In 1982, I along with three other friends set out for Vancouver British Columbia to see a movie that looked like no other. Of course I would later find out that this film was in fact a remake of a schlocky sci-fi film called THE THING FROM OUTER SPACE starring James Arness as a giant carrot from outer space. Well he was n't really a giant carrot, that would have been something to see, but an alien who had come back to life after being frozen in the Antarctic ice.
The original THING was based on a short story/novella by John W Campbell jr called: Who goes there? The premise of the story is much like the Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS in which you don't know who to trust and people getting knocked off. In the case of WHO GOES THERE? Someone among the scientists is not who they appear to be and subsequently the group faced with isolation begin to turn on each other. While the original THING FROM OUTER SPACE completely abandon the spirit of Cam[pbell's story, director John Carpenter embraced it completely.
On that day in 1982 I saw the trailer and convinced a group of friends, mostly stoners, to drive 55 miles to Vancouver so we could watch this new Sci-Fi horror which was getting rave reviews for it's story and special effects. The movie was also featuring a former child star named Kurt Russel who was sporting long hair and a beard, looking nothing like his Disney characters THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES.
We spilled out of the car an hour or two before the movie, I believe we smoked some pot and as we made our way through the streets of Vancouver I was being warned by my pals. "We just drove an hour, this movie better be worth it Mark."
I just smiled and nodded. I had seen John Carpenter's "Halloween" and knew that the special effects artist for The Thing was none other than Rob Botin who had pioneered special effects on films like THE HOWLING. I knew this was going to be good.
We entered the Cineplex and took our seats, after getting our fill of munchies and waited for the movie to start. During this time a few rows ahead there was a fist fight and an ejection, but when the curtains rolled back all was calm. In Carpenter's version THE THING actually opens with two Norwegian men in a helicopter chasing a Husky across the frozen tundra of Antarctica. It is more than apparent that they are trying to kill it as they drop grenades and fire on it. The Husky makes its way into another camp known as US Outpost 31 where the Norwegian are in tow. As it happens one of the men is killed when he drops a grenade while the other is shot by Captain Garry played by Donald Moffat. At this point everyone is in on it. We know that Husky has something to do with the Alien creature, but nothing prepares us for what happens next.
The Husky is taken into the kennels with the other dogs and I, along with my stoned friends, watched in awe as the dog undergoes a gory and impressive metamorphosis in which its head literally explodes and it's body sprouts spider legs and tentacles that absorb and duplicate other dogs in the kennel. I literally looked around at my pals who were glued to that screen. This was like nothing any of us had seen before.
So starts the paranoia. A monster that duplicates people and duplicates them perfectly. As they stand in the snow, one of their own already struck down by the nefarious monster, Kurt Russell's character RJ McCready declares: I know I'm human. And if you were all these things, then you'd just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn't want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It'll fight if it has to, but it's vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it's won.
And so begins the distrust that is the nucleus of John W Campbells: WHO GOES THERE?
When we walked out of that theater, the buzz wearing off, one of those stoner pals said to me. "I am never going to forget that Husky."
I was vindicated, but John Carpenter did not receive the well deserved accolades for what was, in my opinion, his best film. THE THING was knocked out of the top spot by Steven Spielberg's blockbuster ET and though it would go on to be a cult classic, Carpenter would pay a price for its performance in the theater. He was originally scheduled to direct Stephen Kings Firestarter, but was dumped. Firestarter, directed by Mark L. Lester, employed powerful actors like Martin Sheen and George C Scott, but was like most King adaptions at that time a dismal failure.
John Carpenter's THE THING on the other hand has gone on to becme a cult classic which has stood the test of time.
Enter the Norwegians.
Now, almost thirty years after Carpenter gave us an ensemble cast and a riveting storyline the science fiction/horror community waits with some apprehension as a new chapter is introduced with the prequel to John Carpenter's brilliant adaption of John W Campbells story. Will it stand up to the scrutiny? Will it be true to its roots? Little is known, but fans of Carpenter's version wait and no doubt pray that this new film will be a new variation on a cult classic.