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SYFY WIRE oral history

The Thing Oral History: Cast and Crew Reveal Secrets of John Carpenter's Sci-Fi Horror Masterpiece

John Carpenter knows who was really the Thing at the end of the movie... but more than four decades later, he's still not telling. 

By Josh Weiss
An alien-human hybrid creature appears in The Thing (1982).

"The Ultimate in Alien Terror" was a mere promotional tagline in 1982. Today, those five simple words refer to one of the greatest science fiction horror movies ever made. One might even call it the greatest science fiction horror movie ever made.

It's hard to believe that 42 years have passed since the theatrical release of John Carpenter's The Thing — which blended elements from 1951's The Thing from Another World (produced by one of Carpenter's biggest cinematic influences, Howard Hawks) and the John W. Campbell Jr. novella it was based on, Who Goes There? — to form an entirely new specimen that has been nigh-impossible to imitate all these years later.

For More on The Thing:
Return of The Thing? Everything to Know About The Cancelled Miniseries Sequel to The Thing
Kurt Russell Admits He Wasn't a Big Fan of MacReady's Iconic Sombrero in The Thing
Kurt Russell and John Carpenter Discussed the Ending of The Thing "For a Long, Long Time"

A Definitive Oral History of John Carpenter's The Thing


  • John Carpenter (director)
  • Stuart Cohen (producer)
  • Larry Franco (associate producer/Norwegian rifleman)
  • Alan Howarth (uncredited sound designer and composer)
  • Dean Cundey (director of photography)
  • Clyde Bryan (first assistant cameraman)
  • Susan Turner (miniature designer)
  • Peter Kuran (main title designer)
  • Craig Miller (publicity consultant)
  • Von Babasin (visual effects crew member)
  • Keith David (Childs)
  • Thomas G. Waites (Windows)
  • Richard Masur (Clark)
  • Peter Maloney (Bennings)
  • Joel Polis (Fuchs)
  • David Clennon (Palmer)
  • Norbert Weisser (Norwegian pilot)

Carpenter's affinity for the material was evident in 1978's Halloween, which featured a scene in which Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) watch Thing from Another World on television just before Michael Myers' murderous rampage throughout the neighborhood. That little homage might have remained the director's only connection to the property, had it not been for his old USC film school buddy, producer Stuart Cohen, who convinced him to take on the project. 

"They wanted to put it into development, but weren't sure about John," COHEN tells SYFY WIRE over the phone. "He hadn't made Halloween at that point and they wanted to keep their options open."

"It was not something I wanted to do," CARPENTER admits on a separate call. "Universal had [the rights to] The Thing and they wanted to remake it. The original Thing was one of my favorite movies. I really didn't want to get near it. But I re-read the novella and thought, 'You know, this is a pretty good story here. We get the right writer, the right situation, we could do something.' So I decided to do that. This was right after Escape from New York. I had my first studio movie, which was a big deal."

The "right writer" turned out to be Bill Lancaster, son of Golden Age Hollywood star, Burt Lancaster. His only screenwriting credits up to that point were two comedies: The Bad News Bears and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.

COHEN, who brought the film to Universal by way of fellow producer David Foster in the late 1970s, wanted to make "a thinking man's monster movie," he explains. "I said, ‘It's a movie where the characters are essentially indispensable and the better the characters, the better the monster.’ But we couldn't get anybody else to agree with that idea." He goes on to say he always envisioned it as a more faithful adaptation of the original novella. "The idea of disguise, the idea of the internal as opposed to the external. Plus the unity of time, place, and action is what fascinated me ... It was never about remaking the Hawks version."

After three failed attempts to realize The Thing, Universal finally relented in May of 1979 when Ridley Scott's Alien burst onto the scene and changed the face of horror-soaked science fiction. COHEN re-approached Carpenter, who once again refused. "He said, ‘You guys have failed three times. Why do I want to sign onto a failed project?'" Nevertheless, he agreed to revisit the source material before "reluctantly" agreeing "to develop a script," states COHEN, who later adds: "The Thing was John Carpenter's film, from the first frame to the last, but it was also a passion project of my own — a first feature expressly designed by me to make my entrance into movies after producing television at Universal."

"I think [John] saw something in the Who Goes There? idea that there is something and we don't know what it is, who it is, why it is," explains associate producer LARRY FRANCO, who first kicked off a professional relationship with Carpenter on Elvis (a 1979 TV movie about the hip-swaying rock legend, portrayed by Kurt Russell). "Is it us? Is it not us? I think that intrigued him and I think that was the basis for him saying, 'Yeah, I'd really like to remake that.’"

The Thing Special Effects

A tale of snowy isolation and creeping paranoia, The Thing follows a group of 12 men at an Antarctic research station who find themselves besieged by a thawed-out alien life-form capable of replicating any living organism. It wants to take them over and head for more populated areas until the whole world is absorbed.

CARPENTER: "We went back to the origin of the story, which is the imitation. It wasn't a big Frankenstein monster, it was a creature that can imitate other life-forms perfectly. It's a lot more complex and different than the first film."

The slow erosion of trust between the characters leads to in-fighting and violence as the alien, which can only be eliminated with fire, begins to pick them off — all while assuming a number of gruesome forms it has learned to mimic from a lifetime spent traversing the universe. The utilization of a frozen locale and horrific extra-terrestrial being of unfathomable origin may conjure up the cosmic dread of At the Mountains of Madness (published two years before Who Goes There?). However, CARPENTER insists that the comic horror made famous by H.P. Lovecraft was "not really" on his mind while making The Thing.

The effectiveness of the titular creature comes down to the incomparable work of Mr. Rob Bottin, whose trailblazing (not to mention nightmarish) creature designs set a new benchmark for practical effects.

CARPENTER: "[Rob] said, 'Well, the Thing can look like anything.' I thought about it and [came to the conclusion of], 'Well, that's true because it's been throughout the universe. Whatever it imitated, it can pull it up.' So why have one Thing? It's a constantly changing creature."

"We’re fascinated in [the idea] that something may not be exactly what it appears," says first assistant cameraman, CLYDE BRYAN, who first met Carpenter during pickups on Halloween and The Fog. "That original story, Who Goes There? [presents the] question [in its title]: Who’s there? Who are you? What are you really? I think you're something but maybe you're something totally different.' I think that story is enduring because … that’s the ultimate question. Not only who am I, but who are you, really? Because we all put on a little bit of a facade when we are with other people."

COHEN: "Rob was the smartest person on the production. Whip-smart. His organizational abilities [left something] to be desired, but he was a genius. During preparation, of all the things that needed doing, I think the one that John concentrated most intently on was the monster. Ahead of casting, ahead of production, ahead of locations. It really was about re-conceiving the monster."

A 23-year-old wunderkind, Bottin operated out of Universal's Hartland facility in North Hollywood, which had previously served as the home of visual effects crews for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the original Battlestar Galactica.

"Bottin didn't like the way the producers were always breathing down his neck," says VON BABASIN, a veteran of Jaws 2 and Airport '77, who worked under mechanical effects coordinator Roy Arbogast (he oversaw explosions, controlled set destruction, and the like) for seven months before moving onto Bottin's crew for another five to six months. "It was quite arduous for him ... So he negotiated this deal where they went over to the Hartland facility, which was a little facility in the middle of North Hollywood that didn't have the producers always there."

"Bottin was the one who pitched the idea that the Thing could be anything as opposed to just the one creature and Carpenter loved that," states ALAN HOWARTH, a veteran movie sound designer and Carpenter's longtime composing partner. "What Bottin didn’t realize, is he literally created an open-ended special effects task for himself. It was at a time when there was no CGI. This was all practical effects. It was goo and cables and puppets and stuff like that. Rob jumped into doing it ... staying up day and night."

"He was very passionate about his work," BRYAN says. "He was a definite individual that was unlike anyone else ... I liked Rob a lot. I  don't think there's anyone that has the technical abilities to do the kind of stuff that Rob was doing at that time."

Bottin put in so much effort on this film, that he was briefly hospitalized for exhaustion. "He worked a little too hard sometimes, I'm afraid," CARPENTER adds.

HOWARTH: From Rob’s standpoint, it almost killed him and then at the same time, Larry Franco says, ‘We wanted to kill him!’ Because the whole movie depended on Rob’s stuff ... There was tension around those effects, which came out great in the end. But the filming of that stuff just went from simple to very complicated."

"There were times when he was just happy and jovial, and there were times when he was just under pressure and was not a happy camper," BABASIN says. Fortunately, Bottin had an encouraging 'support group' in Ken Diaz (special makeup effects coordinator), Vince Prentice (special makeup effects crew member), and Erik Jensen (special makeup effects line producer). "These guys were kinda like his posse and he was constantly surrounded by his friends, which was very supportive for him." 

Babasin, who was only 28 during production, found himself inspired by Bottin's talent and work ethic. "To work with [him] made me want more out of myself," he admits. "Because here I was, 28, this guy's five years younger and he's got the largest special effects budget in history [$3 million]. I'm like, 'What am I doing?’ ... The guy’s a genius as far as his visual ideas and his creativity and sculpting and drawing abilities. It was pretty awe-inspiring to see him doing all this." As a "kind of assistant," Babasin found himself in the unique position of flitting between numerous departments. "I got to just bounce around."

And if the alien could look like anything, the reasoning went, then it could sound like anything, too. The creature's primal roars, insectoid chittering, and echoing cries cut right down to the bone, adding a ghastly dimension to Bottin's visual effects.

COHEN: "It was very painstakingly done by [supervising sound editor] David Yewdall. That involved a great deal of trial and error ... We brought the crew on early to begin developing the sound for a monster. Basically, the approach was one that King Kong used in 1933 [under] Murray Spivack, which was taking organic animal sounds and mixing them together and seeing what you got. We just took that to the nth degree. It was trial and error and when it fit, it fit. But it was a lot of effort ... I can tell you that the sound of the Blair monster is the roar [of] a lion and it's actually our tribute to King Kong. The others involved zebras…I forgot [what else]."

HOWARTH: "[Yewdall] came to me for a couple special sound effects because I had all the toys. Regular sound effects editors at the time had a Moviola and a transfer bay, but they didn’t have all the studio stuff. So I got involved with [Yewdall] in making the sound effect for the opening spaceship fly-over and then got involved in the whole dog transformation. Some of the dog material also wound up in the scene where the head pops out of the guy ... The technique was taking animal growls and grunts — whether it’s a bear, a lion, or a pig — and speeding them up or slowing them down down and then making other effects out of those sounds. I couldn’t tell you cut-by-cut what noises are what part of the creature. It’s just a melange."

Despite the fact that his adaptation would be vastly different from the 1951 version, Carpenter still wanted to pay homage to the OG movie by recreating its famous opening title sequence, in which the letters burn right through the screen. Not only would it serve as a love letter to one of his favorite movies, it would also hint at the brutal method through which the Thing takes over its victims by tearing through their clothes. 

Bottin, who had just finished up work on Joe Dante's The Howling, suggested PETER KURAN of VCE Films for the job. A veteran of the first Star Wars movie and the Battlestar Galactica TV show, Kuran landed the gig by bidding $20,000, which was significantly less than the price tag proposed by Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Had Corman's company won the contract, The Thing's opening title would have been handled by an up-and-coming James Cameron. "I [can] actually say that I beat him out on a job," says KURAN, who accomplished the title effect with a number of everyday items: a fish tank, a garbage bag and some matches.

KURAN: "I eventually [landed on] a setup that had a huge fish tank, which I used to put smoke into. Behind that, I had a frame that I stretched garbage bag plastic over. And behind that, there was a 1,000-watt light being held back by the garbage bag plastic because [it] was opaque black. I put the title on the back of the fish tank using animation black ink in the cel to make the title. When I'd start the camera, I'd run behind and touch the garbage bag plastic with a couple of matches. The matches would make a hole; they would burn and open up and reveal the light, which then came through the title [making] the rays in the fish tank. We did several takes and got the one that we wound up using. One of the takes opened up and just said 'NG.' It didn't open up all the way."

Kuran's decision to use a fish tank was the result of a rather disastrous experience on The Wrath of Khan, which hit theaters the same year as The Thing. "I'd done a shot on Star Trek II [where] I used a salt heater and sugar to put together this effect. I did it inside and it just completely smoked out the whole building. So I learned from that and when I did The Thing, I put it in a tank, so that the smoke was in a tank [and] wouldn't go anywhere further than the tank."

