Initially seen as nothing more than a gruesome slab of unnecessary sci-fi, John Carpenter's bleak and nasty thriller has since become a certified classic of the genre. Thanks to some groundbreaking special effects, an insidious tone of palpable paranoia and a stellar lead performance from Kurt Russell, it's as fresh now as it was back in 1982.
But other than knowing just how brilliant it is, chances are you won't know these 25 nuggets of information about The Thing.
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(Images: Rex Features, All Star)
Both director John Carpenter and his wife at the time Adrienne Barbeau, best known for The Fog, had cameos in the film. Carpenter played a man in the Norwegian video footage while Barbeau was the voice of the chess computer aka the only female presence in the film.
An alternate version was created for TV broadcast. The main changes included a narrator at the start of the fllm, less gore and swearing, a variety of intrusive character introductions and, interestingly, an alternate ending where the alien has mimicked one of the dogs again and leaves the camp, looking at the fire that's left behind. You can see a montage of these changes here.
In a banner week for science fiction, The Thing actually opened on the same day as Blade Runner in the US. While both were seen as commercial failures at the time, it was actually The Thing that fared the worst. While Blade Runner opened at #2 and ended up with a $33 million gross, The Thing was down at #8 and managed just $19 million in total.
John Carpenter revealed that he had plans for a sequel which would focus on MacReady and Childs which would take place after the events of The Thing. Their increased age would be explained by, ahem, frostbite. The sequel would rely on a successful radio transmission by Windows which would lead to a rescue team finding the two alive.
Christian Nyby, director of the original 1951 film, publicly criticised this version, stating “If you want blood, go to the slaughterhouse. All in all, it’s a terrific commercial for J&B Scotch.”
The memorable opening title effect was achieved in a rather surprising fashion. The title was drawn on an animation cel which was then placed into the back of a fish tank, with smoke. Behind the cel was a piece of a plastic bag which was stretched across and there was light pointing through the letters. The plastic was then set ablaze and the light shone through.
While the film didn't go down quite that well on release in most countries, it went down spectacularly badly in Finland, where it was banned.
The iconic poster for the film was created by Drew Struzan overnight and without him seeing any stills from the film.
At the start of the film, a warning is offered up in Norwegian. Here is the direct translation:
"Get the hell away
It's not a dog/mutt
It's a thing
It's imitating a dog/mutt
It's not real
Get away idiots!"
Keith David wears gloves for most of the film because he had broken one of his hands in a car accident and needed to cover up his cast.
The film was originally set to be directed by Tobe Hooper but he assembled a script which was described as "a sort of Antarctica 'Moby Dick'" which was rejected.
The rather convincing sound of the Antarctic was actually recorded in the not quite so cold desert outside Palm Springs.
As well as the previously stated alternate TV ending, Carpenter also made a happier version where MacReady is rescued and given a blood test that proves that he's human. It was made just in case it might be needed at some point but luckily it was never used.
Both Nick Nolte and Jeff Bridges turned down the role of MacReady.
The filmmakers were adamant that it wasn't a remake of the 1951 film The Thing From Another World but an adaptation of the original 1928 novella Who Goes There? by John W Campbell. To reiterate the point, they printed the short story in a special pre-release booklet with the movie artwork.
Isaac Hayes and Carl Weathers were both considered for the role of Childs.
Despite now being seen as a classic of the genre. critics were surprisingly unkind to The Thing on release. Roger Ebert claimed that "this material has been done before, and better...there's no need to see this version" while Vincent Canby, in The New York Times labelled it "a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie".
Every year at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, there is a screening of The Thing after the last flight has left for the winter.
Special effects wizard Rob Bottin was just 22 when he worked on the film.
The scenes at the Norwegian camp were actually filmed at the end of production. The reason for this is that they simply used the same set as the American outpost but after it had been destroyed by fire.
It took Kurt Russell a year to grow his beard and hair for the film.
The giant Blair monster at the end was operated by 50 people.
According to the commentary, there was a lot of on-set discussion about whether someone would know if he was The Thing or not after being taken over. Ultimately, it was decided that since the alien could create a perfect imitation, the person would still think of himself as human.
Both Carpenter and Russell created a backstory for MacReady which painted him as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam war who suffered from alcoholism.
As well as the all-male cast, it was almost an all-male crew. The script supervisor Candy Artmont was pregnant and had to leave midway through filming.