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

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 25, 2012 at 1:58PM

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," it was 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.
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The Thing
2. Australian actor Jack Thompson was nearly cast in the lead role, while Ernie Hudson, Donald Pleasance, Brian Dennehy and Lee Van Cleef all came close to parts too.
Kurt Russell had starred in two of Carpenter's last three pictures: 1979's TV movie "Elvis" and 1981's "Escape From New York," but the director was wary of working with him too many times, and initially looked elsewhere for an actor to play MacReady. Overtures were made to Jeff Bridges, Christopher Walken, Nick Nolte, Kris Kristofferson and Sam Shepard, but all were unavailable, or turned the project down. More serious meetings were held with John Heard, Tom Berenger, Fred Ward, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Peter Coyote and Tim McIntyre (the latter four all passing on the project), while Carpenter favorite Tom Atkins ("The Fog," "Escape From New York") was an early front-runner. Surprisingly, it was Australian actor Jack Thompson who'd won Best Supporting Actor at Cannes for "Breaker Morant" (and has gone on more recently to parts in films including "December Boys," "Australia" and the upcoming "Great Gatsby") who came closest, being flown in to read for Carpenter personally. But ultimately, the director decided the project would be best served with a reunion with Russell. Other Carpenter vets were in the running for parts too -- "Halloween" star Donald Pleasance was considered for Blair, but it was decided to go for a less familiar face, and Wilford Brimley got the gig instead. Meanwhile, Lee Van Cleef was up for Garry, along with Jerry Orbach, Kevin Conway, Richard Mulligan and Powers Boothe, while Russell's "Escape From New York" co-star Isaac Hayes was in consideration to play Childs, as were Geoffrey Holder, Carl Weathers and Bernie Casey, while Ernie Hudson came very close. In the end, Donald Moffat and Keith David took the roles. Finally, Brian Dennehy, who'd also been up to play MacReady, was very nearly Dr. Copper (William Daniels also read), before Carpenter decided on Richard Dysart.  

The Thing
3. Keep your eyes (and ears) peeled for cameos from John Carpenter and his then-wife Adrienne Barbeau.
Thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, directors are more keen to make some kind of brief cameo in their own work (or worse, want to cast themselves in a lead role they're entirely ill-suited for -- M. Night Shyamalan, we're looking at you...) And true to form, Carpenter. who made physical or vocal cameos in most of his films from "Dark Star" to "Memoirs Of An Invisible Man," does crop up in "The Thing," as one of the Norwegians in the video footage. Meanwhile, the director's then-wife Adrienne Barbeau, who'd starred in "The Fog" and "Escape From New York," lends her voice to the chess computer. Probably less recognizable is the rifle-carrying Norwegian in the opening; the part was played by Larry J. Franco, who was an associate producer, the 2nd unit director, and at the time, was married to Russell's sister Jill (he's gone on produce "Batman Begins" and "2012" among many others). Carpenter claims on the DVD commentary that Franco was making up his Norwegian lines, speaking nonsense, but in fact, it does make sense, albeit in a broken way. It does give the game away to any Norwegian viewers, however; the lines translate as ""Get the hell outta there. That's not a dog, it's some sort of thing! It's imitating a dog, it isn't real! Get away you idiots!"

This article is related to: 5 Things You Might Not Know About..., They Live, John Carpenter, Kurt Russell, On This Day In Movie History


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