The Thing's opening titles also feature a nod to the wider culture of 1950s sci-fi in the form of a flying saucer that crashes to Earth hundreds of thousands of years before the events of the movie. The ship was a miniature model constructed by SUSAN FRANK (née Turner).

FRANK: "[Peter] sent me over to speak with John Carpenter by myself and it was great. Carpenter told me his concept of what a spaceship should be like — he liked the '50s spaceships. He was very nice person. Very cordial [and] very supportive. So I went back, and I made it. We used motion control to film the spaceship in the opening sequence of The Thing, using different passes for the shots. One pass was the ship itself; two was the chasing lights on the perimeter of the ship; three was for the stationery lights. These different pieces of film were expertly combined by Pete Kuran in the optical printer with the matte painting of Earth by Jim Danforth and the 'exhaust flame' cel animation I created."

Turner still has the UFO model in her possession and hopes to sell it over the next couple of years.

The Thing (1982) Artwork Still

The Casting of The Thing

With the creature designs and title sequence squared away, Carpenter set about finding his crew of frost-bitten men to populate U.S. Outpost #31: Kurt Russell (helicopter pilot, MacReady), Keith David (mechanic, Childs), David Clennon (mechanic, Palmer), Richard Masur (dog handler, Clark), Joel Polis (biologist, Fuchs), Peter Maloney (meteorologist, Bennings) Donald Moffat (station chief, Garry), Wilford Brimley (biologist, Blair), T.K. Carter (cook, Nauls), Richard Dysart (physician, Dr. Copper), Charles Hallahan (geologist, Norris), and Thomas G. Waites (radio operator, Windows).

Some of the cast (like Russell, Dysart, and Hallahan) were already established Hollywood veterans while others (like David, Waites, and Polis) were promising young graduates of Juilliard and USC. "Everybody had a character that they would play, but [it felt] natural and fit together," CARPENTER says. "I'm very happy with the cast."

CLENNON credits screenwriter Bill Lancaster with building such memorable protagonists in the screenplay: "He created these characters and gave them dialogue. I think that's why I wanted to do the film because I sensed on my first reading that the way these 12 men interacted, he had sort of elevated the form. I'm talking like a snooty-pooty pretentious literary critic of horror films, but I thought he had done a really fine job of bringing these 12 people to life."

MALONEY recalls his audition at the now-defunct Coca-Cola Building once located along New York's Fifth Avenue: "I went up there with a whole bunch of other guys [actors who were not ultimately cast] ... John led us in improvisation. We teamed up, turned the tables over, and threw things back and forth across the room, pretending that we were at war with this monster, which was, of course, not there. That was a fun audition."

CLENNON was originally up for the role of Bennings "because they thought I could play a scientist," the actor says. "I look like a kind of nerdy science guy. I got a lot of that [back then] and I said, ‘Yeah, okay, I'll go in.’ I guess I read the script, and thought, ‘Okay, I don't like horror films. I don't go to horror films. I'm too delicate. But there’s something about this script that is fairly interesting and it's based on a classic sci-fi [novella] that gives it a little literary class. So, yeah, I'll go in. But I also want to read for the part of Palmer because I think I could do something with it, even though it's against type.’"

He whole-heartedly agrees with our characterization of Palmer as a stoner, slacker, and conspiracy theorist rolled into a single package — not unlike the joints CLENNON taught himself to roll for the movie. "The big spliff was my idea. And in another scene, I was smoking from a little pot pipe. I had a little folding wooden pot pipe that I owned and used in real life, so I was using that on the set ... You brought up conspiracy theory [and] I would never have used that term to describe what goes on in Palmer's head. But you're right, that is a way of categorizing it. It’s a fantasy, it's Chariots of the Gods, it's an explanation of why the world is as it is in his mind."

While on the topic of Palmer, COHEN says that Bottin lobbied for the role, but was ultimately unsuccessful. "I put a stop to that, because he was way behind schedule. And, as I told him, ‘We’re after actors for this, who can bring a lot with them to the roles. You don't have the time and you're not going to do it.’"

MASUR, meanwhile, was first interested in the role of Garry, but ended up choosing Clark after reading the script. "I said, 'The thing that I'm most attracted to is the dog handler.' [John] said, 'Really?' I said, 'Yeah, I love this character. I just think he's so misanthropic. He doesn't seem to want to be with anybody, but the dogs.' He said, 'Well, it's yours, if you want it.' And that was it."

To prepare for the role of Fuchs, POLIS approached his character by enrolling in a beginners biology class at New York's Baruch College: "We dissected a frog and I just got into it."

DAVID says he viewed Childs as "the strong, silent type. He was a man a few words, he didn't say a whole lot. But when he did, it counted. I just took took him as being [a person] who observes and notices everything at least twice."

A method actor by nature, WAITES went pretty deep on the character of Windows (originally called "Sanchez" in the screenplay, per Cohen), which drew a bit of teasing from his fellow co-stars. "Kurt and Wil Brimely — God rest his blessed soul — used to make fun of me and say, 'What are you guys doing? Discussing your motivation?'"

He continues: "I was trying to find something about the guy, who he was and what his dreams were. Did he want to work in a f***ing radio station in the Arctic for the rest of his life? No, he had to want to be something else. So I have him reading — I know this is very subtle — a Hollywood magazine with pictures of famous movie stars from the time on the cover. Because that's what he wants to be doing, to be in the movie business and be a movie star. And movie stars wear sunglasses. I picked up a pair of green sunglasses in Venice [California]. I was wearing them [when] I came into rehearsal, I kept them on, I read the character, and I went up to John on the break. I said, 'John, from now, from now on, I want everyone to call me Windows.' He looked down at the floor, he looked up at the ceiling, took a long drag on the cigarette, and put the cigarette out. You could see him thinking it through and he went, 'Alright, everyone! From now on, Tommy wants everyone to call him Windows, okay?'"

This apparently drew some backlash from Moffat and Clennon: "They're like, ‘This is f***ing bullsh**, man! This is so arbitrary! What are you doing, letting him call himself Windows and wear sunglasses inside?!’ John…I don't think he gave a f*** what they said. I think they only said it to me. I think they ridiculed me because they thought I was just doing it to get attention. But I really wasn't."

MALONEY: "Donald Moffat ... didn't want Tommy Waites to wear those sunglasses through the whole movie and he didn't want to have to call him 'Windows.' That was a last-minute change around the table. Tommy said, ‘I think my character wears sunglasses all the time and should be called Windows.’ John said, ‘Okay!’ And Bill Lancaster, who was there with us during those weeks, said, ‘Okay!’"

According to COHEN, everyone hated the name "Windows" outside of Waites and Carpenter. "I thought it was an old Howard Hawks thing and that we were going to end up with characters' names from a lot of different Hawks films," the producer admits, going on to add that the runner-up for the part of Windows was none other than Chucky himself, Brad Dourif.

A fun little aside: The Thing features a pair of characters named "Mac" and "Windows" long before the advent of personal computers.

The Thing Stills

"Maybe We're at War With Norway"

Beyond the main group of characters, Larry Franco and Norbert Weisser briefly co-star as the two Swedes...sorry, Norwegians, who try and fail to destroy the Dog-Thing before the infection cycle can begin anew. Weisser, a native German, got the meatier part as Jans Bolen (his name is revealed in a deleted scene), the ranting helicopter pilot attempting to warn the Americans about the dog's true nature before he's shot and killed by Garry. His warning translates into: “Get away from it! It’s not a dog! It’s some kind of Thing! It’s imitating a dog! It isn’t real! It’s the Devil! Move, you dumb f***s! Move! Don’t touch it!”

WEISSER: "I was invited to meet John. It was just him and me. We just sort of talked and shot the sh**.  A few days later, I got another call to come in [because I’d gotten] the job, just by talking ... John gave me the English … and I had to figure out [how to say it in Norwegian]. It was essentially, 'Figure out how to get the language.' So I ended up going to a friend of mine who was a Russian teacher at UCLA, and he had a friend who was a Norwegian. I had him say it, I taped it, and then I wrote it down the way I heard it."

Interestingly, the script originally featured a brief bickering match between the two Norwegians throughout the helicopter chase, but the conversation was never shot. Weisser, who still has his original copy of the screenplay (no, he's not interested in selling it), was kind enough to share those lost pages of dialogue with us. The exchange is as follows:

LARRY: "Where is it?"

JANS: "It's out there."

LARRY: "You lost it."

JANS: "You lost it."

LARRY: "There"

JANS: "Don't miss it again"

LARRY: (shoots, misses)

JANS: You missed it (hits him)

LARRY: "Faster. Get lower!"

JANS: "It's not a f***ing sled."

Notes from the creation of The Thing (1982).
Notes from the creation of The Thing (1982).
Notes from the creation of The Thing (1982).
Notes from the creation of The Thing (1982).

Before production began in earnest, Carpenter insisted on two full weeks of rehearsals (a highly unusual occurrence for a big-budget studio movie like The Thing), which took place on an empty Universal soundstage. "It was just having the actors get comfortable with their roles and with each other," CARPENTER says. "It was very, very valuable. There really wasn't wasn't much more than, 'Let's go through this, fellas.' They worked out a couple things and they worked out their characters."

Cohen asserts the rehearsal process idea originated with him and was partly used as "a sales tool" to assuage skittish agents who didn't want their clients "playing second fiddle to a monster."

COHEN: "We had difficulty securing the people we wanted to initially meet and it was only when I got them to read the script that they began to understand what we were up to and how well the characters were developed. It’s a process John never repeated. I'm not sure he loved it at the time. I think he felt that it gave the actors too much power. But he did it and here it made sense."

POLIS: "We really established relationships with each other and I think that comes through in the film. When we finished filming, John famously said, 'I'll never rehearse actors again.' But 40 years later, I'm told — I don't know if it's true — but I think he thinks it was his best film. And I'm sure it's because of the relationships."

MALONEY: "[We'd] take the time to talk about the script and offer ideas [and] those of us who would like to do research did research, brought it in, and shared it with everyone. Then we wrote things on the board [and] learned a lot about what it's like to be in the Antarctic."

CLENNON states that the rehearsal period was marked by a number of "metaphysical" conversations about, 'Do you know when you have become the Thing?’ and stuff like that. I thought, ‘It doesn't matter. We're making a movie.’ What matters is that the audience doesn't know who’s the Thing. To speculate about whether Palmer knows he's the Thing after he's been absorbed by The Thing and how that’s going to affect his acting is metaphysical bullsh**."

"I Don't Know What the Hell's in There, But It's Weird and Pissed Off, Whatever It Is"

During this period, Masur spent a lot of time with the dog — a half-wolf mix named "Jed" trained by Clint Rowe — that gets chased to U.S. Outpost #31 by the Norwegian helicopter. "Jed was just remarkable," says MASUR, who practiced with the canine for hours until the two could walk "in this totally casual way" down the hall leading to the kennel. "I love dogs," he adds. "I always have." Shortly after the lights go down, the seemingly docile animal reveals its true nature and begins assimilating the other dogs, prompting Childs to burn it with a flamethrower.

DAVID: "Everybody always thinks it's so sexy and exciting. It was scary. It wasn't napalm, but it was real gasoline coming through a real pump and a real gun [producing] real fire. A slip of the finger could cost somebody their life or certainly lots and lots of damage. So, it was a little scary. I was excited and glad to be doing it, but it was a little scary."

BABASIN constructed a small corner of the kennel ("everybody was so busy at Hartland at one point, that they actually bumped me up to prop maker," he recalls), which can be glimpsed in the 4-second shot where one of the poor, half-melted canines gets wrapped up in tentacles. "We mounted the dog there, we wrapped him up in tentacles, and just K-Y’d the heck out of him. K-Y Jelly was everywhere. And on ‘Action!’ everybody grabbed a tentacle and ran with it. They were hard rubber tentacles; as they stretch, they got smaller. By the time they really stretched, the tentacles all slipped away and let go of the dog. You reverse the photography and the tentacles just dive into this dog and wrap him up. Every time I see that, I go, ‘That’s my corner of the kennel!’"

