40 Fun Facts About John Carpenter’s “The Thing”

Severely underappreciated in its time but regarded as a classic years later, John Carpenter’s The Thing is arguably one of the greatest horror films of all time.  Between its stellar practical effects and creature design, and incredibly tense atmosphere of paranoia and suspense, it’s easy to see why it’s had such lasting power.

Since it didn’t get the fanfare it deserved upon initial release, we thought we should celebrate its now 40th anniversary with a list of 40 fun facts about John Carpenter’s The Thing!

1. The idea first came to light in the mid 1970’s when producers David Foster and Lawrence Thurman wanted to do a more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella “Who Goes There?”

Thing 1
The 1951 adaptation The Thing From Another World didn’t quite have the budget to lean on the shape-shifting aspect. Thus the titular thing looks a lot more like Frankenstein’s monster.

2. While it’s technically another adaptation and not a remake, Universal still had to purchase remake rights from RKO’s 1951 movie The Thing From Another World.  They also had to buy the rights to the novella from a separate source as well.

3. Early on, there was a plan to shoot the movie in black and white, but Universal rejected this idea.  Instead, they decided to mute the colors as much as possible to make it look bleak.

4. Prior to John Carpenter’s involvement, Tobe Hooper was set to direct.  His plan was for the film to take place on a boat as a (very heavily inspired by Ahab) sea captain hunted the alien “thing” and confronted it with a harpoon.

5. John Carpenter initially turned down the offer to direct.  But he was ultimately won over by the blood test scene in the script, and the chance to make an alien monster film that wasn’t just “a guy in a rubber suit”.

Thing 5
Carpenter was intrigued by the idea of a horror film where the characters are all intelligent adults and make smart decisions (unlike most slashers at the time).

6. The Thing was Carpenter’s first big budget studio film, with all of his previous movies being independently produced.

7. Kurt Russell spent a year growing his very real, very thick iconic beard he has in the movie.

8. Prior to the film’s release, Fangoria held a “Draw The Thing” Contest where artists would submit their drawings of what they predicted the titular “thing” would look like.  The winner, David Mark Fey, won a trip to Universal Studios!

Thing 8
This was the winning entry

9. Donald Pleasance was offered the role of Blair, as he had previously worked with John Carpenter on Halloween and Escape From New York.  However, due to scheduling conflicts (while filming 1981’s Treasure of the Yankee Zephyr), he turned it down and Wilford Brimley was cast.

10. Rob Bottin was only 22 years old when he started working on special effects for The Thing.  At a certain point, he even lived on the studio lot, working day and night without break and eventually had to be hospitalized for exhaustion because he had overdone it so much.

Thing 10
Many have said that it’s as much Rob Bottin’s The Thing as it is John Carpenter’s.

11. Due to Bottin’s hospitalization, Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, Aliens, Terminator) stepped in to help with the infamous dog cage scene.

12. Universal gave Bottin a budget of only $250,000 for creature effects.  When he asked for more, they initially balked, saying “we’ve never spent more than that on a monster movie before”.  They did agree to increase it to $750,000, and by the end of production, the special effects budget wound up costing $1.5 million.

13. Adrienne Barbeau, who was at the time married to John Carpenter, and had starred in The Fog, was the voice of the Chess playing computer that MacReady got mad at.

14. Before production began, Keith David broke his hand in a car accident, and thus wore gloves throughout the film to cover up his cast.

15. For the scene in which they visit the burnt down Norwegian camp, the production simply waited until they were done with their American outpost set and burned it down to save themselves from having to build another set.

16. While it’s never directly addressed in the film’s dialogue, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell came up with a whole backstory for MacReady.  It involved him being a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War and suffering from PTSD.  It’s hinted at when he mentions to Childs that he’s a light sleeper.  It also explains his drinking habit.

17. Real animal organs were used for the autopsy scene.  John Carpenter stated on the DVD commentary that Wilford Brimley was the only actor who didn’t get grossed out by it.

Thing 17
The visuals don’t convey the smell of real animal organs…

18. Thomas Waites wore his signature sunglasses during the entire production (even between takes and indoors) and insisted that everyone call him by his character’s name “Windows”.

