America’s most creative science fiction and fantasy movie fans were in luck on June 25, 1982. Not only was the long-awaited ‘Blade runner’ released, but also ‘The Thing’, a film by John Carpenter, arrived in North American theaters that four months later would be presented at the Sitges festival.
The director was already considered one of the great innovators of fantastic and horror cinema. ‘Assault on the 13th District Police Station’ had become a small cult piece, ‘The Fog’ and ‘1997: Rescue in New York’ were two of the founding titles of the new fantastic and, above all, ‘Halloween night’ had proposed a radical inversion of the point of view in the genreas well as the revival of the ‘slasher’ variant.
All these Carpenter titles, to which we should add his extremely cheap debut, ‘Dark Star’, the television ‘biopic’ about Elvis Presley and a stimulating TV film with Hitchcockian roots, ‘Someone is Spying on Me’, they were B-series productions. When he made ‘La cosa’ in 1982, he had a production scope that until then he had not even dreamed of: 15 million euros of budget compared to the ridiculous 307,000 euros that ‘Halloween night’ had costor the less than six million invested in ‘1997: Rescue in New York’.
In addition, the director could directly materialize his devotion to one of the Hollywood classics that he has always appreciated the most, Howard Hawks. For Carpenter, ‘Río Bravo’, Hawks’ most emblematic western, is one of the best films in the history of cinema, an opinion also shared by Quentin Taratino. Carpenter always wanted to shoot a remake of ‘Río Bravo’, but since he didn’t have the money to make a Western film, he recreated the base situation of that western with John Wayne and Dean Martin – a small space besieged by some villains – in the key of urban police in ‘Assault on the 13th district police station’.
the outside threat
With ‘La cosa’ he was able to a direct adaptation of ‘The enigma of another world’ (1951), a science fiction film with a menacing creature from outer space conceived in the middle of the cold war, so it admitted pro- and anti-communist readings alike, such as ‘Invasion of the body snatchers’.
The film was produced and supervised by Hawks, who entrusted the production to his usual editor, Christian Nyby. Many aspects of the plot – the professionalism, the teamwork, the besieged space – were ‘Hawksian’.
Carpenter made his version accentuating some aspects of the threat and introducing elements of its time, such as viruses and infections. In one of the most remembered scenes of ‘The Thing’, the group of scientists from a station located in Antarctica undergoes a blood test to find out if any of them have ‘the thing’ inside: the terror of infections, but also the fear of not knowing if the person next to you is really who they say they areone of the great themes of the fantastic.
Both the Hawks production and Carpenter’s film are based on ‘Who’s There?’, novella by Don A. Stuart (pseudonym for John W. Campbell Jr.) published in the August 1938 issue of ‘Analog science fiction and fact’ magazine. In the story, investigators at the base discover a large spaceship with an alien buried in the ice. In their attempt to remove the ship, they end up destroying it, but not the creature, which becomes a multiform threat capable of inhabiting human or dog bodies.
From Elvis to Antarctica
After playing the king of rock in ‘Elvis’ and the one-eyed and cynical adventurer Snake Plissken in ‘1997: Rescue in New York’, Kurt Russell returned to put himself under the orders of the filmmaker to give life to the leader of the team. They would repeat in ‘Coup in little China’ and ‘2013: Rescue in LA’. Dean Cundey, Carpenter’s usual director of photography, knew how to go from the exhausting whiteness of snowy landscapes to the suggestion of what metamorphoses and is not seen. He wrote the soundtrack Ennio Morriconebut the truth is that the Italian composer presented a score very similar to that of the already recognized musical style of Carpenter himself.
In 2011 it was the Dutch Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.. who made another approach to the subject with ‘The Thing’, which is both a ‘remake’ and a prequel to Carpenter’s tape. And there is also a sequel in video game format, ‘The thing’, released in 2002.