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.


Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

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

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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