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The Thing Documentary Set to Go Deep Inside John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi Horror Classic

Share your creepiest memories from The Thing to help creators break the ice on a fan-focused documentary celebration.

By Benjamin Bullard
A man's face bleeds and distorts in The Thing (1982).

More than 40 years on from its inauspicious release in theaters, John Carpenter’s The Thing (grab it here on disc or digital from Universal Home Video!) has only grown in power and influence — much like the mysterious, organism-absorbing alien creature that wreaks bloody, icebound havoc in the film itself.

Critics (and many moviegoers) panned Carpenter’s stone-cold sci-fi horror classic at the time of its 1982 release, but in hindsight, that proved to be a mere blip on the timeline of what’s since become one of Universal Pictures’ most enduring horror triumphs. The Thing’s imaginative power lives on in the minds of fans both old and new, inspiring new generations of sci-fi and scare creators, in the process, to evoke some measure of Carpenter’s magic mix of slow-boil tension, incisive grasp of human nature, and (of course) incredible practical creature effects in their own present-day productions.

For more on The Thing
Kurt Russell and John Carpenter Discussed the Ending of The Thing 'For a Long, Long Time'
John Carpenter Confirms He Knows Who Was Human at the End of 1982's The Thing
The Thing Oral History: The Cast and Crew Reveal Secrets of John Carpenter's Sci-Fi Masterpiece

“I firmly believe this to be his masterpiece, though it flopped on release, and there is plenty to be said about the summer of 1982,” says writer/director Ian Nathan, one of the creative minds behind The Thing Expanded — an upcoming fan-powered documentary that invites The Thing’s enormous global fan base to weigh in with their own unique takes on the movie’s lore and legacy.

From now until July 1, Nathan and his genre-obsessed colleagues at CREATORVC — the all-pro production team behind the documentary — are summoning fans across the world to share their own “unique insights, questions, and opinions” about The Thing, all to help shape the documentary into a truly crowdsourced celebration of Carpenter’s creature classic.

For Nathan and the rest of the CREATORVC crew (which includes SYFY WIRE’s own Josh Weiss, who is a producer and co-writer on the project), The Thing Expanded won’t be their first retro rodeo. They’ve already applied the same innovative fan-sourced ethos to the soon-to-debut sci-fi doc Aliens Expanded, after recognizing the need for fans to have a greater say while working on In Search of the Last Action Heroes and In Search of Darkness — the group’s inaugural pair of pop culture-celebrating documentaries.

When it come to The Thing, there’s definitely a ton of deliciously killer stuff for fans to unpack — whether it’s the timeless special effects from Bottin (an industry legend whose creature magic has spiced up genre classics like Total Recall, The Howling, and the Mos Eisley cantina crew from the original Star Wars), or simply stars like Kurt Russell (R.J. MacReady), Keith David (Childs), and the late, great Wilford Brimley (Blair) struggling to steel their nerves against an implacably sinister extraterrestrial force.

To get in on The Thing Expanded and let your voice be heard, visit the project’s landing page here before the July 1 deadline arrives — and keep scrolling below for more thoughtful views about the film from Nathan, who shared a trove of neat nuggets about The Thing Expanded (not to mention the movie itself!) in a recent Q&A chat with SYFY WIRE.

The Thing Expanded: Looking Back at John Carpenter's Creature Classic

SYFY WIRE: What is it about The Thing that suggested the film to you as an intriguing subject for a documentary of this kind? 

Nathan: Firstly, because there are many answers even to this question! It’s a much adored, much debated movie. To my mind, even though it came out in 1982, The Thing has a wonderfully cynical, super-smart seventies vibe (and fifties too, of course). The themes are so strong: paranoia, human nature, the concept of invasion (bodily as much as planetary), what it takes to survive, what it takes to lead, social fragmentation, environment, politics — I could go on.

There is the story of making the film. John Carpenter was at the peak of his powers, fueled by his love of Howard Hawks. I love how Carpenter refracts Western motifs (the hardscrabble outpost, the outlaw heroes) in other genres, as well as how he pioneered a new dynamic in horror, and how his, shall we say, salty personality is reflected in MacReady [Russell’s character in The Thing].

I firmly believe this to be his masterpiece, though it flopped on release, and there is plenty to be said about the summer of 1982. Nevertheless, The Thing survived, and grew in power. It became a cult. There are Rob Bottin’s magnificently gross yet mesmerising creature effects, which chart an entire universe of physical possibility with Lovecraftian scope. And there is the essential mystery of the story itself. It is a film that withholds as much as it shows, which makes it endlessly intriguing and endlessly worthy of discussion. How far has The Thing spread at any point? How sentient is it? Does it have a strategy? What do we make of the ending? 

SYFY WIRE: More or less with universal consensus, The Thing holds a place of distinction in the horror genre as a classic. Why do you think that is?

Nathan: Great art (and let’s go with that term), and in particular classic horror, has this capacity to remain relevant. It can comment on any era. And there is a metaphorical power within this film that remains undiminished. Think about the way Covid mutated. Think about the political strife of the modern era. The Thing makes sense of it all. Plus, there is this strange quality that practical effects (at their best) retain. They don’t seem to date like early CGI. Or even later CGI (mentioning no names, but a certain suspect prequel in this vicinity). The weird tactility of Bottin’s work gives it a surreal realism (if that makes any sense at all). The Thing is also just really good: the casting, the performances, the score, the pacing, the atmosphere, the bitter humour. It all works. 

SYFY WIRE: Have you already encountered any interesting anecdotes or stories that relate to The Thing, to John Carpenter and/or the cast, or to any little-known aspects of the original movie’s creation?

Nathan: It is early in the process, with the research part of the equation only just underway, and interviews still to come. But there is a curious story which really captured my imagination in terms of the source of stories. The author of the original novella, the classic Who Goes There?, John W. Campbell, recalled that his mother was an identical twin. And really identical. Such that at first glance even he couldn’t tell them apart.

However, his aunt didn’t like him much, she was very cold. But being close to her sister, even jealous of his place as her son, his aunt was often at the family home. So he would come home from school and sometimes be greeted by someone who looked exactly like his mother but showed no affection toward him whatsoever. Such that he became fearful of returning home. Here are the seeds for an entire career in writing science-fiction and horror. Here are the seeds for The Thing

SYFY WIRE: How do you hope that fans’ engagement and input can help to inform The Thing Expanded?

Nathan: My experience on Aliens Expanded was that the input from fans was priceless. I called them my hive mind. They came up with ideas and angles that had never occurred to me. Also it was so useful to understand what intrigued them. For example, they were really interested in the lives of the marines and discussing the world of the film beyond the screen. This interaction with fans is going to be doubly stimulating on The Thing. I want to feed on all their theories, all their analysis, every secret thought they have had about this film and its world. Fans are just such an extraordinary resource. I want to be infected with their genius. 

Click here to own The Thing now on the home-viewing format of your choice.