Carpenter Week: Master moves into studio system and kills The Thing


After thriving in the independent film scene, director John Carpenter moves into the studio system and makes everyone remember The Thing.

The Career Heats Up 

After making two pictures for AVCO Embassy, The Fog and Escape from New York, John Carpenter is ready to make a splash in the studio system. More than proving himself behind the camera and the keyboard, the master of horror is looking to really turn heads.

With Universal passing on first director choice, the late Tobe Hooper, due to creative differences on their new horror film, Carpenter comes on board after impressing Universal with Halloween. Assault on Precinct 13 was a Rio Bravo love letter, but his next picture would be a full Howard Hawks remake.

John Carpenter’s The Thing — Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Man is The Warmest Place to Hide

More from John Carpenter

The film is The Thing. A more faithful adaption of the source material, The Thing from Another World, the movie is an absolute visceral experience. Again teaming with Kurt Russell, Carpenter’s film is truly stunning and downright scary. Ditching thematic underlinings, depending on how deep you want to analyze the picture, the film is a balls-to-the-wall horror experience. Viewing the film, you can almost cut the suspense, atmosphere and paranoia with a knife — the dread is palpable.

The Thing follows a group of researches, Outpost 31, in chilling Antarctica weather. After discovering a nearby outpost destroyed, the culprit is seemingly gone. But when a stray dog begins transforming into a creature on four legs, the group soon realizes the terror could be anyone of them. Slowly losing trust in one another, each man begins distrusting even his closes friend. And if they don’t act quickly, this Thing will soon take over the world.

The Thing About The Thing

Debuting on June 25, 1982, The Thing fails generating buzz and almost dies on arrival. With only select critics understanding its brilliance, the film makes a damaging $19.6 million on a $15 million budget. Some even calling the film “”instant junk” and  “a wretched excess,” it’s truly a failure for Carpenter. The dismal box office is attributed to  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Steven Speilberg’s feel-good take on aliens opening only two weeks before The Thing.

Eventually, the film’s failure sees Carpenter losing his deal with Universal — with the studio buying him out — and directing Firestarter. At the time, Carpenter rejects talking about the film for years. Speaking about the experience in a 1985 interview with Starlog, the film legend says:

"“I was called ‘a pornographer of violence’ … I had no idea it would be received that way … The Thing was just too strong for that time. I knew it was going to be strong, but I didn’t think it would be too strong … I didn’t take the public’s taste into consideration.”"

No Mr. Carpenter, it’s too elegant for tastes of the time.

Monster History Lesson

In the years since The Thing’s release, many consider it a true classic. Hailing the film one of the best science fiction/horror films in history, as well as considering it Carpenter’s best picture, people are embracing the film more than ever. In fact, it’s the biggest flop to success in the filmmaker’s illustrious career.

In 2008, Empire magazine names the ’82 classic one of the 500 best films ever made. Numerous publications name it one of the decade’s best, one of the best horror films ever, and its poster truly iconic. Stranger Things, The Mist and the PS3 classic, Resident Evil 4, all reference the classic. Ultimately, it’s a film showing reviews mean nothing — only time will tell if a film truly has staying power.

John Carpenter Week is almost over, but we have a lot more coming up in the days ahead. So don’t go anywhere, cause the best has yet to come.

Next: Carpenter Week: Director makes an Escape from New York

Fan of John Carpenter? Think The Thing is one of the director’s best? Let the carpenter clan know what you think in the comment section below.