The Thing 1982
Howard Hawks's original 1951 production of The Thing from Another World can be glimpsed playing on a TV that fateful October evening in John Carpenter's blockbuster hit, Halloween (1978). A few years later, Carpenter reteamed with his Escape from New York star Kurt Russell to do a remake.
But while the first movie version of The Thing was in atmospheric black and white, Carpenter's 1982 version is in widescreen, full color, and features some of the most revoltingly explicit, surreally imaginative special effects (courtesy of FX-meister Rob Bottin) that have ever been seen on the screen.
The film took three months to shoot on six artificially frozen sound stages in Los Angeles, with many of the crew and actors working in cold conditions. The final weeks of shooting took place in northern British Columbia, near the border with Alaska, where snow was guaranteed to fall. John Carpenter filmed the Norwegian camp scenes at the end of production. The Norwegian camp was simply the remains of the American outpost after it was destroyed by an explosion.
This Thing is chilling in every sense of the word, with plenty of terrifying, adrenaline-pumping moments that build it to a powerful and shockingly nihilistic conclusion. It's a harsh and uncompromising movie (hewing more closely to the original 1930s story "Who Goes There?") - - so much so that it probably never would have been given a green-light by any studio in the more cautious and doggedly upbeat 1990s. - - Jim Emerson
The Thing opened #8 and remained in the top 10 at the box office for three weeks. The movie was released in the United States on June 25, 1982 in 840 theaters and was issued an "R" rating by the Motion Picture Association of America (limiting attendees to 17 and older without a guardian). The film cost $15,000,000 to produce, and debuted at #8 at the box office, with an opening weekend gross of $3.1 million. It went on to make $19,629,760 domestically.
Carpenter and other writers have speculated that the film's poor performance was due to the release of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial two weeks earlier, with its more optimistic scenario of alien visitation (which received a "PG" rating from the MPAA). The Thing also opened on the same day as Ridley Scott's science fiction film Blade Runner, which debuted at #2.
The film received mixed reviews upon release. The film's groundbreaking makeup special effects were simultaneously lauded and lambasted for being technically brilliant but visually repulsive. Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film's scariness and special effects, calling them "among the most elaborate, nauseating, and horrifying sights yet achieved by Hollywood's new generation of visual magicians" and called the film itself "a great barf-bag movie".
However, he criticized what he felt were poor characterizations and illogical plot elements, ultimately giving the film 2½ stars out of 4. In his review for The New York Times, Vincent Canby called it "a foolish, depressing, overproduced movie that mixes horror with science fiction to make something that is fun as neither one thing or the other. Sometimes it looks as if it aspired to be the quintessential moron movie of the 80s".
Time magazine's Richard Schickel wrote, "Designer Rob Bottin's work is novel and unforgettable, but since it exists in a near vacuum emotionally, it becomes too domineering dramatically and something of an exercise in abstract art".
In his review for the Washington Post, Gary Arnold called the film "a wretched excess". Jay Scott, in his review for the Globe and Mail, called the film "a hell of an antidote to E.T.". Arnold continues, "There's a big difference between shock effects and suspense, and in sacrificing everything at the altar of gore, Carpenter sabotages the drama. The Thing is so single-mindedly determined to keep you awake that it almost puts you to sleep".
In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Astonishingly, Carpenter blows it." Despite mixed contemporary reviews, the film has been reappraised substantially in the years following its release, and now maintains an 79% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the site's consensus stating "Grimmer and more terrifying than the 1950s take, John Carpenter's The Thing is a tense sci-fi thriller rife with compelling tension and some remarkable make-up effects."
It's been listed as one of the best of 1982 by Filmsite.org and Film.com. The film ranked #97 on Rotten Tomatoes' Journey Through Sci-Fi (100 Best-Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies), and a scene from The Thing was listed as #48 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.
Similarly, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 17th scariest film ever made. The Thing was named "the scariest movie ... ever!" by the staff of the Boston Globe. In 2008, the film was selected by Empire magazine as one of The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. In 2011, The New York Times asked prominent horror filmmakers what film they had found the scariest.
John Sayles and Edgar Wright, cited The Thing. "The theater was full, and I had to sit in the front row", Sayles recalled. The Thing received nominations from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films for Best Horror Film and Best Special Effects, but lost to Poltergeist and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, respectively.