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Behind the scenes of 'The Thing': John Carpenter's 1982 horror spectacular

The Thing is a bonafide cult classic. A science-fiction horror film directed by John Carpenter and written by Bill Lancaster in 1982 remains a favourite with fairweather fans and cinephiles alike. For that reason, it will forever go down in history as one of the finest showings of physical special effects that there will likely ever be.

Based on the 1938 John W. Campbell Jr. novella Who Goes There?, The Thing tells the story of a group of American researchers in Antarctica who encounter the eponymous ‘Thing’, a parasitic extraterrestrial life-form that assimilates, and then imitates other organisms. The film stars Kurt Russell as, R.J. MacReady, and features Wilford Brimley, T. K. Carter, David Clennon, Keith David, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, Richard Masur, Donald Moffat, Joel Polis, and Thomas Waites in supporting roles.

The film itself was produced as an adaptation of the novella following the popular 1950s film The Thing from Another World. The project was an untamed beast and went through several directors and writers, each with different ideas on how to approach the story. That said, the key reason we all love The Thing derived from Rob Bottin and his incredible creature effects. Of the film’s $15million budget, $1.5million was spent on Rob Bottin’s work, a mixture of chemicals, food products, rubber, and mechanical parts turned by his large team into an alien capable of taking on any form.

Bottin and Carpenter had previously worked together on the 1980 film The Fog and so their relationship was already established when the 21-year-old Bottin joined pre-production on The Thing a year later with a briefcase full of rubber, gas and glue. Bottin concocted a huge array of wild ideas from dead baby monsters, to chest mouths and giant spider legs sprouting from heads. He later admitted he had no idea how his designs would be implemented practically, but Carpenter did not reject them. Carpenter said: “What I didn’t want to end up within this movie was a guy in a suit… I grew up as a kid watching science-fiction monster movies, and it was always a guy in a suit.”

As aforementioned, creating The Thing was rife with problems and, during filming, those issues would rear their head in multiple different scenarios. In fact, the 21-year-old Bottin was actually hospitalised for exhaustion given his commitment to the project. Botton’s health would deteriorate and double pneumonia along with a bleeding ulcer was confirmed, issues doctors claim were due to his extensive stress and workload. The young creative admitted to “hoarding the work” and would often be found sleeping on set in order to save time on the commute. 

Things were spiralling out of control for Bottin, the workload becoming unmanageable and, in a bid to lighten the pressure, he recruited special effects creator Stan Winston to help complete some of the designs and, with it, Winston would become famed for his creation of the Dog-Thing, cementing his place within the annals of great cinematic moments.

Together, they went on to create some of the most notable physical special effects we have ever seen and landed The Thing its cult-classic status. It redefined what we thought could be done with materials you could likely find in your garden shed, and it shaped cinema because of it.

While the level of incredible creations Bottin supplies the film with makes the film a cult classic it is this working relationship which is the real winning factor in this film. With this in mind, we take a look behind the scenes of The Thing.