The Thing the first time I saw it in a movie theatre,” he continued. “I just really connected to it. This crazy suspense leads to terror to a place suspense rarely ever gets to…The paranoia amongst the characters was so strong, trapped in that enclosure for so long, that it just bounced off all the walls until it had nowhere to go but out into the audience. That is what I was trying to achieve with The Hateful Eight.”
- Quentin Tarantino as quoted in "Paranoia, claustrophobia, lots of men: how The Thing inspired Tarantino's Hateful Eight", by Ian Freer, The Telegraph, (7 Jan, 2016).
- Kurt Russell - MacReady
- Wilford Brimley - Blair
- Keith David - Childs
- T.K. Carter - Nauls
- Thomas Waites - Windows
- David Clennon - Palmer
- Richard Dysart - Dr. Copper
- Charles Hallahan - Norris
- Peter Maloney - Bennings
- Richard Masur - Clark
- Donald Moffat - Garry
- Joel Polis - Fuchs
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