“The Thing” and I: Director John Carpenter’s sci-fi/horror classic turns 40…


“Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell

Where to start, but at the beginning; “The Thing” first thawed as the novella “Who Goes There?”, written in 1938 by John W. Campbell. It involved a group of Antarctic researchers who discover a spaceship frozen in ice for millions of years. Attempting to remove it from the ice with thermite charges, they accidentally destroy the magnesium-hulled craft, but manage to recover a frozen alien creature, which the base physician Blair advocates reviving. All hell breaks loose when the shapeshifting creature assimilates a dog in an attempt to escape. The researchers use blowtorches to destroy the shapeshifting/assimilating ‘thing,’ but not before they suspect it has already contaminated (and infiltrated) their ranks. Blair goes insane with guilt, and is put into isolation for his and everyone’s safety. The researchers soon realize they can’t let this alien menace spread to civilization.

Three variant covers from published forms of Campbell’s novella “Who Goes There?”

Destroying all air/ground transportation off the base, including an overhead bird, second-in-command McReady takes over. McReady then fakes normal outgoing radio messages in order to prevent a rescue party’s arrival. Blood tests with the remaining complement involving a heated wire reveal that 14 members of the base have been compromised. McReady and the two remaining humans check in on the locked-up Blair, who is also revealed to be a doppelgänger. The survivors then drag the alien “Blair” out into the snow and destroy him with a blowtorch. However, they discover that, left on his own, the intelligent creature was dangerously close to completing an escape vehicle…

An expanded version of Campbell’s story was only discovered in 2019 (long after the author’s 1971 death), where it was retitled “Frozen Hell,” but was never published. By that time, several movies had already been made, based on his novella.

“The Thing From Another World” (1951)

The first film adaptation was the Howard Hawks-produced “The Thing From Another World” (1951). Screenwriter Charles Lederer (with uncredited passes by Hawks & Ben Hecht) took major liberties with the original story, including adding woman researcher Nikki Nicholson (Margaret Sheridan) to the all-male sausage party, in order to set up a love story for two-fisted hero Capt. Patrick Hendry (Kenneth Toby). The biggest liberty taken is that the alien creature is no longer an assimilating shapeshifter; it’s now a plant-based bloodsucker who lumbers about like Frankenstein’s monster. This change removes that critical element of paranoia so essential to Campbell’s story. Now it’s just another ‘space monster-on-the-loose’ movie.

Note: In fairness, it would’ve been prohibitively expensive to show the alien creature absorbing and assimilating other life-forms, given the primitive state of 1950s monster movie-makeup techniques.

That’s it! You’re grounded!
James Arness plays a bloodsucking ‘green giant’ in “The Thing From Another World” (1951).

James Arness (of TV’s “Gunsmoke”) would play the titular “Thing”, which had an ally in ‘mad scientist’ Dr. Carrington (Robert Cornwaite), whose obsession with the creature makes him similar to the robotic science officer “Ash” from 1979’s “ALIEN.” Despite this watering-down of Campbell’s story, effective direction by Christian Nyby uses judicious shadows and Arness’ own towering frame to generate a few well-crafted scares. Ingenious use was also made of little person actor Billy Curtis, who briefly plays a smaller version of the Thing, as it is being electrocuted in the movie’s climax.

Note: The movie would be shown on a television set in John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978), as Jamie Lee Curtis’ “Laurie” is babysitting “Tommy” and “Lindsey.”

“The Thing” (1982)

For this 40th anniversary rewatch, I pulled out my HD projector and 7 ft./2m collapsible screen in a darkened room for maximum immersiveness; it worked. It still raised the hairs on the back of my neck, and I’ve seen this film many times…

This “E.T” isn’t coming to Earth with the best of intentions….

The movie opens in space with a flying saucer falling to Earth, many thousands of years ago; we see the vessel encounter atmospheric friction as it descends upon the large frozen continent of Antarctica…

Just like the 1951 movie…but not.

