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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
4. Special effects whiz Rob Bottin was only 22 when he handled most of the effects, although Stan Winston was brought on for one particular creature.
Undoubtedly one of the most sickeningly memorable aspects of the film are the gruesome special effects, handled with puppets (and occasionally stop-motion, although Carpenter scrapped much of what was planned, finding it unconvincing); they still hold up, and churn stomachs today, even in adorable claymation form (see below). The man responsible for achieving most of the effects was Rob Bottin, who was a mere 22 years old when the film was in production. Bottin had been hired by effects legend Rick Baker at the age of 14, and went on to work with the maestro on "King Kong" and "Piranha," among others (as well as some of the "Star Wars" creatures -- Bottin even plays in the cantina band in the original film). The 20-year-old was introduced to Carpenter by DoP Dean Cundey, and got a credit for contributing special makeup for "The Fog," before going on to his first solo gig on Joe Dante's "The Howling," where he created an astonishing werewolf transformation sequence that still vies with Baker's in "An American Werewolf In London" for the finest ever. He went straight onto "The Thing," and created and operated the majority of effects himself, working seven days a week, and had to check himself into hospital once shooting wrapped to recover from exhaustion. He did, however, have a little help; the late Stan Winston did create the nausea-inducing dog-thing puppet, although was so impressed by Bottin's work that he refused credit.

The Thing
5. An alternate, happy ending was shot, but has never been shown.
The DVD and Blu-Ray do include one alternate ending, where the Thing, taking the form of the sled-dog once again, looks back at the flaming camp before running off into the wilderness, suggesting that attempts at containing the threat have failed, and that mankind is likely doomed. However, a far happier ending does exist, although it's been seen by only a few who weren't involved with the production. On the DVD documentary "Terror Takes Shape," editor Todd C Ramsay details that he suggested to Carpenter that they cover themselves by shooting a happy ending while they still had Russell available (the actor was going on to shoot "Silkwood"), in case it became necessary later on. Carpenter agreed, and an alternate conclusion was filmed, whereby MacReady is rescued, and given a blood test that proves he's not a creature. Thankfully, it was never used, and has never been included on any release of the film (although a radically different TV edit, disowned by Carpenter, featuring opening voiceover, cuts for violence and language, and longer introductions to the cast, was created by Universal in the 1980s). As for the canonical ending, Carpenter still insists that he doesn't know which of MacReady or Childs is really The Thing at the end. And that's the way we like it.
 

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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