FRANCO: "I can remember ... that dog's mouth splitting open and the mechanics that went into that; watching those people spend hours trying to figure out how they were going to do that. You really had to pull stuff out of your butt to make it work. At the end of the day, people might look at this and say, ‘That was the last great makeup special effects [movie].’ Forget visual effects, because there weren't any. There was nothing in that movie that was touched by a computer to fix later. It was either there or it wasn't."

The iconic scene was initially conceptualized by artists Mike Ploog (best-known for co-creating Ghost Rider and Werewolf by Night at Marvel) and Mentor Huebner (whose cinematic work included Forbidden Planet and Blade Runner). "[Huebner's] conceptual art actually more closely matched what we finally saw on screen than almost any other conceptual drawing I saw," notes BABASIN.

This set piece was so convincing, in fact, that it caught the attention of The Humane Society, which thought the crew was "doing terrible things to real dogs," says CRAIG MILLER, a publicity consultant who worked on The Thing, The Hitcher, and The Last Starfighter. "We had to bring them in and show them the mechanisms, so that they would get it wasn’t real."

MALONEY, who had a terrible fear of dogs at the time, also needed to spend time with Jed in order to feel comfortable enough to let the dog jump up and try to lick his face near the start of the film. "When Jed stood up and put his paws on my shoulder and licked my face, he was taller than me, I think. I was pretty freaked out by having to do that."

Clark's hunting knife, which makes an appearance during the scene where Garry cedes command to MacReady, was completely Masur's idea. He went to pick it up on one of his lunch breaks and accidentally cut his thumb.

MASUR: "It just started bleeding like a stuck pig. I was in my costume and I take my hat off and I'm holding it against my thumb. I drive like this over to this emergency room, which was not too far away. I walk in, I'm sitting and I'm like, ‘I have to have somebody look at this right now. I gotta get back to work.’ And they said, ‘Well, you gotta wait’ and I said, ‘I’m bleeding like a pig here!’ So the guy looked at it, he put a butterfly [bandage] on it — it didn't need a stitch — and he got it to stop bleeding. I went back to work and forget what I told wardrobe. I [I think I] told them I dropped it in a puddle or something [like that] because it had blood on it, but it was dark cap, so you couldn't really see it."

The Thing (1982) VFX

Principal Photography on The Thing

Once rehearsals were over, the shoot finally commenced, with Carpenter's trusty cinematographer — the legendary DEAN CUNDEY — back at his side after Halloween, The Fog, and Escape from New York.

CUNDEY: "We didn't remove walls from the set, so we could back the camera up and get wider shots. We shot everything as if we were actually there and I think that gave a sense of reality to the environment. I made sure that the lighting came from the practical lights that hung overhead in the set ... I also think it was because the creature, in its various forms, was on the set. It was not a tennis ball on a stick, as so often it is nowadays. It was, in fact, something the actors could see, touch, feel. I think all of those authentic touches created an atmosphere — not only for the actors, but also for the crew."

The biggest challenge was shooting Bottin's creations in such a way that they felt alive and took "advantage of textures and gooey slime and all of the stuff we used to give a sense of weirdness to the creature," the DP explains. "So it was all carefully done. Rob [would] set up the creature, would point and say, 'Okay, I hate this area, let's not look at that too much. This [area] came out okay.' And so, I would very carefully light with little pools of light and darkness for the creatures that he built in an effort to show off their best aspects, their strengths. Rather than the audience looking at something too big and saying, 'Oh, well, that looks like a blob of rubber to me.'"

CARPENTER: "We didn't go to computers because they didn't really have them back then. They didn’t have it perfected and I'm happy with the way it looks. It's fine as it is. I don't see why you’d change anything."

MASUR: "We are the last of the great rubber movies. After us, things started going pretty much all CGI for these kinds of effects. But Rob Bottin got to do the Mona Lisa/Sistine Chapel of rubber. And it's pretty impressive, I gotta say."

TURNER: "It's an important film for being one of the last films that was made with all the old techniques."

COHEN: "The Thing is one of the last great analog films, made on the cusp of the sea change from chemical to electronic. It was made the old-fashioned way with no video assist or electronic monitoring to aid its director. You processed the film and showed up the next day to see the results. Sometimes, in the case of the opening chase on the Juneau Icefield — which was filmed with a small second unit — the film was sent down the coast for processing. Incredible? Not really. There was no choice. It's simply how things were done. Same with all of Rob’s stuff. We'd shoot it and show up the next day to see if it worked. Sometimes it did."

FRANCO: "Nowadays, you can just go in and fix anything. Back then, there was nothing you could do. Once it was there, it was there. And if it worked, it worked and if it didn’t, you had to do it again. Sometimes that was two or three hours later. So there was always the challenge of ‘Okay, what are we gonna do when this breaks down?’"

John Carpenter's The Thing GETTY

Before the shoot kicked off in earnest, though, the crew attempted to get some early helicopter footage for the movie's famous opening (where a pair of members from the Norwegian camp attempt to kill the Dog-Thing) with an approximation of the desolate Antarctic tundra on the Universal backlot. Per Babasin, Stuart Cohen refers to this as "The $40,000 Mistake."

Over the course of three-and-a-half weeks, the crew converted "this hill above the dump in the backlot" into a wintry biome via "white sheets of muslin, and 100-pound bags of gypsum," as well as "fiberglass rocks," BABASIN reveals. A trio of "miniature" remote-control helicopters 10-15 feet in length were constructed to fly across the phony landscape, except all three of them encountered problems. One bumped into a rock and crashed; the second exploded by accident; and the third simply "didn't fly right." About a month of work and $40K went down the drain in just a single day.

BABASIN: "John just turns around to the crew, leans against the bar and says, ‘Okay, folks, that's a wrap!’ And that was it. From what I understand, they actually did get a few frames of Number Three. But like I said, Stuart Cohen does not like to relate that story. People rarely like to relate stories of failures, but there's a lot of that in filmmaking. It's trial and error. Even the greatest effects guys of all time have tried things that have failed."

Most of the chase ended up being a practical set piece, with around a dozen crew members (including Carpenter, Franco, Cundey, Bryan, Cohen, Clint Rowe, and Jed) shooting it on the Juneau Icefield in June 1981.

BRYAN: "We shot it in the summer before we even started production ... that's why you see a few pictures of everybody shirtless on the ice field because it would warm up to like 60 degrees and was too hot to wear all the clothes we had on."

FRANCO: We were in a geological camp and there was only room for 12 of us ... In the one week that we were there, we had the most fun. I swear, it was one of those things where [you've got] 12 guys out there, plus I think we had three or four camp people to help make sure we didn't fall through the ice. But the 12 crew people were really grinding it out in the snow and just having a blast."

Filming then moved to Universal's soundstages that were constantly kept refrigerated in an effort (the exact temperature varies on who you ask) to simulate the Antarctic setting. In addition, the crew needed to figure out a way to create visible breath when the actors spoke their lines.

FRANCO: "Our guys calculated that at 42 degrees, with enough humidity in the air, we could create the breath. So the sound stages were air conditioned down to 40-something degrees. [We had] these big burlap sacks hanging from the ceiling that had water dripping on them, so [we] could create the humidity in the air. And when we got there every morning, it was right on the money. By the time all the lights came on and we started shooting…before we broke for lunch, we had no breath anymore because the stage had heated up to the point where it wasn't working."

He continues: "When they come upon the block of ice with the Thing in it [at the Norwegian camp], that was a very challenging thing, too, because that ice kept melting. We couldn't keep it cold enough. When you think about the practicality of pull something like that off... but in the end, it all worked great."

POLIS: "It was cold in there and so, I had the costume designer make a woolen neck warmer, which I wore in the movie. And in a week's time, the whole crew was wearing neck warmers."

BABASIN: "We had to try to make the stages as cold as we possibly could with air conditioning units and spraying misters in the air to try to get the visual of the breath coming out of the mouth. We would be all dressed up in these parkas and looking like we were in Antarctica then walk off of the stage to go outside, and it was 100-degree weather. The Universal [studio] tour trams would drive by and they'd go, ‘My god!’ We must have looked crazy walking off the stage in all these these jackets and everything in the middle of a summer in L.A."

MILLER: "It was very hot in the San Fernando Valley and, of course, the stages were being chilled down to where frost could be seen coming out of the actors’ mouths ... so many people were getting sick on the production, being on the stage at — I don't know — it must have been down in the 30s, certainly no more than the 40s. It was over 100 degrees outside at the studio. So going in and out between the two took its toll on a lot of people."

COHEN: "The first day I got sick. It was 37 degrees inside and 106 outside. The crew inside, wearing parkas all day, was okay. I was going in and out, throwing my jacket off and then throwing it back by going inside and I came down with the flu by the end of the first day. I was not the only one. The crew ended up trading colds and the flu back and forth ever since Day One."

FRANCO: "The physical part of [having] 100-degree weather outside and walking into a 40-degree soundstage and putting all the gear on that you needed to have inside and then taking it all off to go outside...going to the bathroom became more than we wanted it to be."

WEISSER spent his first day of work on the backlot pretending to be a corpse. "I had all day just talking to people, cast and crew," he remembers. "By the time I'm on to play dead, I am jacked up on — I don't know — 50 cups of coffee. I could barely keep my body still. I walked away from that feeling devastated. I told myself, ‘You can't even act a dead guy?’ It was really a matter of keeping my entire body still. I now know what I should have done is just relax. Playing dead is not easy. In any case, I pulled it off, because it's in the in the movie. But I remember driving away from Universal Studios feeling like a schmuck."

Exteriors were then filmed on the Salmon Glacier up in Stewart, British Columbia (near the Alaskan border), where a life-sized research station was erected. The crew then allowed the snow to accumulate for several months before making the journey north. "We bit off more than we could chew, but we did pull it off," FRANCO says. "That’s one of the things that lives with me, is, ‘Man, oh man. How do we go up to British Columbia and end up on a glacier and build a set and actually shoot the movie?’" It was a breathtaking spot, alright, but the weather never stayed consistent. White-outs, overcast skies, and below-freezing temperatures never failed to wreak havoc, especially with regards to visual continuity.

CARPENTER: "Once you get a cloud or clouds overhead, then everything goes white. And we had to match the skies, which were clear and beautiful, so it was a pain. It was a mountain that we had to go up. We were down by the bottom of the mountain and then we had to travel up every day. We'd get up there, the weather would be sh**, we'd have to wait all day long, get nothing done, and then go all the way back down ... We all were in it together. It was not an easy film to make. We had to fight the elements. It was rough. And since we were all in it together, we all bonded. Everybody bonded."

FRANCO: "We all had these wardrobe-issued parkas with hoods on them and big furry things in the front. I got onto the set, turned around, and everybody looked exactly the same. There was no way [to] tell who everybody was, so we ended up putting name tags on the back of the jackets."

WEISSER was only supposed to fly up for a couple of days to film his Norwegian rant (and subsequent death), but ended up staying for the duration of the shoot. "The establishing shots were done in sunshine and then the sun went and never came back. So I stayed through the entire outside shooting ... And then, on the last day, they finally had to say, ‘Okay, we'll shoot it without the sun.’" Mistaking the crazed Norwegian for a homicidal madman, Garry neutralizes him with a direct shot to the eye. "You saw the mask that I have on," he adds. "They had a piece of metal underneath, and then an explosive with chicken guts [and a fake eyeball] above it. The explosive then blew the ball and the chicken guts out of my eye."

POLIS: "I've backpacked all over the United States and so, I love the outdoors. I was in heaven. It was an adventure. "T.K. Carter hated it. He was used to LA, he had never been in that kind of cold. And some other people didn't like it very much. But man, it was so beautiful up there and we had all these great toys: helicopters, flame-throwers, and all this sh**. It was like a kid's dream come true."

Another unforeseen roadblock was the fact that the weather atop the mountain was too dry, which meant the actors' breaths would not show up on-camera. "It's really, really cold, but it's not humid," explains BRYAN. "And so, there was a lot of drinking of hot beverages and stuff to make breath on some of the scenes."

The cast of The Thing (1982) pose outdoors in winter gear.

At the end of many rough, yet rewarding, work days, the gang would unwind in the Alaskan town of Hyder (right next to Stewart) with plenty of free-flowing Everclear to keep them warm. "That became a hazing or a ritual that we put ourselves through," remembers WAITES, who is now a recovered alcoholic. "We did a lot of drinking and a lot of partying. It was burning the candle at both ends — staying up all night and having to shoot all day. It was the ‘80s, man. It was a different time."