Note: The alien ship is a traditional 1950s flying saucer in overall shape, but with a few added details to better reflect 1980s advances in model work and lighting effects. The title card for “The Thing” is presented in a blue-hued updating of the “burn-through” style title card seen in the ’51 movie, using a very similar font.

“Come and listen to a story ’bout a dog named Jed…” 

In 1982, across the frozen plains of Antarctica, we see a lone malamute running for its life as it’s being pursued by a Norwegian helicopter with an apparent hunter trying to shoot the animal. The helicopter makes repeated attack runs, as both dog and pursuer soon cross into “United States National Science Institute Station 4.”

Note: The dog, credited as “Jed,” in this sequence is an exceptional actor; it runs with great desperation that a playful dog just wouldn’t convey; Jed also shows great panic when reaching the men at the US base. How they trained Jed to portray so much emotion and expressiveness is a wonder of mine. I used to have a Norwegian elk hound when I was a boy, and that was one bright creature, but even on her best day, she was nowhere near as well-trained and clever as this canine actor.

Helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) finds himself at odds with the “Chess Wizard.”

We then cut to the bored crew of the US Station. As the base’s cook, Nauls (T.K Carter), rides around on roller-skates, we meet the base’s uptight former military commander, Garry (Donald Moffat), biologist Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), physician Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart), geologist Norris (Charles Hallahan), assistant biologist Fuchs (Joel Polis), meteorologist Bennings (Peter Maloney), and radio operator Windows (Thomas G. Waites), along with chief mechanic Childs (Keith David), assistant mechanic Palmer (David Clennon), and helicopter pilot, MacReady (Kurt Russell). MacReady is a loner who spends his free time playing chess with a clunky, 1980s-era computer. As the smug (and somewhat imbibed) MacReady finds himself checkmated by the machine, he opens its disc drive and pours his glass of J & B whiskey directly into its innards, shorting out his cybernetic opponent.

Note: MacReady shorting out the computer after losing at chess is more than a sight gag; it also foreshadows how he deals with a crisis when he’s thrust into a no-win scenario. Later on, when MacReady realizes they are hopelessly outmatched by the intelligent, tenacious alien, he simply chooses to blow the entire base to hell—consequences be damned. MacReady is pragmatic, but also a fatalist; realizing he can’t win, he chooses a scorched earth policy, even at the cost of his own life. The voice of the computer chess program was given by actress Adrienne Barbeau, who was married to director Carpenter at the time. Barbeau previously costarred in Carpenter’s dystopian thriller, “Escape From New York” (1981), and she is the only woman in this otherwise all-male cast.

The heavily armed Norwegian (Norbert Weisser) is a foreshadowing of the desperation the Americans will soon face.

As the Norwegians land their helicopter near the US base, and the Norwegian (Norbert Weisser) who tried to shoot the dog exits the idling helicopter, nervously toting his automatic rifle. As most of the base personnel don their heavy coats and goggles to see what all the commotion is about, the terrified malamute rushes towards them, fleeing this seemingly deranged Nordmann. The Nordmann pleads with the Americans to stand aside, but his words are wasted on a language barrier. Attempting to toss a live grenade at the dog, the terrified Nordmann clumsily tosses it behind himself, destroying his ride back, as well as the pilot inside. Seemingly not concerned, he once again resumes firing at the dog, equally unconcerned with hitting Americans, and starting an international incident. A rifle shot grazes Maloney’s leg before base commander Garry grabs his pistol, smashes a window, and shoots the obsessed Nordmann dead. Welcoming the seemingly innocent dog into their base, life resumes. Nauls half-kiddingly wonders if the United States is at war with Norway.

Note: In addition to foreshadowing the Americans’ desperation later on, the prologue with the Norwegians chasing the surviving ‘dog’ out of their base would form the basis for a somewhat unnecessary 2011 prequel, confusingly titled “The Thing” as well.

Base cook Nauls (T.K Carter), geologist Norris (Charles Hallahan), mechanic Childs (Keith David), assistant biologist Fuchs (Joel Polis) and base commander Garry (Donald Moffat) all come to the conclusion that this waaay above their pay grade.

