Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning,” on which John Carpenter based They Live, was first published in the November 1963 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But Carpenter first encountered the story 23 years later, in its comic book adaptation, “Nada.”
The seven-page story illustrated by Bill Wray ran in Alien Encounters #6. The comic follows Nelson’s story pretty closely, and there are strong resemblances between the stories of They Live and “Nada,” especially the “storming the reality studio” climax (of which Nelson’s acquaintance William S. Burroughs would surely have approved) common to all versions of the story. But there are differences. Only Wray’s includes a Circle Jerks poster.
The opening panels of ‘Nada’ (available in its entirety here)
More significantly, the famous Hofmann (i.e., LSD) sunglasses do not appear in Nelson’s story or in Wray’s comic. Nelson’s hero, George Nada, goes to the theater to watch a live hypnosis act, and when he hears the command to awake at the show’s end, he suddenly realizes that he’s surrounded by outer-space aliens. The Fascinators, “the rulers of Earth,” are reptilian beings with too many eyes who control human beings through suggestion. In Nelson’s story, Nada doesn’t just see their awful stomach-turning alien monstrosity after waking up from his trance, he hears the terrible croaking alien language they speak to one another, and a constant stream of subliminal commands delivered in “bird-like” voices. The aliens tell him to “obey,” “work,” and—now that he’s on to them—die:
Suddenly the phone rang.
George picked it up. It was one of the Fascinators.
“Hello,” it squawked. “This is your control, Chief of Police Robinson. You are an old man, George Nada. Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, your heart will stop. Please repeat.”
“I am an old man,” said George. “Tomorrow morning at eight o’clock, my heart will stop.”
George Nada’s cruelty to his girlfriend (fiancee, in the comic), Lil, makes him an unsympathetic character and suggests that he might be seeing space reptiles everywhere because he is a delusional nutcase, not a possibility Carpenter’s movie entertains. When he sets out to “awaken” others, Nada first tries beating up the woman in his life. After violence doesn’t work, he steals her car, leaving her bound and gagged on the bed, alone in her apartment with a dead body, terrified. There is none of the comradely spirit or cheerful good-fellowship of the fight scene in They Live.
Ray Nelson’s bio is recommended reading. He claims to be the inventor of the propeller beanie and says that, as a young man, “he worked with Michael Moorcock smuggling Henry Miller books out of France.”
And John Carpenter still has some They Live sunglasses left over from his bubblegum-lacking, ass-withering Anthology tour. He forcefully repudiated anti-Semitic interpretations of They Live on Twitter earlier this year:
THEY LIVE is about yuppies and unrestrained capitalism. It has nothing to do with Jewish control of the world, which is slander and a lie.
This might be a perfect diversion if you’re a parent overseeing a party of tweens on Halloween. It’s a multimedia adaptation of John Carpenter’s The Thing for a flip book with an accompanying audio rendition of the narrative that uses the novella on which the movie was based and also smartly uses audio cues from the movie. If you can imagine a radio version of the movie, with visual accompaniment, it’s pretty much that, and you can enjoy it all in less than 25 minutes.
Called The Thing Read-Along Record Book, the project was the 2014 creation of the Space Monkey X Audio Workshop. I’m not sure what that is, but I do know that it’s overseen by someone named Rob Lammle, so at least I can give proper credit.
When I was a kid, they made record books of everything I loved – the Star Wars trilogy, Gremlins, Batman and Robin, Spider-Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even The Last Starfighter! But now that I’m an adult, I look at that time period (circa 1975-1989) and think, “Man, there are some really classic films that didn’t get the record book treatment!” Then again, back in the day, movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Total Recall, and Robocop were R-rated bloodfests made for adults, instead of the neutered, PG-13, slapfights made for middle schoolers that we know today.
The text comes from “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., the novella that supplied Carpenter with the plot for the movie. (By the way, if you have the “library binding” hardback tucked away on your shelf, it may be worth more than a thousand dollars.)
Inspired by this notion, I decided to start creating my own condensed, audio versions of these too-hot-for-record-book films. And I could think of no better movie to start with than John Carpenter’s 1982 cult classic The Thing.
Behold the “She Mask” a female version of the “Michael Myers” slasher mask created by Don Post Studios.
