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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

13 Fascinating Facts About The Thing

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

“You gotta be f***ing kidding!” is arguably the most recognizable line in John Carpenter’s horror classic, The Thing. Oddly, it’s one of the scant moments of levity in the film, which is intentionally bereft of levity. Whether it scares you because of its musical score or with its creature, which was festooned with enough K-Y jelly to fill a swimming pool, The Thing’s sole function is just that: to scare.

The first film in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (it was followed by 1987’s Prince of Darkness and 1994’s In the Mouth of Madness), The Thing is gory and violent, portends the end of the world, and, ultimately, flies in the face of hope—and it’s one of Carpenter’s personal favorite movies. Here are 13 things you might not know about the 1982 cult classic, which was released 35 years ago today.

1. IT WAS A FLOP WITH AUDIENCES AND IT WAS PARTLY E.T.’S FAULT.

What The Thing lacks in comedy it makes up for tenfold in claustrophobia, paranoia, loneliness, and some of the most incredibly frightening practical effects in film history. Yet audiences were none too receptive to the film, at least at first, as The Thing earned just shy of $20 million at the domestic box office.

“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, 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.”

Part of the problem was that The Thing opened two weeks after E.T. And while E.T. featured a benevolent alien and a happy ending, The Thing starred a violent, evil alien and had an ending that left audiences scratching their heads a bit.

“I’d made a really grueling, dark film and I just don’t think audiences in 1982 wanted to see that,” said Carpenter. “They wanted to see E.T. and The Thing was the opposite.”

2. CRITICS HATED IT, TOO.

Critics looked on the film just as unfavorably as fans when it was released in June of 1982. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote:

“John Carpenter’s The Thing is 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—a virtually storyless feature composed of lots of laboratory-concocted special effects, with the actors used merely as props to be hacked, slashed, disemboweled and decapitated, finally to be eaten and then regurgitated as—guess what?—more laboratory-concocted special effects.”

Roger Ebert was only slightly kinder with his two-and-a-half-star review in the Chicago Sun-Times, writing:

“The Thing is a great barf-bag movie, all right, but is it any good? I found it disappointing, for two reasons: the superficial characterizations and the implausible behavior of the scientists on that icy outpost. Characters have never been Carpenter's strong point; he says he likes his movies to create emotions in his audiences, and I guess he'd rather see us jump six inches than get involved in the personalities of his characters … The Thing is basically, then, just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen. There's nothing wrong with that; I like being scared and I was scared by many scenes in The Thing. But it seems clear that Carpenter made his choice early on to concentrate on the special effects and the technology and to allow the story and people to become secondary. Because this material has been done before, and better, especially in the original The Thing and in Alien, there's no need to see this version unless you are interested in what the Thing might look like while starting from anonymous greasy organs extruding giant crab legs and transmuting itself into a dog. Amazingly, I'll bet that thousands, if not millions, of moviegoers are interested in seeing just that.”

3. IT’S NOT A REMAKE.

Though it’s often cited as a remake of the 1951 film The Thing from Another World, it’s really not. Though the two films do share the same source material—John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1938 story, “Who Goes There?”—Carpenter was clear that he “didn’t want to compete with the old film, which was greatly beloved by me. So I went back the novella [on] which both films were based.” Unlike the 1951 film, Carpenter’s movie features a creature that can perfectly imitate its victims.

Carpenter does, however, pay homage to the earlier film, most notably in the scene where he shows the alien’s icy tomb that has been removed from the snow and in the main title sequence.

4. A DOUBLE AMPUTEE WAS USED TO CREATE THE FILM’S QUINTESSENTIAL SPECIAL EFFECT.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie (often referred to as the “chest chomp”) occurs when Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) attempts to revive Norris (Charles Hallahan) with a defibrillator. As he presses the paddles to his patient’s skin, Norris’ chest opens up and Copper’s forearms disappear into the cavity, where they are severed below the elbow by a set of jaws inside Norris’ chest.

In order to pull this off, special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin (known for his work on Robocop, Total Recall, Se7en, and Fight Club) found a man who had lost both of his arms below the elbow in an industrial accident. Bottin fit the man with two prosthetic forearms consisting of wax bones, rubber veins, and Jell-O. Then, for the wide-angle shot, he fit the man with a skin-like mask taken from a mold of Dysart’s face (à la Hannibal Lecter) and placed the ersatz arms into the chest cavity, where a set of mechanical jaws clamped down on them. As the actor pulled his arms away, the Jell-O arms severed below the elbows. The rest is practical effects history.