Theories abound as to what could’ve drove the Norwegians to such desperation, with the base’s scientists guessing it might’ve been some kind of extreme, winter-induced madness. Meanwhile, the bright-eyed dog is welcomed into the base without any restraint or suspicion whatsoever, despite the Norwegians’ desperation to kill it. Realizing they need more information before an international incident occurs, pilot MacReady proposes taking a helicopter out to investigate what happened at the Norwegian base, which is only an hour away. Dr. Copper agrees to go with him.

Note: Much like James Cameron would do with the marine characters in 1986’s “ALIENS”, writer Bill Lancaster and director Carpenter draw the base’s colorful, all-male personnel in quick sketches rather than detailed character dossiers. We get to know them by their quirks and attitudes, which is just enough for us to feel something for them during the jeopardy they will soon face.

Horror on the rocks.
Copper and MacReady discovery the source of the carnage; a block of ice from which some…thing emerged.

Landing at the Norwegian base, Dr. Copper and MacReady find a bombed-out, wintery chamber of horrors, as mutilated, bloody corpses are frozen in chairs within the compromised base, while a grotesque fusion of bodies lies in a bloody mix of flesh, bone and humanoid features–like a melted collection of wax dummies. Copper collects videotapes and other notes to help them piece together this nightmare, just as McReady discovers a vacated block of ice from which something was carefully removed…something fairly sizable, too.

Note: The sets for the destroyed Norwegian base were cleverly redressed and reused for the partially-destroyed American base later on.

Next, on “Alien Autopsy”…
Garry, McReady, Copper, Norris, Benning (Peter Maloney), Blair (Wilford Brimley and Fuchs examine a human-alien corpse.

Taking the horrifically mutilated corpse back to their own base, an autopsy by senior biologist Blair reveals healthy a set of perfectly normal human organs inside of the inexplicably twisted, humanoid corpse. Realizing the Norwegian dog is still loose on the base, wrangler Clark is ordered to lock the animal up in the pens, along with the other dogs. As Clark secures the animal within the mesh-wire pen, the presence of the foreign malamute alarms the other animals, who seem desperately afraid of this furry interloper…

Note: Actor Richard Masur, who plays dog wrangler Clark, has an air of untrustworthiness about him. When I first saw the movie, I just assumed Clark was ‘one of them’ (as the character was in the original novella). My irrational distrust of Masur probably stemmed from seeing him play an all-too convincing child molester in the 1981 TV-movie “Fallen Angel.” It’s actually a testament to Masur’s skill that I’ve disliked him for so many years afterward.

Let sleeping dogs lie…

The Norwegian dog eyes the other animals with a cool, predatory detachment as it begins to change. Within moments the other animals watch in terror as the dog’s head begins to split open, with a creature inside of it struggling to shed its furry skin. Tendrils fling from the creature and ensnare other panicked dogs within the pen. Other dogs bark furiously, and try gnawing through thick mesh wire in order to escape. MacReady hears the carnage and pulls the fire alarm. Waking up Childs, he orders him to grab a flame thrower. Most of the base’s personnel arrive at the pen in time to witness a grisly metamorphosis, as a bloodied, fleshy creature emerges from the spent carcass of its previous dog form, as it attempts to absorb the other creatures. A few of the dogs manage to escape before Childs uses his flame thrower to burn the alien creature to a crisp.

Note: In addition to cinematographer Dean (“Back to the Future”) Cundey’s shadowy, chilling cinematography, another MVP of this movie is makeup artist Rob Bottin (“Robocop”) who was only 22 years old when he oversaw the extensive makeup & prosthetics work for this massive project. Bottin’s disgustingly imaginative fusions of human, dog, and alien flesh are works of nightmarish genius, right alongside the works of H.R. Giger’s perversely beautiful biomechanical designs from “ALIEN” (1979).