WEISSER: "We drank way too much, we went on sled rides, we did all kinds of crazy sh**. There was a place where you got 'Hyderized' in Hyder. It was a bar and in order to get hide 'Hyderized,' you had to drink a shot of pure, grain alcohol. Not a couple of sips, but down [in one go] and then you got a little card that said, 'You are now Hyderized.'"

BRYAN: "Pretty much everybody in the cast got 'Hyderized.'"

Of course, not everyone partook in the merriment. "Donald was a family man and [became] upset when we would come in at three in the morning, drunk from the bar and wake him up," states POLIS. "But he was a good man and a wonderful actor."

While the cast and crew often frequented Hyder to get their party on, the main lodgings were in Stewart, though not everyone got to stay in the comfort of a hotel. "There wasn't enough housing ... we ended up bringing in these big logging barges" FRANCO says. "I think we had two of them and these barges were no-frills, trust me on that. We had crew living in there. The cast, John, myself, and a few other people lived in this hotel called the King Edward. It was also no-frills, but at least it was dry and warm."

Getting cast and crew from Stewart to the glacier — and back again — proved to be "one of the most difficult" aspects for FRANCO, who mostly dealt with logistics. In the end, the production settled on a mixture of on-road vehicles and helicopters, the former of which required the filmmakers to establish radio communication with a copper mine operating on the same mountain.

FRANCO: "They had these ore trucks going back and forth up the hill. When they're coming down the hill, they have a full load and they're very heavy. You have got to stay out of the way of the trucks coming down the hill. We would be riding up in a van and you would hear over the radio, 'K-55, south at 14,' which meant a K-55, a heavy loaded dump truck, was headed down the hill. There were mile markers everywhere and there were only a few places that you could pull out. So if you heard 'K-55, south at 14,' and you were at South 15, then you knew in one mile, there was gonna be a truck coming down doing 20-30 miles an hour. But there's no way it's going to stop on this one-lane road really, except for these pull-outs ... That was kind of exciting and challenging, because it was always in the dark. We’re going up in the morning, in the dark, and we're coming back in the evening. Coming back wasn't so treacherous, because the trucks were empty coming up the hill. We knew that they were coming north and we were going south. We always knew where these trucks were all the time. There were a few people who got a bit scared of that whole thing, but we managed that."

WEISSER: "I'd fly in [to the set] with a helicopter. Some other times, I would drive in. It was maybe 50-50. We flew between two steep mountain walls and there was a glacier. We flew high enough not to hit the glacier. One evening, we flew back. There was still sunlight and we were joking, being funny. All of a sudden, we hit a white-out. We flew right into the fog. The helicopter is now between these two walls, we’re still joking around, and the helicopter pilot said, ‘Silence! Be quiet!’ We realized, ‘Oh sh**.’ He was trying to get above the fog without hitting the wall on either side. It was quite a moment."

Despite the glacier's uncooperative climate, Carpenter wanted to make full use of the location and went so far as to move a number of scenes outside, "which, to my mind, just defied the whole premise of the story, which was, 'We can't go outside unless it's an absolute emergency,'" argues MASUR. "After I saw the film, I thought John had made a good decision. So that big scene at night where Kurt's going, 'I know I'm human' and burning the blood bags and everything. We [originally] shot that all inside in the rec room and it was a great scene — it was really tense and crazy. Then John moved it outside and we're standing there in a line in the cold."

POLIS: "Originally, he had me killed on the set indoors. I've got a great picture of me hanging from the door with a shovel in my chest. He took a look at it and went, 'No, no — this isn't a slasher movie.' And so, he devised [a new and ambitious death]. He actually gave me like five or six extra scenes when we went up to [Canada]. He wrote them for me, because I became the bridge to the science."

Another memorable sequence shot in the blistering cold was the death of Bennings, the first member of the group to be assimilated onscreen when he's briefly left alone in the storeroom with thawed-out Thing remains. "If you see the movie and you see anybody with a beard like me, then you know that that person is not going to transform in the face," MALONEY says. "Because with with facial hair, it’s too difficult to make the [special effects] cast. The creature barely gets to finish the absorption process when Windows returns, forcing the Thing masquerading as the meteorologist to make a run for it. The monster doesn't get very far when it's burned to death by MacReady.

"I had no shirt on, my coat was wide open, and with the wind-chill, it was 103 degrees below zero," MALONEY recalls, adding that the only source of warmth came from a pair of hand warmers stuck inside the false arms. "John said, 'Well, look, the cameras are going to maybe slow down here [because] it is so cold. I'm putting you in charge. If you feel that it's dangerous or it's too uncomfortable, you just tell me and we'll go back inside and warm up.' I don't remember asking him to do that. Actors want to please the director and sometimes, they can put their lives in danger because they want to do what the director wants. And we all want the movie to be terrific. We don't want to chicken out and deprive the movie of a scene that might be terribly thrilling to the audience."

The subsequent scene where Garry laments the death of his friend, Bennings, was the result of the aforementioned rehearsal process.

MALONEY: "I remember Donald saying, ‘Well, you know, Bennings is my friend. Why in the story do I not express my anguish at what we've just done to Bennings?’ Which was see this man overcome, the first one in our group, to shown signs of infection from this terrible virus. Then we we kill him, we soak him with gasoline, we light a flare and we stand around and watch him burn, like a Tibetan monk protesting the war or something. It’s a horrific ending. Even though I’m half-monster, half-human, I plead not to be killed with that strange bellow that comes out of me as I turn to look at Kurt before he throws the torch. Donald didn't know why his character was not expressing the human emotion that one would express if a good friend suddenly was killed ...  And so, there was something written in there. Bill and John were very attentive, John especially, to what we needed."

CLENNON expresses a similar sentiment about Carpenter: "If an ad-lib worked, he’d use it. He wasn't real strict about sticking to the script." For example, Palmer's "Thanks for thinking about it, though" line was not in the screenplay, but an eleventh hour suggestion from Clennon's friend, the late Don Calfa. "I say, 'I'll take you up there, to the Norwegian camp, Doc! I'll fly up there!' And our captain, Garry, says, ‘Forget it, Palmer!’ Don Calfa said, ‘When he says that, try saying: Hey, thanks for thinking about it, though.’ He's a little out of touch and Garry just sternly, scornfully dismisses his idea. ‘Hey, thanks for thinking about it, though.’ Like, as if the guy had actually thought about it. And that line stayed in the film. It was ad-libbed and it was a gift from the late Don Calfa."

Another bit of improvisation can be found in the scene where Palmer and Childs smoke a joint and watch pre-recorded episodes of Let's Make a Deal. This brief, slice-of-life moment may seem irrelevant to the larger story, but it really hammers home the profound isolation and monotony these men face every single day.

CLENNON: "I thought, ‘Look at the level of boredom that these guys have to contend with.' ... I thought, ‘Palmer, in his stoned orientation to the world, maybe sees these game shows as dramatic structures.’ It's like you're watching a movie and you're stoned, you’re loving it, and you're watching this thing unfold before your eyes. It's a drama, they create this drama around a game — partly a game of chance and [partly] a game of guesswork. And so, he sees it in those in dramatic terms.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to put one in the player and then I'm going to reject it, saying, Nah, I know how this one ends.’ I thought, ‘Well, that's a stoner approach to life. I don't want to watch this game show again because I remember how it ends. Give me a few months, maybe a few weeks, and I'll forget it [and] it'll all be new to me and I'll be surprised by the way it plays out.'"

To compensate for the freezing environment, CUNDEY had the cameras "winterized," a process by which the manufacturer (in this case, Panavision) replaced the usual lubricant with an anti-freezing agent. "We [also] had a warming system for the the magazine on top of the camera that held all the film to keep the film from freezing and cracking and buckling. Keeping everything warm was an important thing." However, if the cameras were brought inside during breaks, the lenses would fog up with condensation from the temperature differential. "Pretty quickly, we decided that the room with the camera work always had to stay the same temperature as outside, below freezing. So the poor camera assistants never got a break to go into the warmth while they were working. They would go into the below-freezing camera room and they would work in their big parkas and their gloves and everything."

BRYAN: "I had to prepare all the camera gear to work in the cold. It was it was a quite a chore to get those lenses to work in the freezing cold. The oil inside the lenses that lubes the focus and stops had to be changed because the stuff they generally used would freeze. We also made homemade heaters around the lenses because they would be so tight, that you literally sometimes couldn't pull focus. We were fortunate to work with Panavision in Vancouver. They they had battery eliminators, which were a way to run the cameras on an electrical current instead of a battery because, as we all know, batteries don't like cold weather. They would have about a quarter of the life that they normally had. But we were able to tap into an AC current and run the cameras through that with an inverter."

With regards to color, CUNDEY leaned into the idea of contrasts: "[For] the interior of the of the camp, I would tend to light it with a slightly warm light, implying that where they were living and working was kept warm compared to the exterior [which] tended to be blue. Sometimes, light coming from the camp would be warm so that we could say, ‘Oh yeah, that's warmth and safety over there' ... Blue tends to be something we associate with cold and freezing, as opposed to warm light that we associate with fires and sunny days."

BRYAN: Dean’s lighting of The Thing in all of its renditions is pretty masterful in the fact that you have to see it, but you don't you can't see too much. You can't see too little either. Rob was always saying, ‘You can't see it!’ And Dean was saying, ‘Yeah, but I see too much. Because if I see too much, I know what it is. It's a rubber model that's not real. But if we hide enough of it, the audience is going to believe it's real.' Eventually they think came to terms and figured that out. I just saw it a little over a year ago in a theater for the first time since it first came out … I had forgotten that John employed so many close-ups in the making of that movie, because it's really about what's happening in everybody's heads."

That Time The Thing Cast Nearly Went Over a Cliff

Tragedy nearly derailed production when a bus carrying the entire cast, all of whom had just arrived in British Columbia, almost fell off the the side of a mountain somewhere between Prince Rupert and Stewart (approximately a six-hour trip), where the actors stayed for the real-world leg of principal photography. As Polis recalls in this 2016 interview with the Halloween Love blog, they were originally supposed to fly between the two locations, but due to inclement weather, they took a bus instead. This didn't turn out to be such a good idea either once a whiteout suddenly hit in the middle of the night. His co-stars share more details with SYFY WIRE below...

WAITES: "I’m back there, drinking beer and smoking pot and partying, because we’ve got a six-hour bus drive, man. And we hit a whiteout. Kurt goes to the front of the bus and he's like, ‘Are you going to be able to get through this?’ The guy’s like,  ‘I don't know. I don't know.’ And all of a sudden, we skid and the f***ing left back axle is hanging off [the edge]. I don't want to tell you what was down below because it was thousands of feet of ice and rock. All of a sudden, we realize we're in f***in' serious trouble."

WEISSER: "One wheel was hanging over the [edge]. If we had gone down there, we would have been dead ... That would have been the end of the movie."

DAVID: I do remember sort of waking up. Even if I wasn't really asleep, it was nighttime. So we were sort of in a daze and got out of the bus. It was like, ‘Wow! If this isn’t maneuvered exactly right, this bus is going over.’"

Proving himself worthy of the MacReady role, however, Kurt Russell immediately assumed control of the situation. 

WAITES: "Kurt became Mac. Kurt goes, 'Okay, nobody move. Who's in the seat farthest from the door?' I said, 'I am.' He goes, 'Alright, Tommy — get on your hands and knees and crawl to the front.' Slowly, I did it [and] got off the bus. One at a time, he got us all off the bus. Then the weight shifted, we got behind the bus, pushed it back on [the road], and drove [on] safely ... We arrived at 5:30 a.m. as the sun was coming up and there was John Carpenter at the bus stop, waiting for his men. He shook each one of our hands as we got off the bus, not knowing the peril we had just been through."

WEISSER: "Kurt has that quality. He’s sort of a natural leader. That’s his nature."

MALONEY: "Kurt Russell was our captain. He was hilarious and with us all the time. There was no separation of him and us the way there sometimes is with the star of a movie and the rest of the cast. We seemed to be all equals, except in the billing. At the end, of course, Kurt gets his [name] separately because he is the star."