19. While the exteriors were shot in Alaska and British Columbia, the interiors of the outpost station were shot on the Universal backlot in California.  So as a result, they production spent a fortune to air condition the studio to combat the hot California weather.

20. Several scenes that had been shot indoors were reshot when the production moved to British Columbia.  Carpenter felt like too much of the movie was characters talking indoors, and wanted to utilize the snowy setting.  The most iconic of these scenes being MacReady’s “I know I’m human” speech.

21. The iconic shot of MacReady looking at the massive spaceship in the ice was shot on the backlot, with Kurt Russell standing in front of a painting.

Thing 21
A matte painting will always look better than CGI backgrounds with green screen because it’s still something that’s actually there.

22. There were several sequences shot using stop-motion animation to achieve the monster effects.  Ultimately, Carpenter cut all of them because he thought it looked too fake.

23. Dr. Copper’s death scene was shot with an amputee (who had lost both arms in an industrial accident years earlier) wearing a mask that looked like Richard Dysart’s face.  He had prosthetic arms attached, which were then ripped off.

24. Kurt Russell threw a real stick of dynamite and nearly injured himself as he didn’t throw it far enough and the blast knocked him back.

25. Opened the exact same day as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, both of which were completely overshadowed by E.T.

Thing 25
With audiences warming up to a friendly alien like E.T., there wasn’t much demand for an evil alien movie in June 1982.

26. The film was a complete flop at the box office, grossing only $19.6 million on a $15 million production budget (not including marketing).

27. In addition, it was completely trashed by critics, with many criticizing the amount of gore.  Roger Ebert called it an Alien knock off, and even the director of the original Thing From Another World, Christian Nyby panned the movie stating, “if you want blood, go to the slaughterhouse.”

28. One of the few critics who praised it was Gene Siskel, who admired its use of atmosphere, fear, and suspense.  This was rare since had trashed other horror movies like Poltergeist, Friday the 13th, and Scream.

29. Most egregious of all, Ennio Morricone’s iconic musical theme was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Musical Score.  He then used some of the same musical sequences (some of which were unused) in 2015’s The Hateful Eight and won the Oscar for Best Original Score.

30. However, there were some who did appreciate the film at the time as it was nominated for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects at the Saturn Awards (but lost to Poltergeist and E.T. respectively).

Thing 30
No disrespect to Poltergeist, but these effects were by far the best!

31. Despite all the negative reviews, John Carpenter himself has admitted that The Thing is his personal favorite of all of his movies.

32. John Carpenter was slated to direct 1984’s Firestarter for Universal, but unfortunately he lost that project when The Thing flopped and was critically panned.

33. Carpenter always considered The Thing to be the first in the self-proclaimed “Apocalypse Trilogy” with the other two films being Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness.

34. While many consider the movie to be quite bleak, John Carpenter himself always found it to be very uplifting and inspirational, considering the crew very quickly decide that they will willingly die in order to stop the thing from reaching civilization.

35. When it was first released on home video, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” had to be replaced since Universal didn’t have the rights to it.  However after renegotiating, it was put back in later releases.

36. Years later in 2003, two fans traveled to Stewart, British Columbia to one of the exterior filming locations and found the Norwegian helicopter still standing.  They claimed the rotor blade and took it back home as a souvenir.

37. While the ending is left ambiguous, a 2002 video game has MacReady escaping via rescue team and Childs freezing to death (meaning they were both still human at the end).  John Carpenter has also confirmed that this material is canon.

Thing 37
Carpenter always said that he doesn’t understand why people found the ending ambiguous since Childs clearly stops breathing.

38. In 2003, the SyFy channel was planning on doing a four hour TV miniseries that would serve as a sequel.  But it never went past the development stage. Because the movie is considered an untouchable classic the 2011 “requel” was actually a prequel that told the story of the Norwegian crew.  However, it was heavily criticized for the studio’s decision to cover up the practical effects with CGI.  Even the film’s own director disowned it.

39. Ranked #48 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movies List.

40. Every February The Thing is screened at the US operated Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Thing 40
What better way to watch the movie than actually being in Antarctica?

Which of these did you already know?  Which ones surprised you?  Let us know in the comments!

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