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5 Things You Might Not Know About John Carpenter's 'The Thing'

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by Oliver Lyttelton
June 25, 2012 1:58 PM
5 Comments
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June 25, 1982, was a good day for genre fans. Hell, that summer saw a spate of genre classics released, including "The Road Warrior," "Poltergeist," and "E.T." But June 25th in particular saw not only the release, as we discussed earlier today, of "Blade Runner," but also another legendary sci-fi picture, which like Ridley Scott's film, wasn't well-received at the time, and flopped at the box office, but went on to be enshrined in the geek hall of fame. No, it's not Barry Bostwyck vehicle "MegaForce," but John Carpenter's terrifying "The Thing," which despite the efforts of last year's poor retread/prequel, remains one of the greatest sci-fi/horrors ever made.

Technically a remake of Howard Hawks' well-loved 1951 "The Thing From Another World," which Carpenter pays tribute to in the opening moments, the new film took a very different approach, ramping up both the paranoia and the eye-popping physical effects, which maintain the power to disgust even today. To mark the 30th anniversary of John Carpenter's "The Thing," we've assembled five facts you may not be aware of. Unless you're one of them... Check them out below.  

1. "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" helmer Tobe Hooper was the first director attached.
Producer Stuart Cohen (who keeps an excellent and detailed blog about the making of the film), David Foster and Lawrence Turman took the prospect of a remake of Howard Hawks' "The Thing From Another World" (or more accurately, a new, more faithful adaptation of John W. Campbell's story "Who Goes There?"), to Universal, where Turman-Foster Productions had a deal, in the mid 1970s. "The Sugarland Express" writers Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins had the rights, but they passed on the new adaptation, and Universal picked up the book from them. While Cohen says he wanted his old USC classmate John Carpenter involved from the start, the director hadn't yet broken out with "Halloween," and Universal had Tobe Hooper, director of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," under contract at that point, and he was hired along with writing partner Kim Henkel. However, producers weren't pleased with their script, described by Cohen as "a sort of Antarctica 'Moby Dick' with an Ahab-like character (I believe his name was The Captain) battling a large, but decidedly non-shape shifting creature...a tone poem with a stab at a Southern, Davis Grubb-like feel" After a meeting with "Animal House" helmer John Landis, playwright David Wiltse was brought on, but that draft too failed to meet muster, and neither did a treatment from "Logan's Run" scribe William F. Nolan. The project then languished for a few years until the success of "Alien" saw it pick up steam again, and Carpenter, who'd reinvented the horror genre with "Halloween," was loosely attached, although didn't want to write the script himself. A number of scribes were approached, including sci-fi legend Richard Matheson (who turned it down), "Quatermass" creator Nigel Kneale, and "The Deer Hunter" writer Derek Washburn, but it was Bill Lancaster, son of screen legend Burt Lancaster, and writer of the "Bad News Bears" movies, who proved the right fit, with Carpenter declaring his eventual draft -- delivered three and a half months late -- as the best script he'd ever read. Even then, there was nearly another hitch -- just as the film threatened to be greenlit, Carpenter thought that a horror-western passion project "El Diablo," was close to being made at EMI Films, and nearly bailed. Walter Hill, Michael Ritchie and even Sam Peckinpah were all discussed as replacements before Carpenter came back to the fold.

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5 Comments

  • Maxwell | May 15, 2014 9:07 PMReply

    HEY SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE ALTERNATE ENDINGS DO NOT READ PSAT NUMBER 4 THANKS FOR RUINING IT FOR ME ASSHOLES

  • Alan | June 26, 2012 2:54 AMReply

    "But ultimately, the director decided the project would be best served with a reunion with Russell." That's not what Jack Thompson told Empire Magazine: the Australian actor said that he had already promised to appear in an Australian film, and so had to turn down Carpenter's film.

  • Terry | June 25, 2012 6:43 PMReply

    I really kinda wish that either actors or films were in bold and not both~~~

  • Rocket | June 25, 2012 2:28 PMReply

    Thanks for the cool article...Another neat sci-fi film you might want to include from the summer of 1982: Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan.

  • Arch | June 25, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    Also IIRC Carpenter is piloting the helicopter in the opening scene (or was it in Escape from N.Y. ?).

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