Despite having worked with Carpenter on Elvis and Escape From New York, Russell was not immediately cast as the lead. In fact, he was the very last actor to join the ensemble. Cohen reveals that the studio suggested a young Kevin Kline for MacReady "late in the game" and Carpenter went so far as to meet with the up-and-comer at the now-defunct Tail 'O The Cock restaurant. "Our go-to watering hole," Cohen adds.

In another instance, life imitated art with a bit of dissent amongst the ranks when Carpenter decided to cut a short exchange between Windows and Palmer. "It was sort of like a build-up to us fighting. But let's say it was three-quarters of a page of dialogue. That's a lot of lines for an actor trying to get work," WAITES adds. "He and Clennon had already gone over the scene together when it was suddenly axed. The two weren't very happy about this and spent the next 10 minutes or so verbally abusing their director — completely unaware that they were mic'd up. "John sticks his head around the corner [and] he goes, 'Hey, guys, I just heard every word you said.' And he wasn't laughing. It took me a while to dig myself out of that one. We were both mortified. And Clennon's like, 'Oh, come on, John! A little mutiny is perfectly normal on every set!' I think I wrote him a note to apologize, but I felt so terrible."

Clennon remembers the moment a little differently. According to him, the altercation was not over cut dialogue, but over the efficacy of trying to reinforce the outpost doors with two-by-fours shortly before MacReady — left for dead by Nauls — forces his way inside and threatens to blow up the whole complex.

CLENNON: "I said, ‘This would never work. This is this is silly. This is bullish**.’ And what I meant was, in engineering terms, this ain’t gonna work. Any carpenter’s apprentice could tell you that what you're doing with these two-by-fours is not going to secure these doors. It's silly. John had his headphones on and my mic was on. John came tearing across the set and started screaming at me, 'It is not bullsh**!’ He was just furious with me and I was I was kind of taken aback. I was shocked that I had been overheard and he didn't persuade me that I was wrong. But I figured, ‘Okay, well, we'll just try to fake it here and maybe nobody will notice.’ I think that was the case, I don't think anybody noticed that what we were doing was, at best, a fanciful way of preventing the monster from coming through the doors."

With that said, Clennon does touch on a number of early character moments that he wishes hadn't ended up on the cutting room floor. He points to the critical and box office success of Ridley Scott's Alien, which opened three years before The Thing, and followed a similar narrative about a collection of blue-collar workers battling a seemingly unstoppable beast from outer space.

CLENNON: "One of the things that made it work for me, is that I got to know every single one of those characters. So when they were threatened, I knew who they were and I had a set of feelings about them. I thought that Bill succeeded in doing that. It was there on the page and it was there when we shot the film. When the film was released and I saw it for the first time, I thought that John had cut too much of the introductory material for each individual character ... I got lucky because he didn't cut a significant amount of my material. So by the eighth minute into the picture, you know who Palmer is. He’s an oddball, he's funny, he’s silly, and you kind of like him. You don't want him to be absorbed by Thing."

The actor goes on to claim one of the assistant editors gave him a heads up about this prior to the film's theatrical release. "She kind of warned me that John wanted to get to the first manifestation of the monster as quickly as he could. And so, he dispensed with a lot of the character stuff because he wanted to wow people with the monster. He was impatient, he was in a hurry to get there and he didn't want to linger over establishing a character."

"You Gotta Be F***ing Kidding..."

We'd be remiss if we didn't talk about the most iconic scene in the film: the big reveal that Norris (Charles Hallahan) has been assimilated. In fact, Carpenter's favorite alien design is the Norris head that splits away from the man's body (like a TGI Friday's patron pulling apart a fresh mozzarella stick) during the iconic defibrillator sequence with Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart).

CARPENTER: "The most fun was the head coming off, sprouting legs, and crawling away. It was ridiculous, that's why. At this point, the creature was designed after the script [was written]. I read Bill Lancaster's description of this scene and he came up with the line, 'You gotta be f***ing kidding,' which I just think is perfect."

FRANCO: "Charlie was laying in this bed, kind of at a 45-degree angle. His head’s back, so his whole body is, of course, a makeup effect. He was there for like two or three hours, just waiting for everything to happen. And when it does happen, you go, ‘Oh my God! We pulled that off!’ ... We did it all in one with multiple cameras because once that thing broke, it was gonna be forever to do it again. It was one of those things where everybody was applauding."

WAITES: "[My favorite scene] definitely has to be when Dick Dysart gets his his arms bitten off. No one ever expected that. The camera's underneath, from the patient's point-of-view, and he reaches in to see what's in there and he comes out with no arms. They got a real double amputee to play [Dysart in the wide shot]. I gasped."

CUNDEY: "That had been storyboarded and when I do a film class, I show the storyboards as drawn and the actual images we shot. It's surprising how much they coordinate exactly. Because the storyboards were drawn very carefully to say, ‘Okay, here's the moment, here's the action we want to see, here’s the specific dramatic thing.’ I think the fact that it was so carefully conceived was a big help. Having these storyboards and drawings of moments also gave Rob the inspiration to say, ‘Okay, the head has to stretch like this, and it has to crawl like this.’ And rather than just building stuff, he fitted all of the stuff into the moments that had been been conceived."

BABASIN: "Every time we shot something like that, everybody grabbed something. We were all controlling some aspect of some creature. The duct monster [for example], there was a guy in the duct because that was a hand puppet. He's inside there, controlling this guy while the crew is down below with fire extinguishers. Some of us are doing fire control, some of us are actually initiating the sequence of events. Everything is done so methodically."

MacReady torches the Norris-Thing laid out on the operating table, but misses the head, which breaks away from the body and attempts to crawl off. Palmer catches sight of the arachnoid noggin and utters the piece of dialogue that perfectly sums up The Thing: "You gotta be f***ing kidding." It's a line that has echoed across generations and inspired contemporary filmmakers like Andy Muschietti, who included little homage to Norris's scuttling head in IT: Chapter Two.

CLENNON: "At some point, I think they came to the conclusion that this gag was going to be so spectacular — almost operatic. The ultimate Fourth of July fireworks display. It was gonna be so outrageous. The ideas that Rob Bottin was bringing to the table were just fantastic, and outrageous and unbelievable. I guess John and Bill came to the conclusion that the audience was going to be so blown away by this and they might even doubt what they had seen. There had to be some acknowledgement on the screen that what [the audience] had just seen was truly outrageous and spectacular. And somehow, they came up with, with that line. Maybe John or Bill just blurted it out ... It’s like a humorous affirmation of what the audience is already thinking and feeling. And if they suspend their disbelief and buy the effects, it is truly horrifying. But it is also outlandish and outrageous and pushing the limits of credibility in a very realistic way. And so, you’re giving voice to what the audience is thinking. I think that's why that line is such a classic."

DAVID: "That was some funny sh** … Clennon, he was just funny as hell."

MASUR: "The first time I saw it, I just laughed my ass of. I thought it was so great."

HOWARTH: "It’s so iconic. You could say that it’s derivative of Alien with the thing popping out of the guy, but this was on 10x. It was just so much more unexpected ... the gooey thing coming off the table and sprouting legs. It’s a holy f*** moment."

When we ask BRYAN what he remembers from that day, he replies: "Just that the flamethrowers were really hot."

The Thing (1982) VFX
The Thing (1982) VFX

"Now I'll Show You What I Already Know"

For the infamous and tension-filled blood test sequence, CUNDEY devised an ingenious system for hinting at the identity of the imposter: "I took a certain liberty that when the guy we're most suspicious of is seen, I didn't put the eye light in his eyes. I didn't put that little sparkle that we use most of the time on characters to create the sense of life, of intelligence. I kept the light out of his eyes, so his eyes were dark and dead. I think, just subconsciously, the audience sensed that. It wasn't until years later that I said, ‘Okay, well, let me tell you what I did.’ And people said, ‘Oh yeah, now I notice.’ But it wasn't so much noticing as feeling, sensing, adding to the suspense. I think it paid off because it built that suspense as we went down the line from character-to-character and he was always lurking and waiting."

BRYAN: "Everybody has an eye-light, except David [Clennon]. And it was discussed at the time, ‘We don't want to put an eye -light there because he's not human and it'll be so subtle that people really won't pick up on it' ... I've always thought that was a really clever way to psychologically telegraph to the audience that there's something wrong here."

To achieve the effect of Palmer's blood running away after it's been touched by the hot wire, the crew built a custom section of flooring attached to a gimbal that could move in any direction. "Then we attached the camera to the floor, so it stayed stationary, looking at this floor," CUNDEY explains. "No matter what direction we we moved the floor, the camera was always looking at the same spot. And then we put the blood on the floor and moved it around. As it would run in a particular direction, the camera would only see it as crossing the frame. I think it was pretty effective."

FRANCO: "Today, it would just be, ‘Okay, we’re just gonna have the petri dish there. Okay, rolling…cut!’ And then later here comes the blood and the Thing [via CGI]. It would probably be way more spectacular and more stupid. It wouldn't make any sense, but it would be a bigger jolt. Also, John was a master of of musical stingers. It'd be very quiet and something would go off and there would be this big, loud, musical note or something that would blow you right out of the chair. He knew how to do those things. It's brilliant filmmaking."

DAVID: "I remember watching the behind-the-scenes process that you do to make the film moment work. Where the blood was being pumped from and how it was going to look. The most remarkable thing was the hand and the petri dish. The hand is a mold of Kurt's hand, but it wasn't his [actual] hand."

CLENNON: "When you stick a needle in a human body, graphically in close-up, the audience is going to have reaction. When you cut somebody's thumb with a scalpel, I'm going to have a major [visceral] reaction … So my theory is that a horror film director can use needles and scalpels and fake blood to make an audience anxious and apprehensive and vulnerable to what's going to happen next ... having been softened up and made apprehensive and anxious and vulnerable, the effect of what you show them next — which is not real — is is going to enhance the effectiveness of the gag that you're springing on them."

Once exposed, Palmer starts to transform and ends up attacking poor Windows, who fails to burn the creature in time. "I believe I did my own stunts [for that]," WAITES says. "They put me on some machine [and] that's me shaking around. I think I did a few takes of it and then they said, 'Okay, let's do it with the stunt guy.' I seem to remember John letting me do it because I was in quite good physical shape at that time."

CLENNON: "I think maybe there were two or three grips, perhaps, just out of frame, who were shaking the sofa. I don't know if I was trying to amplify the shaking myself, I don't remember," Clennon says of Palmer's horrific convulsions just before the man's head splits open. "What strikes me about that scene, is that my face is expressionless. There's nothing going on with my face. I'm not grimacing or mugging for the camera. That’s a good thing, I think it's kind of striking that it's almost like Palmer’s not there anymore, it’s just his body  vibrating as the Thing emerges. It’s almost like he's a corpse ... That's a very effective moment that the editors found and used to good effect."

For Clennon, the sequence works so well because Carpenter and Lancaster chose "the most unlikely character to be the Thing ... he is the least likely candidate. It can’t be Palmer, he's too flaky, he's silly, he's harmless, and he's funny. The Thing is not going to inhabit him! It's just not right. And lo and behold, that’s what you get ... I don't think anybody's ready for it to be Palmer. There’s nothing sinister about Palmer and then all of a sudden, [it turns out] he fooled you."

According to BABASIN, Palmer's transformation was also set to include slime oozing out a pair of fake arms "that had like a thousand pinholes in them and there was a pipe down each arm that pumped in K-Y Jelly. The K-Y was supposed to ooze out of all these individual holes and look really creepy. They needed someone who had a similar body as Palmer at Hartland, so they came running up to me. ‘Hey, you want to sit in for Palmer?!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure!’ So I sat on the famous couch, had my arms back, and had these fake arms come out. I guess the visual just didn't look good. It was another one of those trial and error things. I think as the ooze came out, it would just become one mass [of] ooze. It didn't have those individual little squiggles, which I think they were looking for from each one of those little pinholes. So that was axed."

The scene ends with one of the biggest laughs in the movie. Still tied up, a weary and beleaguered Garry explodes at his comrades: "I know you gentlemen have been through a lot, but when you find the time, I'd rather not spend the rest of this winter TIED TO THIS F—ING COUCH!"