5. MAKEUP EFFECTS ICON STAN WINSTON WORKED ON THE FILM, UNCREDITED.


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The making of The Thing was, by all accounts, a physically grueling process, especially for Rob Bottin. By the end of the film, Bottin succumbed to exhaustion and had to be hospitalized (he also had double pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer). In order to finish the laundry list of creature effects the film needed, Bottin enlisted the help of Stan Winston to complete what turned out to be one of the film’s most stunning, and earliest seen, effects.

Winston, known for his work on movies like Aliens, Predator, Edward Scissorhands, and Jurassic Park, would not accept credit on the film, however, as he was adamant that it was “Rob’s film.” Winston was thanked in the final credits.

6. KURT RUSSELL ALMOST KILLED HIMSELF WITH A STICK OF DYNAMITE.

Russell threw an actual stick of dynamite during a scene toward the end of the film. He did not, however, anticipate it being so powerful. Russell was literally blown backwards after the device detonated; this take was left in the film.

7. LEGENDARY COMPOSER ENNIO MORRICONE PENNED THE SCORE.

John Carpenter famously writes the music for most of his movies. However, being that The Thing was his first studio film, and because he was short on time, he asked Ennio Morricone to do the honors. Morricone, a five-time Oscar nominee known for his work with Sergio Leone, obliged and crafted a synthesizer-laden score very reminiscent of Carpenter’s own composing style.

8. THE U.S. CAMP AND THE NORWEGIAN CAMP WERE ONE AND THE SAME.

John Carpenter comes from the school of low-budget filmmaking and, as such, knows how to stretch a dollar. Instead of building an entirely new set for the Norwegian base camp scenes that appear early on in the film, Carpenter simply filmed those scenes in the charred remnants of Outpost 31, after it was blown up for the movie’s climactic finale.

9. IT FEATURES AN ALL-MALE CAST.

YouTube

The only females in the movie are the women appearing on a taped version of Let’s Make A Deal, Adrienne Barbeau’s (uncredited) voice as MacReady’s computer, and a blow-up doll that never made it into the final cut.

10. ROB BOTTIN WAS SENSITIVE ABOUT HIS CREATURES.

“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.”

11. CARPENTER FEARED THAT AUDIENCES MIGHT LAUGH AT THE FILM.

Carpenter was very nervous about how the audience might react until he saw some of Bottin’s effects in person. “When I started seeing some of the effects that Rob created—it was one in particular, one particular sequence where Charlie [Hallahan’s] head comes off the table and the tongue shoots out and it pulls across and turns over and grows stalks and walks across the floor—when I saw that I realized a great sense of relief because what I didn’t want to end up with in this movie was a guy in a suit,” said Carpenter. “Even as great as [Alien] was, and Alien was a terrific movie … in the very end, up stood this big guy in a suit.”

12. A STOP-MOTION SEQUENCE WAS FILMED BUT NEVER MADE IT INTO THE FINAL CUT.

For a pivotal scene near the end of the film where MacReady battles the enormous “Blair-Thing," Bottin called upon stop-motion expert Randall Cook for help. Cook created an entire miniature model of the set and filmed the wide angle shots of the monster using stop-motion animation. Despite only taking up seconds of screen time, the sequence took countless hours to create. Ultimately, Carpenter decided not to use the footage as his own eye could detect the stop-motion animation.

13. AN ALTERNATE ENDING WAS FILMED, JUST IN CASE.

John Carpenter and editor Todd Ramsay shot and cut an alternate ending to the film that was never used. Ramsay was concerned that the bleak, ambiguous ending would not test well with audiences, so he suggested that Carpenter cover his bases and have a spare ending ready to go. They filmed an additional scene where lead character MacReady (Kurt Russell) is rescued and appears in a room where he is given a blood test to determine whether he has been assimilated, which he passes. Fortunately for fans of the film, this alternate finale was not needed as Carpenter stood firmly behind the movie he had made—ambiguous ending and all.

Additional Sources:
The Thing: Collector's Edition, Special Features
John Carpenter's The Thing: Terror Takes Shape

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Warner Bros.
19 Shadowy Facts About Tim Burton's Batman
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Superhero movies are bigger than they’ve ever been before, but we arguably wouldn’t be here at all without 1989’s Batman. Produced at a time before comic book movies were considered big business, Tim Burton’s dark look at a superhero then best known for a goofy TV show is a pop culture landmark, and the story of how it was made is almost as interesting as the film itself. So, to celebrate Batman—which was released on this day in 1989—here are 19 facts about how it came to the screen.

1. AN EARLY MOVIE IDEA RELIED ON THE CAMPINESS OF THE CHARACTER.

As development of a Batman movie began, studio executives were still very tied to the campiness embodied by the Batman television series of the 1960s. According to executive producer Michael Uslan, when he first began attempting to get the rights to make a film, he was told that the only studio who’d expressed interest was CBS, and only if they could do a Batman In Outer Space film.