My enthusiasm for all things horror knows no bounds. I honestly can’t get enough of the genre and still look forward to Halloween with the zeal of a kid armed with a grinning, giant plastic pumpkin overloaded with enough candy to bring on diabetes overnight. One of my annual Halloween traditions is to watch the first three Halloween films during October—and it never gets old. For me at least. So, here’s the thing—even though I’d say I know my horror, I had no idea that the famous mask donned by “Michael Myers” in the film was made from a life cast of actor William Shatner’s face during the filming of 1975’s The Devil’s Rain.
But before we get to that, let me give you a quick history lesson on Don Post Studios who made the original William Shatner mask that would later become the face of evil incarnate thanks to Carpenter’s vision of a killer with a “pale face” and “human features.”
Known as the “Godfather of Halloween” Don Post founded Don Post Studios in 1938, the first company to create the rubber masks we all know and love today, including a line of masks based on the classic movie monsters of Universal Pictures such as Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolfman. In the 1970s DPS put out masks based on the characters from the television series Star Trek including one in the image of Captain Kirk and another of “Mr. Spock” as played by Leonard Nimoy. Though kids were digging dressing up like both actors, the sale of these rubber masks was dismal. This didn’t surprise the folks at Don Post Studios as they had originally wanted to put out a collection of masks based on the aliens and far-out monsters featured on Star Trek but were told by Paramount to stick with Kirk and Spock.
Both masks were sculpted by William Malone, a long time artist, sculptor, and mask maker who worked extensively with Don Post Studios. According to Malone (noted in the book Voices in the Dark: Interviews with Horror Writers, Directors and Actors), director John Carpenter once visited him while he was at work and made the suggestion that the Shatner/Kirk mask would be cooler if it was painted white—though Malone couldn’t understand why anyone, much less Carpenter, would be even remotely interested in such a mask. Of course, the release of Carpenter’s first Halloween film showcasing actor Tony Moran wearing the Shatner mask painted white in 1978 changed all that once the film gained popularity. Sadly for DPS, their licensing with Paramount for the Captain Kirk mask had expired and their backlog of masks were gone—making it impossible for them to cash in on the Michael Myers mask craze. They would later engage the services of sculptor Neil Surges to create a generic “Everyman” mask in 1986 which would become a huge seller for the company until they closed up shop in 2012.
So what about the “She Mask” version of Michael Myers? Well, that’s where this story takes a bit of a weird, left turn.
In 2001 Don Post Studios decided that a female version of their best-selling Michael Myers/“Everyman” mask should be a real thing. So they came up with the “She Mask” (which was also sometimes called the “Michelle Myers mask”) that came with long hair, pink lipstick, blue eyeshadow and a fierce eyebrow game. According to folklore about the mask, DPS only produced a small number of the deeply creepy monster mashup making it quite the covetable collector’s item. The mask did end up in a film in 2009 called The Poughkeepsie Tapes, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. I’ve posted a few pictures of the “Michelle Myers” mask below. If you need me, I most definitely won’t be hiding under the bed or in a closet.
The ultra-rare “She Mask” (also known as the “Michelle Myers mask” by Don Post Studios.
A still of the “She Mask” in action from the 2007 film ‘The Poughkeepsie Tapes.’
T-shirt design company Mondo has announced a product it will be releasing for Halloween, and it’s a reeeeeal good one: a board game version of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing, in which Kurt Russell does battle with a shape-shifting alien lifeform that is causing havoc at an Antarctic research station.
The full name of the game is The Thing: Infection at Outpost 31. The game is a collaboration between Mondo and USAopoly’s games division Project Raygun. In a cute touch, the Mondo “exclusive version” will be limited to 1,982 copies in honor of the year the movie was released.
Players can choose one of a dozen characters from the movie, and there is surely a social detection component to the game, in which players must “gather gear, battle The Thing, expose any imitations ..., and escape Outpost 31.”
This is actually not the first board game based on The Thing. In 2011 Mark Chaplin released a self-published game that also used the movie’s plot as an inspiration for gameplay.
Only thing I don’t get is, what part of the game do you say, “You gotta be fuckin’ kidding”?
As regular readers will know we have a love of movie posters here at Dangerous Minds. A film poster encapsulates in one single bound a shared memory, a liminal experience, an emotion (and our response) and some abstract of knowledge. A well-crafted movie poster can hit all the bases while still being aesthetically pleasing.