WAITES: "We burst into laughter, it was really hard to keep it in. John's sets are really fun."

"Yeah, Well F*** You, Too!"

In addition to the UFO model that opens the movie, FRANK also found herself tasked with creating a miniature version of the outpost generator room for the movie's explosive climax. “I went over and measured everything, took a big chunk of foam, cut it out, and figured out how to do all the different cans and that stuff."

The effect of the alien destroying the floor was achieved with what BABASIN calls "the tortoise shell," a battering-ram like device that moved along and track, forcing "this hard, fiberglass tortoise shell through the floorboards. That was a very elaborate mechanical effect."

That same artifice was applied to the scene where MacReady lobs Molotov cocktails into each room out of the outpost in an effort to deprive the alien from any sense of shelter. "We we had to rig gas mortars up in each individual room," says BABASIN. "And as he walks down the line, lighting fake Molotov cocktails and throwing them in, we're blowing the heck out of the set. That's all interior. So you'll see an interior blow up and then they'll go [to an exterior shot] of British Columbia and you'll see a big bomb go off. Then you'll go back inside and you'll throw a couple more Molotov cocktails. It's all edited together, obviously, and it looks quite impressive when it's done."

MacReady’s final standoff with the Blair-Thing was originally supposed to feature an extensive amount of stop-motion work by Randy Cook — only a fraction of which made it into the finished cut. “It was some great stuff," CARPENTER says. "The creature comes up out of the floorboards and you see these tentacles. The problem is that everything we'd done was live-action [and] it just didn't fit. It just looked like a different movie and that was troublesome. So we just used the bare minimum.”

BABASIN: "I know there's a picture out there of the miniature that Randy Cook did. It's got the dog creature [and] he's grown out and away from the original Blair monster. I have to say, it almost looked too good. It was so meticulously done and the creature in the movie, they never really developed him that way. The dog came out, but he didn't grow across the entire compound like it appears in the miniature. The miniature looked great, but I just don't think it really meshed well, continuity-wise, with the the full-size creature."

CUNDEY: “Stop-motion at the time was still very stuttery and so, they decided to eliminate what had been designed in the storyboards and keep it down to one shot."

The Thing's ultimate form — an amalgam of man dog, and cosmic horrors beyond our feeble comprehension — was a Bottin-created puppet. "I remember there were over 40 guys on the final [Blair] monster. We were all just crammed underneath," BABASIN remembers. "This thing was built on a stanchion that was six feet off the ground. There were like 40 guys underneath it, all of them controlling something and bringing the dog forward and, oh my gosh, it was insane."

COHEN: "We were running out of money. Rob's shop was like a boulder rolling downhill, picking up labor costs. John had to go hat in hand to Universal for the last $100,000 in order to make the monster, otherwise there wasn't going to be one. A lot of it didn't work quite the way we wanted it to. Nauls was supposed to pop out of it, the dog was supposed to move much faster. There were a lot of things going on that we couldn’t do."

Since Cundey had to move on to another project (most likely Halloween III: Season of the Witch), BRYAN was tasked with overseeing a number of special effects shots, which included the Blair-Thing. "I went in and shot about two weeks of the rubber work that Rob was doing," says the first assistant cameraman. "I got to do the Blair Monster at the end with the dog coming out of it, Clennon’s head breaking apart and becoming jaws [during the blood test scene], and several other things."

Indeed, a lot of supplemental material was shot once filming had already wrapped on the main actors as FRANCO reveals: "I played every single one of those characters in some kind of insert. We’d do a hand opening a drawer to get something out and I had the outfit of the person. Or we’re going over the shoulder on to this mechanical effect and I’d be the shoulder. It was just a few of us [shooting] the isolated stuff with the mechanical effects and [everything that wasn't] tied to actors or the big set. Just little two-walled sets and things like that. There were only 10 or 12 of us around doing those kinds of things. Rob had his army, but the filming company was just the camera and a couple of crew members."

BRYAN: "There were a couple of times when we were on the clock for more than 24 hours because something went wrong with one of the effects and it had to be redone, which meant that they had to be re-sculpted and the rubber had to be done. Instead of going home and coming back another day at that point, we were really up against the gun. John knew exactly what shots he needed and as we would finish them, they would literally go to the lab, send them to the editors, and cut them into the picture. There was a few times when there would be an eight-hour break or a nine-hour break in between one take of something and the second take."

Multiple cameras were used to capture the total destruction of the camp once MacReady lobs the stick of dynamite at the Blair-Thing. "They blew up the set, which was gorgeous at night," POLIS recalls.

FRANCO: "The whole inside of that thing was scored with chainsaws ... Everything that was holding it together was cut almost right to the bone, so that when the bombs did go off it, it really did explode."

CLENNON: "That was impressive. I believe that was the work of Roy Arbogast, who set the charges. He was the man was responsible for the destruction of the outpost, which was pretty thorough. That was a memorable moment for me. I thought it was worth sticking around. Generally, I'd be happy to go back to the hotel, but I stuck around for a while to watch that from a good distance. But that was very impressive and I think it shows on screen ... It’s a very good effect among many, many spectacular effects in the movie."

FRANCO: "All these bombs go off and it's like, ‘Jesus!’ You could feel the ground moving and it's like, ‘Oh my God! This is great!' So the bombs are all done going off and it's quiet, nobody's moving, waiting for [John to call 'cut!']. John just kept let it rolling and rolling and we're all huddled behind this [bulldozer] blade thinking, ‘What’s going on?’ I'm on the radio asking, ‘John, what's happening?’ Finally [he calls] 'Cut!' and everybody's yelling and screaming. We stepped out from behind this blade and KA-BOOM! this bomb that hadn’t gone off, goes off. Thankfully, it wasn't near us, but it was close enough that we all just bailed out into the snow [face first]. It had to be the funniest sight ever. And, of course, that wasn't on any camera, because we’d cut all the cameras ... I can remember when we got back, everybody was just covered in soot and crap."

The Thing (1982) Artwork Still
The Thing (1982) VFX
The Thing (1982) VFX

A Heart-Thumping Score

Cohen was present in British Columbia, but needed to head back to Los Angeles mid-shoot in order to screen an incomplete cut of the film for his and Carpenter's wishlist composer, Ennio Morricone, the famed Italian composer known for his work on Sergio Leonne's Dollars trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns. "He said ‘No,’ twice actually," COHEN admits. "I phoned a friend to help us with the process, that friend being Bernardo Bertolucci, the film director who knew Ennio, and put it in a good word for me."

HOWARTH: "[John] said that when he finally got a real budget, he could hire a real composer. So he went to the spaghetti Western maestro. It was an upgrade. John didn’t consider his own music elevated enough, so he went and got the best guy he could hire, his hero. It wasn’t that John didn’t have time for it or not, he just felt that because this was a big budget Hollywood movie, he’d go and get a major composer as opposed to doing it himself."

Morricone did sign on, but it took a second meeting at the Hotel Hassler in Rome ("in a small second floor conference room outfitted with  a piano and a 3/4 inch VCR for the occasion," COHEN remembers) to fully convince him. 

Several months later, Morricone came back to Los Angeles "with a valise, carrying the four electronic pieces that he had composed and then played for us," COHEN says. "And that was it in terms of a conversation. Very little really between John and Ennio. Morricone did his thing and then John went away and did his." As many fans know, the scoring process was a joint effort of sorts. The soundtrack ended up being a mixture of cues from Morricone; Carpenter; and the director's longtime musical collaborator, Alan Howarth.

HOWARTH: "At the very end of post-production, the Morriconne score had been put into the film and then John just needed some pick-ups. Those cues were supplemental ... drone-y things that just sustained through the scene. So there was a pickup session of about 15 minutes of cues. That was just an afternoon session of music pickups that I did with him … At the time, I did it uncredited. I was just John’s buddy and helped him out."

COHEN: "John was a little conflicted about the entire thing. I knew that the decision to go with somebody other than himself was a very personal one. I was always convinced that the film needed orchestral components, as well as electronic, which meant that John would need to work with someone other than himself. Based on our mutual love of old music and great classical composers of the day, I had in mind a dramatic idea that John would work with the great established composer of his choice. And essentially, that's how it worked out, but John wasn't entirely convinced and had to be talked into it a bit."

Howarth points us to a recent article from The Ringer in which Carpenter professes his "love" for Morricone's "stark." cues. “I struggled with the darkness of that movie for a bit, and Morricone had it figured out ahead of time in one of his pieces. He helped me realize what it was about: It’s about the end of the world. It’s about the end of everything. You can’t fight this. If it happened, you couldn’t fight it.

We spare Cohen the monotony of providing a detailed rundown of whose themes are whose, although he can say for certain that the famous "heartbeat theme" used for the opening helicopter chase "was Ennio channeling John." Carpenter and Howarth, on the other hand, provided the swelling "electronic tone" that plays over the opening credits. "That’s John's music underneath Ennio’s credit, which did not thrill the composer at the time because he didn’t know it was gonna happen."

A chunk of Morricone's unused music was repurposed 33 years later for Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight, which also starred Kurt Russell in a story about mistrust among a group of people in a confined frozen location.

"I did not get a heads-up," COHEN says when asked if he knew about Tarantino snagging some Thing tracks ahead of time. "I was reading about it, actually. Tarantino was describing how Morricone wasn't available and then he said, ‘Well, maybe you could come to Rome, I can write a few things.' I was thinking, ‘Gee, this sounds just like how it worked out for John and myself.'"

Decades later, HOWARTH would team up with Larry Hopkins for a re-recording of the soundtrack, released in 2017. "I still had the tapes," he says. "So I just listened to them and used the original tracks as the guides. But the recording process was a little noisy [back then], so I cleaned them up and used them as a model. It was still keeping with sounding like it was the original stuff, but in a new and improved … cleaned-up version."

The Much-Debated Ending

Even after all these years, fans still continue to debate the film's ambiguous ending. Was MacReady a Thing? Was Childs a Thing? Was neither man a Thing? SYFY WIRE hoped to settle the discussion once and for all, but things (no pun intended) are rarely ever that simple. "I know who was the Thing in the end," CARPENTER teases. "I know, but I'm not telling you ... I just feel like it's a secret that must be kept. The gods came down and swore me to secrecy."

MILLER: "It’s been a long time since I've seen the movie, but I’m pretty sure someone was a Thing. I'm not sure who, but I don't think the Thing was gone."

WEISSER: I’m kind of like everybody else. It could be either or. I really don't know. I have no theory about it ... It's just open. I think that's one of the strengths of The Thing. People who are completely into this movie … discuss that and argue about it. There’ll never be an answer.

FRANCO: "Everybody's waiting for the next shoe to drop. It's a great ending. You don't know what's going to happen to these guys ... They're going to die, they know it, so let's just ride this out."

COHEN, however, is of the opinion that neither of the men was an alien. "I know the ending was designed to be deliberately ambiguous. This is the way Bill wrote it ... although he believed personally that both men are human at the end. I subscribe to this belief. But if John Carpenter tells you he knows who the Thing is at the end, believe him. Trust him. Just make sure the next time you ask the question, he takes a blood test first."

DAVID: "It was a beautiful night, it was cold, we had just finished watching all these explosions all around the camp. As I remember, there were five cameras all around filming from different angles. I remember sitting around, watching [mimics sound of explosions] and how exciting that was, before we had to do the scene. It was winding down to the last day, so there are all those mixed emotions in that among the actors."

With no concrete answers available, viewers have come up with numerous explanations. One of the most prominent theories posits that the bottle Mac hands Childs is not full of whiskey, but gasoline. The reasoning goes that if Childs was infected, he wouldn't be able to tell the difference, but that logic falls apart when you remember that the alien is capable of imitating its victims perfectly on a cellular level.

"We were both drinking out of the same bottle, so why would that be gasoline and [why would] he not be as dead as I would be?" asserts DAVID. "Those kinds of comments, I don't even pay attention to them, because they're kind of stupid. [Mac] really is not Houdini, so where would he have switched the bottles if that were the case?"

"I appreciate them, but they don't know what the hell they're talking about," CARPENTER says of all the fan speculation. "There are some hilarious ones. Everybody says, 'Well, he took a drink, so he must be contaminated.' Blah, blah, blah. On and on. I'm not speaking about it anymore."

