John Carpenter’s The Thing: Going From Disaster to Horror Classic

The season of ghouls, monsters, and masked killers seems like the time to look back on John Carpenter’s The Thing. 37 years later is no milestone unlike a 50 year anniversary, but as networks play it for marathons of old school scary movies, it does stir up thoughts about how it went from a disaster at launch to becoming a classic today.

The seed started from a 1938 story by Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. The popular 1951 film The Thing From Another World was the inspiration behind Carpenter’s version. Rarely does a remake or sequel or spiritual successor rise above its predecessor, but it is hard to find anyone who will even say one word about the original source material or the Christian Nyby’s movie that started it all.

Production began in the 70’s and it was stuck in hell. Shifting from writer to writer and director to director, it was hard to find anyone to faithfully create this film. It finally landed on the Halloween director’s lap and it eventually came out to the world in 1982.

Ask most aficionados and they will say this is a classic, but it did not come off that way in the 80’s. At release, it was an utter failure from a revenue and review standpoint. Fans and critics hated it. Off of a $15 million budget, it only made $19 million domestically, not even a release outside of the United States. It got panned for its visual effects, an ambiguous ending that left to no happy conclusion, and the R rating did not help against friendlier releases like the Spielberg hit E.T.

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“The movie tanked when it came out,” Carpenter admitted in a post-screening Q&A at the CapeTown Film Festival in 2013. “It was hated, hated by fans. I lost a job [1984 film titled Firestarter], people hated me, they thought I was horrible, violent—and I was. But now here we are 31 years later, and here you are filling the theater.”

The New York Times wrote at the time, “The Thing, which opens today at the Rivoli and other theaters, is too phony looking to be disgusting. It qualifies only as instant junk.”

The ending was problematic for the studio and anyone who saw the film when it opened in theaters. Audiences often like happy endings that are neatly wrapped up with a big bow. A bleak conclusion leaving people, even to today, wondering hopelessly which of the two survivors is not human was not what was desired in the 80’s. Universal pressured for a change, which Carpenter had filmed, but decided to stick to his guns, resulting in one of cinema’s most dramatic, and ambiguous finales.

Today, its pre-CGI effects look stunningly horrifying, making it confusing that people hated it nearly 40 years ago. Some technical limitations were present, but that did not stop Rob Bottin (Se7en, Total Recall, Robocop) and his team when creating the horrifying, shapeshifting alien. Ideas like the creature breaking through the ice to attack the struggling scientists from below was tossed around, but nobody could figure out how to accomplish that.

The design of the monster and its mechanical elements were ahead of its time. Similar to Jurassic Park, it used robotics to move around and come to life. Bottin was meticulous and careful about his creation.

“Rob [Bottin] was always very sensitive about his creatures,” recalled cinematographer Dean Cundey. “Whether there was too much light on them. We always sort of joked: If it was up to Rob he would build the creatures to be incredibly interesting and imaginative and then not put any light on them because he was afraid of showing them.”

In 2019, anything can be possible with either CGI or using practical effects. Bottin had to get creative with his craft. When Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan) with a defibrillator, and Norris’ chest turns into a mouth that devour’s the doctors arms, Bottin had to find a way to make this iconic scene work. After finding a man who had lost both of his arms in an industrial accident, Bottin got the man with two prosthetic forearms made out of wax bones, rubber veins, and Jell-O. In the wide-angle, he fit the man with a mask taken from a mold of Dysart’s face and placed the arms into the cavity, where a set of mechanical jaws chomped down on them.

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The network television version was edited by Sidney Sheinberg. This scene altered the ending and other parts throughout. Carpenter dismisses this version as Sheinberg’s edition eliminated the director’s themes.

After a home video release and reevaluation from the audience and critics lead to a different conclusion about the film’s quality. Empire wrote, “In fact, The Thing is a peerless masterpiece of relentless suspense, retina-wrecking visual excess and outright, nihilistic terror, placing 12 men at an Antarctic station while a shapeshifter takes them over one by one.”

People were distracted by E.T. and some films are ahead of the times. Today violence on both TV and film is way more extreme, altering the view on blood and gore. A growing audience and home video is what took this from the trash and onto the mantel where the other beloved horror icons are placed.

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Images via Universal

 

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How I Went From a Slipknot Naysayer to a Die-Hard Maggot

Newer readers may not know, but long-time followers or more recent followers probably know how hardcore I am about my Slipknot fandom. Like somethings in life, I went from not caring to fall head over heels for that thing, the same goes for the nine-piece metal group. The journey took years, but after building up admiration for the most influential band in modern metal, I can say I will stay a maggot for the rest of my life.

I remember a friend of mine was over at my house. It was sometime between 2008 and 2010 when he showed my Psychosocial. He was not a fan but thought I would enjoy, yet I did not. The memory is a blur, but somehow, this mighty track did not grab me.

I went years dismissing their music until Junior year of high school, around 2013. A mix of news circling around about the band caught my interest. Plus I needed a book to read for my English class, so I got into reading because of Corey Taylor’s books.

Seven Deadly Sins gave me an appreciation for the vocalist. His humor and writing style showed me a bright side to his personality while his darker stories displayed the agony he has experienced. That pain made me understand a part of Slipknot more, which grew the fan that was developing inside of me.

After reading so much about Corey and one of the biggest bands on the planet, I decided I needed to give the music one more chance. I went onto YouTube, typed in “Slipknot lyrics” and went through until I found People = Shit, which instantly jolted me into the world of the Knot. It matched with my death metal roots along with so many other influences that I could hear, it changed everything.