Hot Dog.
Norris, Clark (Richard Masur), Bennings, Blair and MacReady are faced with yet another autopsy challenge…

Later, the charred remains of the dog-alien ‘corpse’ is autopsied by Blair, who is disturbed to discover that its alien cells absorb and assimilate other life-forms. The duplication being so perfect that a doppelgänger might not even realize they’re a copy, but driven by alien instructions within their new DNA, making a perfect sleeper agent. Further computer projections done privately by Blair suggest that, if this new life-form reaches civilization, humankind may be completely absorbed within a matter of days. Realizing anyone around him might be ‘one of them,’ Blair chooses to compartmentalize this information for the time being…

Note: Curmudgeonly actor Wilford Brimley (1934-2020) was often cast in roles much older than his actual age, given his balding head, seemingly permanent frown and advanced paunch. While only in his late 40s during filming, he could easily pass for a man of 60 or so today. A few years after his work in “The Thing”, he would play a senior citizen living in a retirement community in Ron Howard’s summer fantasy “Cocoon” (1985). At the time, Brimley was barely 50 years old, making him the ‘baby’ among the primary cast of geriatric actors, which included Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who were in their 60s and 70s during filming.

“Play the five tones…”
MacReady and crew find the saucer seen in the prologue, buried in ice for thousands of years.

Skimming through the Norwegian videotapes, Copper and McReady are having a difficult time piecing together a coherent narrative, but one thing is clear; the alien was first discovered during an excavation not far from the Norwegian base. Gathering a small crew, MacReady and his team, including geologist Norris, fly out to a large excavation crater, where they see a massive flying saucer at its center. Judging by the depth of the site’s icy walls, Norris estimates the saucer had been buried for hundreds of thousands of years.

Note: In the original 1951 version, all that could be seen of the alien spacecraft was the suggestion of the spaceship’s form beneath the ice. In 1982, a combination of matte paintings and miniature effects technology were used to give this same moment a grander scale and impact than was possible for a relatively low-budget monster movie in the 1950s. The movie’s image of a spaceship buried beneath the ice would later be homaged in the 100th episode of Star Trek: Voyager (“Timeless”), where an alternate future sees the long-dead starship Voyager trapped under ice—fatally crash-landing on an alien planet 15 years earlier, after using an untested drive technology.

Windows (Thomas G. Waites) watches as Norris, Fuchs, Garry, Bennings and Dr. Copper examine some recovered alien bits…

Returning with a few fragments of alien metal from the wrecked saucer, some of the crew are having difficulty processing with what they’re being confronted with; not only is alien life elsewhere in the universe confirmed, but it also poses a clear and present danger to life on Earth. Meanwhile, Blair grows increasingly paranoid, as he increases his understanding of the alien life-form’s assimilative abilities; the alien corpses are not dead tissue—they’re still alive, and have (according to computer projections) most likely assimilated a member, or members of the base’s crew. This is revealed to be factual when radio operator Windows walks in on the ‘dead’ alien’s tentacles trying to absorb the nude human corpse of Bennings.

Note: It’s around this time in the movie that mechanic Palmer (David Clennon) suggests that alien visitations were forecast in “Chariots of the Gods,” a popular pseudoscientific book from Swiss author and ‘expert,’ Erich von Daniken. Von Daniken proposed that ancient geological markings, myths, legends, and even cave paintings are somehow definitive ‘proof’ of ancient alien visitors to Earth, many years ago. The book was later made into a 1970 West German ‘documentary,’ which I remember seeing on television as a kid. Upon adolescence, I began to see the great leaps of logic by von Daniken in order to create a narrative for his book, rather than hold up to scientific scrutiny. It’s horseshit.

The Bennings-Thing doppelgänger is caught ‘red-handed’…

Windows immediately alerts MacReady, who, along with several others, chases after what appears to be Bennings walking alone in the night snow. Surrounded, the ‘Bennings-Thing’ stops, and extends its long red ‘fingers’ before screaming with an unearthly howl. MacReady then quickly takes his flamethrower and barbecues the abomination.