Others claim that Childs is a Thing because he has no eye-light in those final moments. Again, this does not hold up to scrutiny, as that system was only applied for the blood test sequence.

BRYAN: "There's huge rumors and stuff about the ending of the movie. Having been there, I'd have to agree with John that most of that's bunk. They're making something out of something that was not thought about. The only time I remember that there was a lightning clue that someone was the Thing, was in the scene where they're all tied up before David Clennon’s opens up and becomes jaws. But on the ending, I don't remember any conversations about the light in people's eyes."

A third hypothesis alleges that Childs must be infected because you can't see his breath in the below-freezing temperatures.

DAVID: "I don't know the last time that you were in the cold and standing by a fire [but] if you're in the cold, more than likely the wind is blowing. Whether it's blowing hard or blowing soft, the wind has a direction. If the wind is blowing in my direction, and the heat from the fire is coming at me, you're not gonna see the smoke come out of my mouth the same way as if someone on the other side of the fire, where it is cold, and the smoke is coming out of his mouth. So that theory didn't hold water for me either because if you've ever been by a campfire [in the cold], you know what that looks like."

COHEN: "There are no minute clues to identity in The Thing. The film was made to be seen on the big screen, the only standard then. No VHS, no Beta, no cable, no internet. We hoped people would come once, maybe twice, if we were lucky. The idea, flattering as it is, of folks looking at the film endlessly and parsing it for clues and meaning seems like something born of the ‘Easter egg’ mentality that exists today. John is pretty much a full-frontal director. What you see is what you get."

CUNDEY: "John never would reveal the answer or maybe never had an answer. He just wanted to leave it hanging, so it would be an intriguing ending. We came up with various endings as we were working. [One such] ending [had] Kurt [as] the only one left, a helicopter comes in because Kurt's going to escape and then somehow, the creature gets on the helicopter, and goes to the Navy ship and starts the sequel. Or should the two of them be rescued and then we find out that the other character is really the Thing and he escaped on this Navy ship? There were all kinds of stories written, mostly by the crew, as we sat shivering."

COHEN reveals there is an "unseen, alternate ending with MacReady," which was shot at the suggestion of editor Todd Ramsay. "So John, to assuage his editor, made one shot. He wasn't thrilled about doing it. It wasn't all that great a shot, but he made it." The shot (never spliced into any version of the film or even seen by the studio) was filmed at the Hartland facility and showed Russell's character "sitting on a hospital gurney inside a room, in his half frozen state" after being rescued. "It would have been a long, slow lap dissolve from the scene you now see, you’d hear the sounds of a helicopter rescue or something."

BRYAN, meanwhile, claims there was a plan to end the film by implying that MacReady had been assimilated: "He is recovered [and brought] to McMurdo. He's the only one that survived whatever happened because he's not talking and basically mute. They put him in a room and debrief him. What tells you then he is the Thing, is that the dog guy is taking the dogs by and the dogs stop, look into the room, and growl. And that’s the end of the movie. So to me, that's like, ‘Okay, it's out there. He's in another place. Everything that Blair said was going to happen, is going to happen.’ It was a bleak ending, but I always liked it."

For Waites, the importance of the ending lies not in who might or might not be an imitation, but in how "no one trusts anyone anymore." Humanity's nasty habit of pointing fingers and making wild accusations is what makes The Thing so timeless (even more so than the '51 adaptation, whose obvious Red Scare allegory feels rather dated). And while the '82 adaptation may have stood as a metaphor for the nascent AIDS crisis, its overarching message of eternal suspicion can be plugged into any time period and still feel shockingly relevant. "The idea that my standing next to you at a bar, I could get sick and die. You could be trying to overtake the species with your virus," WAITES explains, drawing a parallel to COVID-19. "That [John] had the prescience to know that our paranoia would just increase..."

CLENNON: "I think it means more if neither one of them is the Thing, and they're just gonna sit there until they freeze to death. It sure is bleak. I never resolved that in my own mind. I think the religion of American movies would not allow you to even entertain the idea that it was Kurt Russell, because he's the star of the show and he brings the [whole] Kurt Russell thing to the movie. So it can’t be him. And I don't think it's Childs either. They're both right to be suspicious of each other. Given everything that we've seen, we know it’s possible that one of them is the Thing. But I also accept that they have to be suspicious. It’s possible that the Thing snatched Childs at some point, devoured him in six minutes, and spit him back up again. But my personal take on it is that neither of them is the Thing and they're gonna die in the ruins of that outpost."

Perilous Promotion

Despite the fact that Carpenter essentially birthed a lucrative new sub-genre of horror with Halloween several years before, the studio was hesitant to use the term "horror" while promoting The ThingCOHEN reveals. "[It] was too narrow a catchword to apply. The Thing, they decreed, would be promoted as a full-bore science fiction thriller in a bid to emulate the marketing success of Alien several years earlier. You do not see the word 'horror' used in any way."

MILLER was brought on board during production (around the spring of 1981) to help drum up excitement via magazine interviews (think StarlogCinemafantastique, Fangoria, and American Cinematographer), slideshow presentations at the World Science Fiction Convention and World Fantasy Convention, and a tie-in reprint of the original novella. "Sort of a little chapbook kind of thing, like a little pamphlet with a ‘John Carpenter's The Thing’ cover and the original John Campbell short story in it," he explains.

Universal also held a "Draw the Thing" contest: "We had special blank sheets of paper that said ‘John Carpenter's The Thing.’ We had one drawing of the Thing as the full creature and one paragraph quote from the original short story that described the ever-changing horror of the creature. And then we had the contest for people to draw their image of the Thing. The winner of the contest got a trip for two to Universal Studios, a stay at the Universal Sheraton, and a studio tour. I think they came to the set of The Thing. We got hundreds and hundreds of entries at both that convention and others. Some silly drawings, some not so great drawings, but a few terrific drawings."

Submission to "Draw the Thing" contest
Submission to "Draw the Thing" contest
Submission to "Draw the Thing" contest
Submission to "Draw the Thing" contest
Submission to "Draw the Thing" contest

It was also during this time that storied illustrator Drew Struzan whipped up the famous theatrical poster of the lone figure in thick winter gear standing in the middle of a frozen landscape as a bright light shoots out of their hood. 

COHEN: "Despite its now iconic status among fans, we were unenthusiastic about Drew's work when it was dropped unceremoniously on our desks the week after the first preview with a note attached saying, 'This is IT.' "We thought it evidence the studio had panicked and [relegated The Thing] to B movie status. Halloween II in the snow. John Carpenter said, 'They might as well have painted a bloody knife in the guy's hand.' And two years after assiduously avoiding the man-in-the-suit idea for the monster, what did we have? A man in a suit."

The equally famous tagline of "Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide" came courtesy of Steven Frankfurt (hired at Cohen's insistence), the same advertising whiz who came up with Alien's "In Space, No One Can Hear You Scream."

"Could he do the same for us?" muses COHEN. "He could, and we were thrilled with 'Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide,' which is what he came up with. We hated the tagline that replaced it here, 'The Ultimate in Alien Terror,' which was the handiwork of Universal President Sid Sheinberg, who was desperate to get the word 'Alien' above our title to reference Ridley Scott's film. The European one sheet is closer to our original idea for an ad campaign and restored Frankfurt's tagline to its rightful place."

The Thing (1982) Poster

An Ominous Opening

The Thing opened in theaters everywhere on June 25, 1982 — just two weeks after the release of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (and on the same day as Blade Runner). By that point, moviegoers had already fallen head over heels for Steven Spielberg's squat cosmic visitor with a taste for Reese's Pieces, and didn't exactly know what to make of Carpenter's graphic and nihilistic slow-burn that The New York Times dubbed "instant junk." Even Christian Nyby, director of The Thing from Another World, publicly bashed the film.

"Certainly, some people loved it, even at the time, and horror fans really dug it, but I just think it overwhelmed too many people. It didn't get the audience it deserved," says MILLER. Had the film been released a few decades later, it may have fared a better chance at the box office. "The internet allows us do so much more in terms of getting buzz out there, getting people to understand what they're going to be seeing."

Miller knew the film was in trouble at the first public screening: "It wasn't studio people, it was people we'd invited. Just the level of reaction, I was beginning to fear it was too much. In many ways, the film was ahead of its time. I wouldn't say it's mild, but it's not out of line with other horror films [of today]. But in the early 1980s, the horror was so much, audiences were literally terrified. I'm pretty well convinced that the reason the film didn't do better at the time was it really overwhelmed a good portion of the audience just with the horror of the creature."

COHEN: "They hated it. They thought it was too violent, too gory. That was a sense that we were getting. Nobody was saying any of the elements that the film is prized for today: the creeping tension, the walls closing in, claustrophobia. Nobody paid attention to any of that."

He continues: "Universal lost faith in the film, but they still tried to promote it. They were conflicted about how to promote the film, certainly, and that showed up in the advertising. But it had a decent [marketing] budget of three-and-a-half million dollars, most of it being print at that time ... Not only were we blindsided and submerged by the tidal wave of good will that came from E.T., [but] the fact that it was made by the same studio and marketing department really had an effect on us coming two weeks later. We were really considered the poor stepchild."

Ironically, Cohen received a call about three months before The Thing's release from Universal's head of distribution, who told the producer that the studio was really counting on The Thing to carry the brunt of summer ticket sales.

"I said, ‘Well really? Why?’ And he said, ‘Well, we've just seen E.T. and we think it's soft. ‘Soft?’ I said. He said, ‘Yes, we think it's for children. We don't think anyone else will come. So we're really counting on you guys to grab the teenage audience and carry us through.’ I said, ‘Well, that's great. Thanks a lot.’ I went next door to John and said, ‘Do you believe this?’ This is the first we’d heard anything about E.T. and we had trouble believing it. But maybe it was true. Anyway, that was Universal’s initial reaction, the studio didn't know what it had on its hands until they previewed E.T. later that month."

And even though Universal had included The Thing trailer in nearly 1,000 theatrical prints of E.T. nationwide, no one seemed interested. "Our trailer was being seen by more people on that day than any other in motion picture history," Cohen says. "I went down to the Cinerama Dome for that reason to see the trailer with the film along with David Foster [and] there was no reaction whatsoever. This ultra-sold out crowd of grandmothers with their grandkids [and there was] no reaction at all,. I had a feeling that we were in trouble and we were. There’s a toxic stew of reasons why I think the film failed, but the zeitgeist was a big part of it."

FRANK: "People liked the cuddly more than they liked the fear. It was softer. Ours was a little harsh compared to E.T. ... It was ahead of its time."

BRYAN: "Everybody went to see E.T. It was a feel good alien and we had an alien that was going to ruin your life."

MALONEY: "It was a disaster. No one came to see it. No one wanted to see it. They pulled it from the theaters ... Universal thought we were gonna save their ass. They were in terrible danger as a company and they had put their bets on John Carpenter's The Thing."

Produced on a modest budget of $15 million, the film brought in less than $20 million at the domestic box office, and Carpenter's career took a serious hit. "I wish we’d had the opportunity to really sell The Thing for the level of what it was, and to get audiences prepared going in without doing one of those cheesy, ‘We’ll have nurses in the theater lobby!’ kind of thing," MILLER says. "But those kinds of pictures never expected a lot of people to go see them. The Thing really wanted a large audience."

HOWARTH: "It crushed [John] because he knew he had done it. He had hit a home run and the marketing and popularity of E.T. just soared and therefore, the distribution people at Universal pulled [The Thing from theaters]. In those days, before any [type of home media], your whole shot of whether this movie made any money or not was theatrical tickets. And so, it was considered a flop, box office-wise, and the stigma that went with it ... I remember somebody asked John, ‘What do you think now that The Thing has finally been vindicated?’ He said, ‘So what? All the sh** I went through years ago. The pain and suffering of what I went through at that time just doesn’t make that all better.’"

The last four decades have been incredibly kind to the movie, which is finally recognized as an unparalleled cinematic triumph, whose impact on popular culture cannot be understated. "I don't know if it's gone to masterpiece yet," says a humble CARPENTER. "I know a lot of people have re-examined the film and have nice things to say about it now ... It's a lot like my work. It's kind of damned at first."