2. IT TOOK 10 YEARS TO MAKE.

Uslan lobbied hard for the rights to Batman, and finally landed them in 1979. At that point, the fight to convince a studio to make the film ensued, and everyone from Columbia Pictures to Universal Pictures turned it down. When Warner Bros. finally agreed to back the film, the issue of developing the right script had to be settled, and that took even more time. In 1989, after years of battling, Batman was finally released, and Uslan has been involved in some form in every Batman film since.

3. AN EARLY SCRIPT FEATURED BOTH THE PENGUIN AND ROBIN.

When Uslan finally got the chance to develop the film, he drafted legendary screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who had been a consultant on Superman, to write the script. The Mankiewicz script included The Joker, corrupt politician Rupert Thorne, a much greater focus on Bruce Wayne’s origin story, The Penguin, and the arrival of Robin late in the film. The script was ultimately scrapped, but you can see certain elements of it in Batman Returns.

4. TIM BURTON WASN’T THE FIRST POTENTIAL DIRECTOR.

Though Warner Bros. ultimately chose Tim Burton to helm Batman, over the course of the film’s development a number of other choices emerged. At various points on the road to Batman, everyone from Gremlins director Joe Dante to Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman was in line for the gig.

5. MANY STARS OF THE TIME WERE CONSIDERED FOR BATMAN.

The casting process for Batman was a long one, and involved a number of major stars of the day. Among the contenders for the title role were Mel Gibson, Bill Murray (yes, really), Kevin Costner, Willem Dafoe, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, Ray Liotta, and Pierce Brosnan, who later regretted turning down the role.

6. TIM BURTON HAD TO FIGHT TO CAST MICHAEL KEATON.

At the time, Michael Keaton was best known for his comedic roles in films like Mr. Mom and Night Shift, so the thought of casting him as a vigilante of the night seemed odd to many. Michael Uslan remembers thinking a prank was being played on him when he heard Keaton’s name pop up. Burton, who’d already worked with Keaton on Beetlejuice, was convinced that Keaton was right for the role, not just because he could portray the obsessive nature of the character, but because he also felt that Keaton was the kind of actor who would need to dress up as a bat in order to scare criminals, while a typical action star would just garner “unintentional laughs” in the suit. Burton ultimately won the argument, and Keaton got an iconic role for two films.

7. JACK NICHOLSON WAS THE FIRST CHOICE FOR THE JOKER, BUT HE WASN’T THE ONLY CHOICE.

From the beginning, Uslan concluded that Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play The Joker, and was “walking on air” when the production finally cast him. He certainly wasn’t the only actor considered, though. Among Burton’s considerations were Willem Dafoe, James Woods, Brad Dourif, David Bowie, and Robin Williams (who really wanted the part).

8. TIM BURTON WON JACK NICHOLSON OVER WITH HORSEBACK RIDING.

When Nicholson was asked to discuss playing The Joker, he invited Burton and producer Peter Guber to visit him in Aspen for some horseback riding. When Burton learned that was what they’d be doing, he told Guber “I don’t ride,” to which Guber replied “You do today!” So, a “terrified” Burton got on a horse and rode alongside Nicholson, and the star ultimately agreed to play the Clown Prince of Crime.

9. EDDIE MURPHY WAS ONCE CONSIDERED TO PLAY ROBIN.

Though the character of Robin was ultimately scrapped because it simply didn’t feel like there was room for him in the film, he did appear in early drafts of the script, and at one point producers considered casting Eddie Murphy—who, you must remember, was one of the biggest movie stars of the 1980s—for the role. 

10. SEAN YOUNG WAS THE ORIGINAL VICKI VALE.

Burton initially cast Blade Runner star Sean Young as acclaimed photographer Vicki Vale, who would become Bruce Wayne’s love interest. Young was part of the pre-production process on Batman for several weeks until, while practicing horseback riding for a scene that was ultimately cut, she fell from her horse and was seriously injured. With just a week to go until shooting, producers had to act fast to find a replacement, and decided on Kim Basinger, who essentially joined the production overnight.

11. TIM BURTON WASN’T OFFICIALLY HIRED UNTIL BEETLEJUICE BECAME A HIT.

Though he was basically already a part of the production, Burton wasn’t officially the director of Batman right away. Warner Bros. showed interest in him working on the film after the success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, but according to Burton they only officially hired him after the first weekend grosses for Beetlejuice came in.

“They were just waiting to see how Beetlejuice did,” Burton said. “They didn’t want to give me that movie unless Beetlejuice was going to be okay. They wouldn’t say that, but that was really the way it was.”