Note: The unearthly howl emitted by the Bennings-Thing before MacReady kills it reminded me of the similarly unearthly cries given by the alien doppelgängers in Philip Kaufman’s brilliant 1978 remake of 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Like Carpenter’s “The Thing,” Kaufman’s “Body Snatchers” is another example of a horror/sci-fi remake that arguably surpasses its predecessor, much like David Cronenberg’s brilliant 1986 reimagining of “The Fly” (1958).

Just another day at the office…
Childs, Nauls, Dr. Copper, Clark and MacReady nervously stand by as the base’s armed commander begins to lose it.

The situation on the base goes from bad to worse, as Blair goes on a rampage–destroying the helicopters, snowmobiles, and even killing the remaining dogs in the kennel in order to prevent any alien contamination from escaping the base. Locking himself in the radio room, he takes an axe to the banks of radio equipment and computers, as he mindlessly monologues about saving humanity. Thinking that ol’ Blair has cracked up, MacCready uses a table as a shield and charges the older man; quickly disarming him, and knocking him unconscious. Before Blair can fully awaken, he’s dragged into a locked tool shed, where he’s humanely given food and winter wear, to prevent death from hunger or exposure. Another issue arises when Copper suggests testing the men’s blood supply in storage, only to learn the blood supplies have been destroyed by an unseen alien saboteur. Acknowledging that he has the only key to the blood supply, Garry sheepishly admits that someone could’ve easily stolen the key from him. This admission of incompetence leaves Garry’s men with a lack of confidence in his leadership, and McReady quickly steps up to take charge.

Note: Donald Moffat (“Garry”) previously played the naive but brilliant humanoid android “Rem” in the one-season TV series adaptation of “Logan’s Run” (1977-1978); a series based on the 1976 movie rather than William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson’s novel. Moffat also convincingly portrayed former US vice president (and later president) Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1983 film version of Tom Wolfe’s “The Right Stuff.”

“Try Quaker Oats…it’s the right thing to do.”
Blair tries to reason with McReady to release him from his storage room jail, but McReady isn’t having it.

McReady, Nauls and Windows later find the charred remains of Fuchs, and realize he’d committed suicide before allowing himself to be compromised by alien absorption. Windows heads back, as MacReady and Nauls investigate a mysterious light in MacReady’s shack. Nauls then abandons MacReady in a blizzard during their return, after finding torn clothes with McReady’s name stenciled on them. Believing McReady to be an alien doppelgänger, the crew lock him outside of the base. Unable to return, McReady then checks in on Blair, as the doctor repeatedly assures him he’s “alright now. McReady doesn’t yet trust the doctor, however, as something with Blair’s almost mechanical pleading feels a bit off somehow…

Note: Kudos to the late Brimley, who modulates his performance in this scene to convey that something’s changed about Blair; as he tries to convince McReady he’s ‘alright’, his almost-robotic rambling only serves to convince viewers that he’s more wrong than ever.

“Say hello to my little friend…”
McReady returns, with an insurance policy to guarantee his crew’s loyalty.

As the frightened group debates whether or not their leader back in, they hear a noise. Checking its source, they find a frost-faced McReady has already broken back into the compound, carrying an ‘insurance policy’—a cluster of dynamite in his right hand and a lit flare in his left. McReady’s ready to light the fuse at any moment if they betray him again. The paranoia within the base has reached an impasse, with no one trusting anyone else, especially a leader holding his team captive with a few sticks of TNT…

Note: The movie’s molasses-thick atmosphere of distrust and paranoia reminds me very much of today’s currently-stalled political climate, in fact. Carpenter’s clearly made a political movie here, even if unintentionally so. He’d be much more on-point with 1988’s slyly subversive Reaganomics rebuke, “They Live.”

