A look back at Carpenter’s The Thing

Since we’ve already hit the first days of summer, it reminded me that thirty years ago we had a landmark season of genre cinema in 1982 with E.T., Tron, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II and Conan the Barbarian.

And somehow, God knows how I forgot, geeks recently celebrated the anniversary of one of the best genre classics ever, John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing, which was released on June 25, 1982.

In the summer of ’82, there was a blockbuster hitting theaters practically every week, and funny enough, two of the best remembered films of that summer, The Thing and Tron, were not hits when they were first launched. In fact, critics hated The Thing, and the film’s failure devastated John Carpenter, because he gave the remake everything he had.


Carpenter was a huge fan of the original, and at first was hesitant about remaking one of his favorite films, but he realized he could do it closer to the short story, “Who Goes There?,” and do the film his own way.


“Universal was excited by The Thing,” says Mick Garris, who was a publicist at the studio at the time. “They thought it was going to be a big movie. But when it became clear that E.T. was what audiences were looking for… I think they gave The Thing a good push, but when it didn’t initially resonate with an audience, I think they gave up real quick. E.T. really reached out and touched people’s hearts in a special way, where a more subversive movie like The Thing takes a while to gather its momentum. Hindsight is something that’s been kind to The Thing.”


But where E.T. was right on time for audiences that summer, Carpenter’s remake of The Thing was very ahead of its time, and it took the public a while to catch up to what Carpenter made. Many were appalled by the film’s gore, but make-up master Rob Bottin broke incredible new ground, and his effects still hold up today because they were done live on a stage without CGI.


These days there’s so many remakes, it’s a given they won’t be as good as the original, but with The Thing, Carpenter absolutely made an equal to the original, and he also surpassed it in many ways. As David Foster, producer of The Thing, says, “People appreciate what John did more today. It’s actually better now to my eyes. It’s a lot more tense. I think John was at the top of his game. He really knew how to scare the sh*t out of you.”


And as make-up genius Rick Baker, who was Rob Bottin’s mentor, says, “When I saw The Thing, I was just as blown away as anyone else was. In the old days Rob Bottin and I would sit around and go, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this? Wouldn’t it be cool if we did that? We talked about things that would be cool to do, then he did ’em all in that movie!”