12. DANNY ELFMAN THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO BE FIRED UNTIL HE PLAYED THE MAIN THEME.

Danny Elfman is now considered one of our great movie composers, but at the time Batman was released he didn’t have any blockbuster credits to his name. He recalls meeting with Burton (with whom he had worked on Pee-wee’s Big Adventure) and producer Jon Peters to go over some of the music he’d already written for the film, and feeling “a lot of skepticism” over whether he should be the composer for Batman. It wasn’t until Burton said “Play the march,” and Elfman went into what would become the opening credits theme for the film, that he won Peters over.

“Jon jumped out of his chair, really just almost started dancing around the room,” Elfman said.

13. THE JOKER WASN’T ALWAYS GOING TO KILL BATMAN’S PARENTS.

In the final film, The Joker (then named Jack Napier) is revealed to be the gangster who guns down Bruce Wayne’s parents in the streets of Gotham City. It’s a twist that some comic book fans still dislike, and according to screenwriter Sam Hamm, it definitely wasn’t his fault.

“That was something that Tim had wanted from early on, and I had a bunch of arguments with him and wound up talking him out of it for as long as I was on the script. But, once the script went into production, there was a writer’s strike underway, and so I wasn’t able to be with the production as it was shooting over in London, and they brought in other people.”

Hamm also emphasizes that it was also not his idea to show Alfred letting Vicki Vale into the Batcave.

14. THE CLIMACTIC SCENE WAS WRITTEN MIDWAY THROUGH SHOOTING.

Though much of the film is still derived from Hamm’s script, rewrites continued to happen during shooting, and one of them involved the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker in a Gotham City clock tower. According to co-star Robert Wuhl, the climax was inspired by Jack Nicholson and Jon Peters, who went to see a production of The Phantom of the Opera midway through filming and watched as the Phantom made his final stand in a tower. Together, they somehow determined that a final fight in the tower was what Batman needed.

“The next day, they started writing that scene … the whole ending in the tower,” Wuhl said.

15. MICHAEL KEATON’S BATMAN MOVEMENTS WERE INSPIRED BY THE RESTRICTIONS OF THE COSTUME.

Batman fans still love to make jokes about the original costume, and Michael Keaton’s inability to turn his head (there’s even a dig at that in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), but the restrictions of the costume actually inspired how Keaton performed as the Dark Knight. In 2014, Keaton revealed that his performance as Batman was heavily influenced by a moment when, while trying to actually turn his head in the suit, he ended up ripping it.

“It really came out of the first time I had to react to something, and this thing was stuck to my face and somebody says something to Batman and I go like this [turning his head] and the whole thing goes, [rriipp]! There was a big f***ing hole over here,” he said. “So I go, well, I've got to get around that, because we've got to shoot this son of a bitch, so I go, 'You know what, Tim [Burton]? He moves like this [like a statue]!’”

“I'm feeling really scared, and then it hit me—I thought, 'Oh, this is perfect! This is perfect.' I mean, this is, like, designed for this kind of really unusual dude, the Bruce Wayne guy, the guy who has this other personality that's really dark and really alone, and really kind of depressed. This is it.”

16. GOTHAM CITY WAS REAL, AND IT WAS EXPENSIVE.

Production designer Anton Furst put a lot of work into the incredibly influential designs for the film’s version of Gotham City, and the production was committed to making them pay off. The production ultimately spent more than $5 million to transform the backlot of London’s Pinewood Studios into Gotham City, and you can see the dedication to practical effects work in the final film.

17. PRINCE WAS PART OF THE PRODUCTION EVEN BEFORE HE JOINED IT.

Batman famously features original songs by Prince, who wrote so much new material for the production that he basically produced a full album. Even before the Purple One was drafted to write for the film, though, he was influencing it. Burton played Prince songs on set during the parade sequence and the Joker’s rampage through the museum.

18. THE FILM’S MARKETING WAS SO EFFECTIVE THAT IT INSPIRED CRIMES.

By the time Batman was actually on its way to release, it was becoming a phenomenon, and the marketing for the film was inspiring a frenzy among fans. People were buying tickets to other films just to see the first trailer, and selling bootleg copies of the early footage. The poster, featuring the iconic logo, was so popular that, according to Uslan, people were breaking into bus stations just to steal it.

19. IT WAS A BOX OFFICE LANDMARK.

Though studio executives resisted the idea of a “dark” Batman movie for years, the film ultimately set a new standard for box office success. It was the first film to ever hit $100 million in 10 days, the biggest film in Warner Bros.’ history at the time, and the box office’s biggest earner of 1989—and that’s not even counting the massive toy and merchandising sales it generated.

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Karl Walter, Getty Images
When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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