The heart attack scene that nearly gives me one, every time…

After McReady’s ‘reinstatement’, Norris appears to suffer a heart attack, as the men get him up on a table. Dr. Copper attempts CPR, but to no avail. Copper then charges a defibrillator, and as he places the paddles on Norris’ chest, his hands sink into a massive new pair of toothed jaws that have opened within Norris’ abdomen! The jaws then sever the doctor’s arms off, killing him from the shock and blood loss.

Note: The defibrillator scene easily qualifies as the single most effective jump-scare in the entire movie, and it’s well-earned, too; Rob Bottin’s incredibly complex, moving prosthetics of Norris’ chest cavity ‘jaws’ still hold up very well indeed, 40 years later. The best CGI makeups today simply just can’t provide the tactile yet surreal horror of this moment, as the actors themselves are present within this nightmare of a scene; it’s not digitally painted in later.

Heads up, everybody!
Rob Bottin’s horrifically imaginative prosthetics are easily on a par with Dick Smith’s best work in “The Exorcist,” and they are far more complex, as well; setting a high new bar for pre-CGI 1980s and 1990s horror.

‘Norris-Thing’ then branches off into separate living organisms, with the body on the table grotesquely transforming into a fanged, human-headed spider, while yet another creature rises from the chest cavity of its discarded Norris form. McReady and Childs desperately try to immolate the multiple monsters that have branched out from the Norris-Thing. The flame thrower does its job, and the multiple creatures emerging from Norris’ discarded form are reduced to smoking, charred husks. Even if not fully dead, they’re temporarily neutralized. Seeing the separate ‘births’ in the lab gives McReady an idea on how to check for doppelgängers.

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down.
McReady decides its time to do a little medical testing on his captive audience.

Only trusting Windows to assist him, McReady hatches his plan. Seeing how the Norris-Thing branched off into separate creatures, McReady believes even a drop or two of a Thing’s blood will act independently, whereas a human being can’t ‘feel’ their own blood once its drawn. To that end, McReady has several of the men tied to the couch, while he uses a flamethrower to heat an unsheathed copper wire, which he will use to burn a freshly-drawn blood sample within a petrie dish. If a person is compromised, the ‘blood’ will react with pain as its burned by the heated wire. Easy-peasy. As McReady prepares the test, a doubtful Clark palms a hidden scalpel and threatens to charge McReady, but McReady warns that he’ll shoot anyone who does. Clark calls his bluff, and is instantly shot dead. A bitter Childs notes that Clark was human, after all. Unfazed, McReady continues with his blood test, as Windows helps him collect blood samples from each man in a petrie dish. One by one, the men are exonerated, save for Palmer, whose sample immediately leaps from the petrie dish in a frantic, living column of blood, which attaches to the ceiling as a separate organism. The bound men begin to panic as they’re tied to the same couch as Palmer-Thing, who also branches out into separate creatures. McReady’s right-hand man Windows is then infected by the Palmer-Thing, and McReady is forced to immolate them both.

Note: Just when you catch your breath from the defibrillator scene, the movie offers more heart attack fuel with the blood test sequence. The blood test scene is so suspenseful that in 1995, Star Trek Deep Space Nine would copy it nearly verbatim in its third season episode, “The Adversary,” where a changeling shapeshifter had infiltrated the starship Defiant during a delicate peacekeeping mission, and sent the ship’s crew into a similar state of paranoia. A blood test was done to see which of the crew had ‘real’ blood…no heated copper wires required.

Blair’s been busy pimping his new ride.

After the blood test fiasco, Childs is left to guard the base, while MacReady, Nauls and Garry go off to check on Blair, who’s still locked away. Tentatively entering the shed, they find that Blair–or rather, Blair-Thing–has created an underground tunnel beneath the shed. Following the claustrophobic confines of the tunnel, they find a much smaller version of the massive flying saucer seen earlier. Blair-Thing has been been building itself a ride out of Antarctica, using pieces of the other vehicles it sabotaged earlier to prevent the group from escaping. Realizing Blair-Thing is intelligent enough to build a homemade flying saucer out of scraps, the men resolve to stop the monster in its deadly tracks, even at the cost of their own lives. To that end, they split up to look for Blair-Thing, and strategically place explosive charges to destroy the base. Unfortunately, Garry finds Blair-Thing, and is killed, just out of earshot…

Note: That the Blair-Thing can build a spaceship out of scraps is a testimony to the intelligence of this menace. This isn’t JAWS, or some mindless wild animal; this is a collective entity (or entities, when divided) that is far beyond humanity in technology and ingenuity. That conclusion makes the Thing all the more terrifying; it’s an intelligence vastly superior to our own, yet unknowably alien as well.