Always on the look out for new movie artwork I was more than tickled to find this selection of innovative and original takes on old pics by a group of young artists from across the globe. Apart from producing work for books, magazines, comics and what have you, the collective at Mad Duck Posters produce officially licensed artwork for a variety of classic movies.
What I like best about these posters for films by Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and Stuart Gordon is how the artists have interpreted each film in a throughly imaginative and contemporary way while still remaining true to their source material. Most of these posters are up for grabs—details here. Now I just have to find some more wall space…
If there’s one show that’s generating a ton of buzz right now, it’s the Netflix original miniseries Stranger Things. A lovingly-crafted homage to the 70s/80’s “Golden Era” works of Steven Spielberg, Stephen King and John Carpenter, this show is inspiring the kind of love we haven’t seen for a TV program in a long time. Having heard so much good stuff about Stranger Things, I went into watching it with high hopes indeed. On paper this show is so my kind of thing that it’s not even funny: John Carpenter is my all-time favorite director. Stephen King is the guy who inspired me to write, and I can trace my obsession with movies back to formative experiences watching Spielberg’s films obsessively as a child.
So what could possibly go wrong? Well I have a confession to make: Having watched the show now, for the most part I found it… well… kinda boring. I certainly didn’t hate Stranger Things or anything but I definitely didn’t find it anywhere near as “awesome” as everyone else did either. I think it’s basically just… okay. For most of the viewing experience I had a nagging sensation of “Is this it? THIS is the show people are losing their shit for?!” But in truth anything that gets this sort of across-the-board, almost scarily uniform praise—like this particular show—it should raise suspicions.
And before anyone jumps in to tell me that I “just don’t get it!!“my fanboy credentials are more than sound. The fiction I write is horror with teen protagonists! From 2004-2008 I was part of the synth/prog group The Evil Eye, taking influence from John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream and soundtracking various short films including the 80s/video nasties-inspired web serial TV Face. On top of working on these things I am also a child of this era, so I’m as surprised as anyone that I didn’t love the shit out of the show. And trust me, I don’t wanna be The Grinch Who Stole Your 80s Nostalgia Buzz, either. Stranger Things has some serious problems that people seem willing to overlook in the rush to hype it up. So in the interest of fair and balanced journalism, I have put together a guide to what I find to be eight of the major flaws with Stranger Things.
Dare you taste the Hatorade?
1. Winona Ryder
Don’t get my wrong, I love Winona. She’s the beating heart of some of my all-time favourite movies. I’m a Veronica. But BY GOD did her performance do my head in! To the point where I zoned out whenever she was on screen. Her role as “Joyce” (and I had to look that name up, that’s how unmemorable the character was) never strayed from the single, overbearing note of “despairing mother.” Which is not necessarily Ryder’s fault as she was given so little to work with. Still, color me disappointed. I lay the blame for this squarely at the feet of the writers/creators Shawn Levy and the Duffer Brothers. Stranger Things’ characters were paper thin despite some great performances from the child actors. But the adults? From Winona Ryder to Matthew Modine, not to mention the oddly clueless suburban parents and the totally clichéd sidekick deputies… sorry. In the end it seemed like only Steve and Will were genuinely changed by what they had experienced.
But I was willing to forgive all that until it got to:
The treatment of Barb neatly sums up everything wrong with this show. I knew “who” Barb was before I’d even seen a single frame of Stranger Things, which is why I was expecting a lot more from this “beloved” character’s role. But the way they handled her storyline left a bad taste. [SPOILER] After her abduction at the end of episode 2, Barb gets, what, maybe three more mentions over the course of the next six hours? And in the middle of one child disappearance investigation, the disappearance of another kid gets completely and utterly overlooked by the police? Please! I’ve seen mention that this is a comment on the general lack of urgency placed on missing-girl cases (which IS a thing) but that’s retroactively applying something to the show that just isn’t there. Once Barb has served her purpose to the plot she’s basically forgotten about. I get the feeling that the show’s creators expected the audience to feel a lot more empathy for Barb than they ever showed her. Simply put, it was cheap and lazy. And her predicament left dramatically unexplored.