MILLER: "It's amazing how home video and cable really saved so many of these kinds of films. Now, you hear from people who absolutely love The Thing, absolutely love The Last Starfighter or The Dark Crystal. We just didn't get them in the theaters at the time. None of these movies did terribly. They weren't huge disasters or anything, but they weren't the hits everyone had hoped for."

DAVID: "It's unfortunate that The Thing didn't get the juice that it has gotten over these last 40 years. It's a film that really holds up well, and I think it's one of John's best. We had a kick-ass cast, it was a good story, there were so many wonderful things about it. But at the time that it came out, it did not get the accolades that it has consequently gotten over the years. That's the only thing I can say about it because it was wonderful working with John Carpenter. He's a wonderful filmmaker, and I wish he was still as active today because I would work with him anytime."

BABASIN: "Obviously, we were stunned because we thought this was a sure hit. We were all working on it, looking at this stuff in real time, and if it looked good to us in real time, it was going to kick ass on camera. It’s easier to fool the camera than it is to fool the eyes, so we were really disappointed and Carpenter didn't deserve that. He was such a genius at doing this and [he was], of course, ahead of his time, as they like to say. But to now to see it get the critical acclaim it's receiving, is just so rewarding. To see Dean and John get their just desserts, it's very satisfying."

WAITES: "Justice has prevailed. I feel so vindicated, mostly for John. He risked his reputation on doing his movie his way, which is what a director is supposed to do. And because he did it, he suffered immediate backlash. But ultimately, 'The truth will out,' as Shakespeare would say. Whether you're a science fiction fan or a horror fan or just a cinema fan, you sit and watch it and you get pulled in by the music, by the cinematography, by the camera movement."

MALONEY has witnessed the movie's profound cultural resonance firsthand at a number of fan conventions: "The movie means a lot to people. When you sit at a table signing autographs and three generations of a family come up dressed as cast members of The Thing ... a grandfather, father and the grandson. They're standing there and ask you to say your lines that they remember [because] they've memorized your lines. They say, 'Say that line that we like!' And we do, and they have tears in their eyes."

CLENNON: "It's always a pleasant surprise to me to find out that people really have something to say about the film and about the larger world. I say that, even though I don't fully understand the drawing power of the film. I don't fully get it ... There must be something there because the people I'm engaging with are very bright, thoughtful people. So they're getting something out of this film. They see it and they take something away, and they go back to it again. They revisit it and that’s intriguing to me."

FRANCO: "At the time, it wasn't cinematic history. We were young kids, just making a movie. At the end of the day, nobody knows what's going to happen to it through its life. But at the time, nobody was ever thinking about anything like that. We were just trying to get through the day. I've never been able to watch a movie that I've done, where I'm not thinking about how we did it. But I'm just in awe of all the stuff that happened in that movie. It’s an incredible accomplishment, to be honest."

WEISSER: There is something always effective about the possibility of life in outer space. It's something we're intensely dealing with right now ... And also, the special effects which were really poo-pooed by the critics, they’re extraordinary. [Bottin] was one of the best in the business. Horror always sells. John Carpenter is a master in his craft and he delivered. It was also this counter-reaction of going, ‘What what are these critics talking about? How dare they?! This f***ing movie blew my mind and they're saying it's just a piece of sh**?!’"

HOWARTH: "A couple times, I got invited to screenings where they screened the 70mm version of it in a real theater and you just realize, ‘This is a great movie.' It looks great. The only thing that dates it is the technology ... Other than that, everything is timeless."

The Thing Stills

In Memoriam

While the intervening decades have brought about a great deal of deferred acclaim, they have also brought the unfortunate passing of several cast members: Charles Hallahan (1943-1997), Richard Dysart (1929-2015), Donald Moffat (1930-2018), and Wilford Brimley (1934-2020).

"[What] makes me sigh a little bit is how many of these guys aren't here anymore," MASUR admits. "Dysart's gone, Moffat's gone, Charlie's gone, Wilford's gone. And then there are a few of us who are chasing up close behind them now."

The men may not live forever, but the close relationships they shared certainly will. "You really couldn't wait to get to work every day — whether it was Wil Brimley doing rope tricks or Kurt telling stories ... whatever the day brought," WAITES says. "Oftentimes, we would go out afterwards and get to know each other. [We'd] hang out and had a lot of laughs, man, a lot of fun. Under John's auspices, we forged a bond."

"We got pretty close," echoes MALONEY. "As close as you can get working together for six months on a movie [and] coming from all different backgrounds, different disciplines and training. I think about those guys and how wonderful it was to [work] with them and what a privilege it was to be in a movie with them. The human side of it."

FRANCO: "I have no bad memories of The Thing. No matter how bad it got, it was all part of the whole process. We didn’t have, like you do sometimes today, a lot of interference from the studio. We had no actor issues where people didn't want to show up. We didn't have anything like that. It was like making a student film, only [we were] making a giant one at the time."

BRYAN: "We were all pretty young in our careers at that point, and pretty hungry to make a mark. So the camaraderie of the cast crew and producers … was very high. We spent a lot of time together and became lifelong friends."

Legacy From Another World

In 2011, Universal Pictures attempted to reboot the property with a prequel film (also titled The Thing), which depicted the events at the Norwegian camp and led directly into the events of the 1982 classic. Written by Eric Heisserer (Arrival) and directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. (The Forgotten Battle), the project eerily repeated Hollywood history as a critical and box office misfire, with many audience members pointing to the fact that its unconvincing CGI did not hold a candle to Bottin's practical achievements.

As fate would have it, CUNDEY was "approached early on" to serve as director of photography on the prequel, "but they had already committed to somebody else," he reveals. "The fact that it was shot on a stage in a backlot with a lot of green screen — all the stuff that we we didn't do — was obviously more convenient and comfortable for them. The fact was they took a different approach and when I saw their film, I thought, 'Well, interesting.' But it didn't have some of the same feel of the original.'"

BRYAN: "I thought the technical crew did a great job in making the picture look like Dean's work. It was better than I expected. They did it at a time when digital effects were still a little bit in their infancy, but certainly the effects that they used were not the kind of effects that we were doing ... Nobody does that sort of work anymore. It’s expensive and time-consuming."

MALONEY: "Even though ours is a remake, there was a good reason to remake it. Because when they made the [1951] original, they didn't have the technology to do what we did. They also didn't have the money to do what we did. And so, I excuse it on that level and say it's a totally different thing."

CLENNON: "I had plenty of chances to check it out and I never did. I was kind of curious about it. I feel like I should see it. I understood two things about it and  maybe I'm wrong. [Firstly is] that the color palette that they used was very similar to the original Thing. The look of the film, the costumes, the colors  — everything was very similar to the original. And then I heard a rumor that most of the special effects were practical, but that somebody higher up decided that they had to be CGI. That seemed like a terrible waste. Because I think I heard that the practical effects were quite good and there was no good reason to replace them with CGI."

If CARPENTER had to choose a worthy successor to his movie, he'd probably go with the 2002 PlayStation 2 video game that picks up directly after the events of the '82 film. "That was fun, and I was in it," says the avid gamer, referring to the character of Dr. Sean Faraday, whose appearance was based on that of Carpenter, though it should be noted that the director did not record any dialogue. "It's a lot of fun and I'm happy to have my visage in it," he adds.

Funnily enough, the director's notorious love of video games was already apparent on the set of The Thing two decades prior. "John used to play video games on the set in between takes and he would beat the machine every day," WAITES recalls. "It was Pong. He would be playing it in between takes because it took forever to set up [certain shots]."

In the mid-2000s, SYFY toyed around the idea with a television miniseries from future Aquaman screenwriter, David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, and The Shawshank Redemption director, Frank Darabont. The idea never materialized on our screens, mainly owing to the fact that the studio opted for the 2011 prequel.

Back in early 2020, however, it was reported that a new reboot — partially based on "lost" John W. Campbell Jr. material — had entered development. Appearing at the Fantasia film festival that summer, Carpenter revealed that he and Blumhouse were directly involved with the project. He refused to give up any details at the time and continues to stick to that caginess when we broach the subject. "Maybe ... we'll see," he says. What the hell do I know? That's the theme of my career. Write [this] down... John Carpenter: 'What the hell do I know?' No one tells me anything." He also declined to speak hypothetically on the reboot when asked about what he'd like to see out of it. "I'm not gonna tell you that. That would be something I would figure out and do and then you would discover it in the movie theater."

The cast, on the other hand, is a different story. POLIS would like to see "some great CGI" and a story that brings the property "up to date," especially in a post-COVID world. "If I had to do it over again, I would have been in a hazmat suit when we brought that Thing into the rec room — if we brought that thing into the rec room [at all]. I didn't watch it for years and when I saw it, I went, 'Whoa, we missed that.' Things like that bring it up into our [21st century] understanding of science and contagion."

DAVID just wants to see "a good movie — something that holds up and is worthy of the hype."

MALONEY isn't big on the idea of reboots, but wishes the studio good fortune. "I hope they make money for themselves, but does it really interest me? No. I don't have any interest. They could fool me. They could say, 'Well, Peter, we've redone it. Bennings is dead, but we want you to be in it!' If they said that, I'd be happy to do it because of John."

Similarly, MASUR doesn't see much value in rebooting a film "that worked really, really well. What you need to do is take something that didn't quite work, but should have. That's makes for a great remake, where it just misses or some piece of it doesn't come together, or you do something where you flip it."

WAITES: "I'd like to see John Carpenter's influence. I'd like to see them ask John to write the script or ask John to produce it or ask John to influence it in some way."

BRYAN concedes a reboot "might be interesting, but it would depend on depend on the writer and director at that point. I've done several pictures that have become classics like The Thing and I'm not a big fan of people remaking pictures. There’s a reason that the original caught everyone's attention and became such a big hit. It’s hard to duplicate that."

While COHEN has zero interest in seeing "the further adventures of Childs and MacReady," he is open to a reimagining of the source material. "You’d need a visionary director, somebody very special. You could contemporize it [or] you could set it in1938. Analog radios [and an] analog monster. Hell, do it with the cast of the [Royal Shakespeare Company] and give it to Gaspar Noé. You could put in a big frozen soundstage at Pinewood. That sounds interesting to me. There are other ways you can go with it, but I think that in terms of a sequel to this movie, I say no. I think that there is more plot you could do with MacReady and Childs, [but] I’m not sure if there's more story. I think the story has been told about as well as it can be by John — and it should be left well enough alone. But I think I'm the minority in that."

Fans will be overjoyed to learn that Cohen hopes to publish a detailed memoir on the movie's production sometime in the near future. Tentatively titled Once Upon A Time In Antarctica: Adventures in THE THING Trade, the book will feature exclusive quotes from the elusive Rob Bottin. "It’ll include a date-specific timeline from 1976 through the day of release," the producer promises. "Mine will be a little different and it’ll also involve the studio side of things, the meetings John wasn’t in. The most difficult thing to convey is the provincial atmosphere the film was made in, the non-genre atmosphere the film was made in. That's what I'm trying to convey, and how alone John was in terms of swimming upstream."

FRANCO is also wary of a reboot, stating: "I would hate to think that somebody could take that story and do it any better than John did it. I just can't imagine it. How can you? I would just hope that if somebody were to do it and have the guts to do it and pull it off... on the one hand, that would be awesome. But on the other hand, I don't think it’s possible. That would be very difficult for anybody to pull off, to try and take that the nucleus of that story and do it any better than John did."

HOWARTH: It’s probably the greatest monster movie of all time ... It would virtually impossible to outdo what’s already been done. The cast, the acting, the way it was laid out, the suspense. How would you redo that? It’s the same problem with Escape from New York. How do you outdo Kurt Russell being Kurt Russell? Just leave it alone. It’s like [trying to do] It’s a Wonderful Life again. I mean, come on. Jimmy Stewart did it. It’s done. Just take it for the time it was done and let it rest. Do something else."

If a reboot does end up happening, though, BABASIN wants a return to "the real, practical effects," recalling his time on Jaws 2. "There was nothing like being on a ship, towing a shark, and being able to control the jaws opening and closing as it's attacking a sailboat. You just don't do that in a computer format. You've got to be out there on a boat pulling a shark! It's the real deal. I know everybody always bemoans the way things were, but I really think it was superior in a lot of ways."

John Carpenter's The Thing — along with its 2011 prequel — is available to own from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

Originally published Oct 11, 2023.