This isn’t exactly Spielberg’s “E.T,” that’s for damn sure…

Unable to find Nauls (sequel?), and assuming the worst with Garry, McReady knows that the trapped creature plans to return to a hibernation-state within the ice, patiently awaiting an eventual rescue party. Since it’s already waited hundreds of millennia, a few more months will hardly make a difference. It will reach inhabited parts of Earth and procreate, sooner or later. McReady is about to set off the charges with the detonator, when he’s suddenly attacked by the tentacled Thing in all its extraterrestrial glory. A 15 ft. tall, gooey mass of fangs, tentacles, and other assimilated parts, the Thing destroys the detonator, and is about to kill McReady, when the resourceful human sets off the explosives using a tossed stick of dynamite (“Yeah, well f**k you too!”).

An explosive finale…a finale fit for a Thing.

The base is destroyed in a massive orange fireball, as a bedraggled McReady manages to make it out alive, locating a safe vantage point from which to view the base’s demolitiion—and presumably, the alien’s as well. McReady then spots a surviving Childs, who tells him that he got lost in the snow going after Blair. Unconvinced that either of them are the ‘real deal,’ they reason that if they were Things, they would’ve already killed each other. Even with momentary heat from the burning base, the two aren’t sure how long they’ll hold out from the intense cold of Arctic night, so they decide to enjoy their final moments of life by sharing a bottle of J & B whiskey together…

Note: I’m still wondering what happened to Nauls. Just saying that there might still be a sequel in there somewhere…maybe?

“I’ll drink to your legs.”
Childs (Keith David) and McReady (Kurt Russell) are the survivors…for the moment, anyway.

Note: Kurt Russell was a longtime muse of director John Carpenter, beginning with his impressive performance as Elvis Presley in the Carpenter-directed 1979 TV miniseries, “Elvis,” and continuing as the iconic “Snake Plissken” in 1981’s “Escape From New York” (as well as its 1996 sequel, “Escape From L.A”). Russell would also play cocky truck driver Jack Burton in 1986’s “Big Trouble in Little China.” Keith David would also work for Carpenter again in the under-appreciated 1988 sci-fi political thriller, ““They Live.”

The End.

Given the movie’s hard-R rating, we’re unlikely to see a major studio release anything like it in our current Disney-saturated, risk-averse, PG-13 horror environment. Even in 1982, the far more family-friendly “E.T.” was the movie that raked in the most summer dollars. Like that other sci-fi classic of 1982, “Blade Runner,” “The Thing” went largely unrecognized by mass audiences in its day.


2011 would see a prequel to the movie, which is set directly before the events seen in the 1982 film, taking place at the ill-fated Norwegian base seen in the Carpenter film. Written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., the 2011 prequel (confusingly given the same title as Carpenter’s movie) essentially lines up all of the pins for John Carpenter to bowl a perfect strike with in his 1982 film. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate Lloyd, an American scientist partaking in research on the Norwegian base to give the audience an avatar. Her character goes through a somewhat predictable evolution, as she and the Norwegians struggle, and ultimately fail to contain their alien menace, leaving it for Kurt Russell and company to clean up in the next–er, previous film.