I thought they did not have another song that could match the raw hatred that the monstrous opener of Iowa delivered, yet I was wrong because I went into utter chaos with Disasterpiece. As any pissed-off teen who loves metal, this was perfect that tracks like these came into my life.

Fast forward some time for the release of .5 The Gray Chapter. While the iconic Sophomore album was my main introduction, the tribute entry to the late Paul Gray was my first record to buy from the Iowa natives. That purchase cemented my connection.

The change within myself that got me to this point came from my own tastes. I started to get into musicians that defy the boundaries that are set. The masked nine-piece goes beyond music with their masks, live show, and overall packaging. Plenty of groups do the same, but none hit that same mark.

The bar was raised as Slipknot beat one another to be better, or for fun, if you know their wild early years. The balance of making visual art and music came together over years of hard work.

Another standout point that I look for comes from contrast. I heavily follow some bands that have a formula when creating music, which can be great, but I need something different for my ears to devour. A soothing melody, terrifyingly experimental sounds, and brutal heaviness come from The Knot, three ingredients that make for refreshing material every few years.

Not everything with them is consistent, and that is okay. Unlike many artists, these guys learn from their mistakes. The latest release, We Are Not Your Kind, that came out this year proves this. It is everything I love about the band and more, and it happened this way because those issues in previous albums were solved.

While music and all of the other creative pieces that make up the greatness of this prolific group are important, the one thing that gets me into anyone comes from a connection. Besides some exceptions, I mostly find musicians who I can relate to the lyrics and be moved by the songs. Slipknot has such raw emotion, unlike anyone else.

The latest record takes a deep dive into Taylor’s two-year depression that followed after a divorce with his second wife that was considered a toxic relationship. Dealing with that negativity as a sober man for the first time in his life delivered one of his most emotionally engaging albums ever. WANYK is full of agony, and it radiates throughout every track.

The tribute album to Gray had plenty to offer as much of the album mourned his lost, something that long-time fans felt deeply. I did not make much of an emotional connection to that due to my recency as a maggot, but later down the road, it would finally hit me.

The first two releases seem a lack of that depth with the excessive cursing and seemingly nonsensical lyrics, but something deep beneath the surface-displayed the troubles of the nine members. That hatred for everything resonated with people to boost their popularity early on. If you learn about people like Taylor or Clown’s struggles, then songs like Surfacing make a lot of sense.

One aspect outside of the music and look that launched to their success, and my fandom comes from the shows. It is hard to beat Slipknot at performing as they bring out a large production, their elaborate outfits, and chaotic energy. After years of lusting for one of their concerts, I got to go a few weeks ago, and I can say I may never see anything better.

 

Any great concert has all of the essentials for a spectacular show, but to truly embrace the community is another. Taylor’s power as a frontman engages an audience, unlike anyone else. I felt the power behind uniting with fellow metalheads, especially when we all shout lyrics like “people equal shit” and “we are not your kind.”

From the music to the message to the live performance, Slipknot has changed my life. I was a naysayer because I did not understand this band. Some musicians just need to check out the material, but these crazy headbangers need to be understood for full appreciation. There is a reason why most modern metal bands list a mask-wearing group as a top tier influence who will forever be unstoppable.

Remember, Long Live The Knot.

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Header image via Roadrunner Records

My Journey From Uncaring Bystander to Super Fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Longtime readers may know that the early days of this one-year-old blog that I was not a big fan of the MCU. That may shock people who have only read my later posts in the last six to nine months since I come off as a hardcore fan. The universe has not only sold me to go in to watch every new entry but to become obsessive about knowing every detail possible and consume all that I can. It took years, but now I am here to stay with the constant anticipation for Captain MarvelAvengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Theatrical releases alone, I have seen a decent chunk of the MCU starting way back with Guardians of the Galaxy then not going to see another Marvel film until Doctor Strange. A two-year gap, meaning I skipped three films, two of which are quite significant, Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War. Since the psychedelic experience from the surgeon turned wizard, I went into the theater for every superhero flick in this expanding world, but I was not sold yet.

By time Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians 2 released, I had gone back to see some of the past films I had missed out on. Civil War was a mistake since I had not known about so much of the universe at that point, but going back to rewatch it, the hero vs. hero story grew from my least favorite to one of my top favorites. The fan in me was developing, but not fully matured.

Here comes the tail end of the third phase when I have given into this juggernaut of a franchise. Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther sold me on the consistency of these movies because when seeing the trailers, I thought they both looked awful. I adore Ragnarok for its eye-catching visuals, constant sense of humor without taking away from serious beats, and some of the best moments of the entire MCU in this one film. Black Panther does not rank too high compared to some of the others (even though I rated it so highly in my review, I would probably give it an eight rather than nine), but it is the final piece to cement my fandom by being something different while having everything I already liked from the universe.

Three additional films coming each year with consistent quality helps the franchise thrive and for fans to keep having something to consume. Captain Marvel has arrived as Marvel Studios’ most powerful hero revealed in this evergrowing cosmos. Expect the typical cookie cutter pacing and story, while still being better than a lot of the pathetic blockbusters that lack any heart. Naysayers out there may have valid criticisms, but Carol Danvers will blast you into the afterlife if you decide to say that to her face.

Massive series of films that tie together happen all the time, but nothing is quite like what Marvel has built. Starting with some inconsistent movies and some flaws that continue today, but remain strong with its characters, balancing different tones, and piecing together so many movies with dozens of super personalities into something, unlike any other franchise.

Image via Marvel Studios