Shocktoberfest #12: The Thing


Welcome back everyone!  We continue our Shocktoberfest celebration with one of the foulest vomit-inducing terrors ever to be witnessed.  There isn’t really any other way to refer to it other than the Thing.

The origin of the Thing goes all the way back to 1938 when science fiction writer, John W. Campbell, Jr. had his novella entitled Who Goes There? published in the August issue of the magazine Astounding Science-Fiction.  The basic plot of the story is that a group of scientists isolated in Antarctica find an alien ship frozen in the ice.  As they thaw it out, the alien pilot is revived and is discovered to have the ability to absorb the shape, memories and personality of any living thing it devours.  Fearing that any one of them could be the Thing, assistant commander McReady takes charge of the situation and has everyone submit themselves to a blood test.  Deducing that the alien blood can behave independently from the body, he dips a heated wire into each blood sample.  If the blood recoils from the heat, he can conclude that the suspect is a shape-shifter.  Eventually McReady determines who the Thing really is and destroys it, but not without great cost.

Campbell wrote it under the pen name, Don A. Stuart.
Campbell wrote it under the pen name, Don A. Stuart.

Little did Campbell know that his macabre tale would eventually go on to be adapted to film three times.

The first film was released by RKO Pictures in 1951 under the title, The Thing from Another World.  It varied from the source in many ways: different character names, the setting was in Alaska, and the Thing had a very humanoid look.  The film ended up being a moderate success.  While reviews of it at the time were mixed, it still was the top sci-fi film that year, beating The Day the Earth Stood Still and When Worlds Collide at the box office.  However, like its second adaptation, time has changed the way audiences view the Thing.


31 years later, Universal Studios–them again?–released its own adaptation of Who Goes There? but decided to make it more true to the original story.  Many of the characters were the same, the setting was correct, and with the advent of new special effects, director John Carpenter was able to portray the Thing is all its gory glory.  Unfortunately, The Thing did not perform as well at the box office as expected.  Critical response was mostly negative due to their disdain for the use of graphic violent effects, and despite starring Kurt Russell fresh off his success from Escape from New York, getting released two weeks after E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial and the same weekend as Blade Runner allowed the movie to get lost in a tide of sci-fi films with greater hype around them.  Roger Ebert said that film was disappointing but made for a good “barf-bag movie.”


If The Thing teaches us anything, it's that he who laughs last laughs best.
If The Thing teaches us anything, it’s that he who laughs last laughs best.

Time has a bizarre way of changing how we see things, and repeated viewings of both films have done them each service.  The Thing from Another World is now praised as the greatest sci-fi movie of the 1950s and was even preserved in the National Film Registry in 2001.  John Carpenter’s The Thing has gained a new appreciation for honoring the source material and pulling out all the stops to create a truly horrifying experience.  During the first winter evening at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, the crew watches Carpenter’s film every year.

As appreciation for the Thing has grown, so has it as a franchise, spawning comic books, video games and action figures.

I previously mentioned that there was a third adaptation, and due to the growing praise of Carpenter’s film, a prequel with the same title was released in 2011 to give a back story to the alien’s arrival.  This film is meant to take place in the same universe as the 1982 version.


A prequel with the same name...sure, that won't confuse anyone.
A prequel with the same name…sure, that won’t confuse anyone.

Seemingly by tradition, The Thing (2011) has not received positive reviews.  Roger Ebert even gave it the same score he gave to Carpenter.  But if maybe time will change how we view this prequel, and perhaps a new appreciation for its vision will grow as it gets watched again and again…that is, if anyone watches it.  This one has been nearly forgotten.  Time will be the judge.

The true horror of the Thing lies within its mystery.  It’s unlike anything from our world yet can disguise itself to be like anything from our world, and therein lies the terror.  It could be anywhere at any time and could consume you before you know it.


“The Thing” – Phil Harris

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