Kate and her Norwegian colleagues learn exactly why NASA has those pesky quarantine protocols…

There are some intriguing visuals aboard the H.R. Giger-esque alien spacecraft (the exterior of which we saw in the first movie) and a few moments of awe regarding the discovery. Unfortunately, the movie all too quickly becomes a retelling of the 1982 original, but with less interesting characters. The overuse of computer-generated effects are no substitute for the practical, physical, gut-wrenching nightmare fuel of Rob Bottin’s amazing on-set creations. Winstead does a credible job in her performance, as does her costar Joel Edgerton (“Obi-Wan Kenobi”), but the movie simply lacks the raw power of Carpenter’s original. Its predictability makes it feel rather pointless, as well. The 1982 film told us all we really needed to know about the fate of the Norwegian expedition, making 2011’s prequel all about connecting dots. I remember renting this movie about ten years ago, and feeling more-or-less indifferent about it afterward.

Meeting “Childs” (Keith David)

This past February, I attended a local convention in Ontario, California, called “CreepIEcon 2022” and one of the celebrity attendees I’d hope to meet and get an autograph from actor Keith David, who plays “Childs” in the film. I’ve been a fan of David’s from his many other credits and I wanted to get his autograph on the first day of the two day convention, but sadly, his appearance was delayed due to a cancelled flight. While he did arrive sometime later on that evening, I couldn’t stay, but I resolved to meet him the following day, and there he was—looking a lot warmer than he did at the end of “The Thing” (guess he and Kurt Russell got out of there somehow…).

Just doing his “Thing.”
Meeting Keith David (“Childs”), alive and well, attending “CreepIEcon 2022” at Ontario, California back in February. 

Keith David’s long list of credits include 1988’s “They Live” (1988) (also directed by “Halloween” director John Carpenter) and 1986’s Oliver Stone-directed Best Picture, “Platoon.” He’s also a much sought-after voice actor, who played “Dr. Facilier” in Disney’s 2009 animated film “The Princess and the Frog,” (an under-appreciated film) as well as the Cat in 2009’s “Coraline”. The actor has even tried his hand in comedies, playing Cameron Diaz’s stepfather in 1998’s “There’s Something About Mary.” I’ve been a fan of Keith David’s for a long time, and it was wonderful to finally meet him in person.

Summing It Up

A more vivid and faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” than its 1951 predecessor, “The Thing” is my favorite remake in horror cinema, right up there with (and arguably surpassing) David Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986). It brings all the essentials (and a lot of details) from the 1938 novella, and elevates them to the next level–offering equal value for both literary purists and modern horror fans. This is one of those rare cinematic unicorns where a remake is much more faithful in both intent and execution than its predecessor ever dared.

“Spider-head, Spider-head, does whatever a spider can…”

The movie harnesses the talents of an in-their-prime John Carpenter and Kurt Russell, as well as a talented supporting cast (Keith David, Richard Dysart, David Masur, Wilford Brimley, et al), topped off with the heart-stopping horror of makeup great Rob Bottin’s various creature makeups. Composer Ennio Morricone’s rhythmic score sounds like an anxious viewer’s heart beating out of their chest. The sense of palpable paranoia generated by the cast and crew within the film’s cold, icy, claustrophobic setting almost becomes another character. Given this near perfect synergy of talents, 1982’s “The Thing” is easily John Carpenter’s best movie.

Note: With all apologies to Carpenter’s creatively voyeuristic direction and iconic music from 1978’s “Halloween.”

Where To Watch

John Carpenter’s “The Thing” can be streamed with a subscription to Peacock.com, or rented/purchased on YouTube or PrimeVideo (prices vary from $3.99 on up). The movie can also be purchased on DVD/BluRay from Amazon.com (once again, prices vary by seller). Makes for great Halloween season viewing!

Movie poster artist Drew Struzan’s iconic one-sheet!
Photos: Universal, RKO, Author, Various

3 Comments Add yours

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The Thing is a timeless reminder of how such darkly ending horror films can still find their places in our hearts. Happy 40th Anniversary.

  2. Gary Flamme says:

    Thank U so much MR. SCIFI MIKE that was a Amazingly perfection of article for a Beautiful Wonderful movie the Thing is one of the Greatest of all time ! WOW

Leave a Reply