3. The Pacing/Plotting
Let’s be honest here, the pacing was wildly uneven. Long stretches—entire episodes, in fact—passed where the plot barely advanced a single inch. Perhaps this is another homage as Stephen King has been guilty of this kind of uneven pacing and self-indulgent mood-setting in his fiction. But when he has to, he can knock that shit out of the park. Much of Stranger Things felt saggy and repetitive. It’s clear the Duffer Brothers and Shawn Levy haven’t got a grip on writing episodic television yet. Compare the plotting to the 2013 conspiracy-adventure drama Utopia (a masterpiece in my opinion, and a benchmark for mystery-thriller-TV, written by Dennis Kelly.) Utopia covers roughly similar ground: a world-threatening government conspiracy is uncovered through a pop-culture cypher by a ragtag gang of geeks along with a mysterious woman with major ass-kicking abilities. The twists and turns of Utopia‘s plot in the first three episodes alone took the viewer deeper into an unpredictable, exciting story while serving up some boundary-pushing scenes. By contrast, the plot of Stranger Things only really seemed to get going by the end of episode 3, and rather than shock us or surprise us, every plot twist had an almost mind-numbing familiarity. Like how is Will hiding in the electricity? Oh yeah: Because Spielberg.
4. The Relentless Pastiche-O-Rama
It got bloody tiring! While I did enjoy the show in places, at no point did Stranger Things ever transcend its influences to become something truly great with its own unique voice. And that is something the films it references managed to achieve, lest we forget. The show instead relies on a checklist of “spot-the-cliché” (well-produced clichés, but clichés nonetheless.) Despite a couple of entertaining peaks, after the end credits rolled I was STILL thinking about Spielberg, King, Carpenter, Lucas, Craven, Cronenberg, et al, and not the actual story I’d just watched. This seems to be true of almost everyone else talking about the show, too, which says a lot. That’s the fundamental problem with pastiche: not only does it have to be as good as the classics if it’s going to constantly remind us of them, it actually has to stand apart from them too if it wants to eek out its own place in that canon. Otherwise the referencing becomes distracting and makes a viewer wish they’d just watched the originals instead. “We have consumed more 80s pop culture than you!” is really not the best basis for telling a story. It certainly never answered the question as to why I should use eight hours of my life to watch it when I could watch a quadruple-bill of ET, Close Encounters, The Goonies and Poltergeist. With still time for a lil’ Freaks & Geeks thrown in.
5. Eleven’s Psychic Realm
And this was the moment when the relentless pastiching just became TOO much for me. When it spilled over from cute into ugly. When it went from being a constant, wearying nag of “now where have I seen that before?” to “I know exactly where I have seen this before, and GROAN.” The direct lift from Under The Skin (like Utopia, another modern masterpiece) felt incongruous. Not for Under The Skin‘s adult themes or modern setting, but because that film worked so damn hard to take us out of our comfort zones and show us something unique and genuinely alien. Seeing that reflective-black-empty-world (NSFW) again in the context of a cozy-nostalgia-80s-synth-kids-horror-adventure was both jarring and annoying. It was also a hugely missed opportunity: seeing inside the mysterious Eleven’s mind (literally) could have been a chance for the Duffers and Levy to show us something awesome and bizarre and new, but no, they cynically opted for more lazy pastiche. Instead of investing in genuine character insight or visual innovation, we got yet another “have you seen THIS film?” wink-and-nudge reference. Boring!
Which brings me to:
6. The Monster/The Threat
I think we can all agree that the monster in Super 8 was rubbish, right? Both its design and its role within that 80s throwback felt off. But having said that, you have to give JJ Abrams this: at least his monster had an endgame. It had a motivation. A back story. Even a primitive logic. But the Stranger Things monster (as yet un-named, even by the fans. How odd!) had no sense of having its own life beyond being a plot device. Not to mention that its feeding rituals (dead deer or fresh humans?!) and appearances in and out of our dimension were so loosely sketched as to lose any genuine sense of creepiness. Vagueness can be cool if the audience is confident that behind the twitching curtain lurks something truly terrifying (The X-Files coasted on this approach for years until it blew it with a farcically convoluted mythos: We saw behind the curtain and it was just some greasy-haired nerd typing in his Mom’s basement.) In horror for “The Threat” to work it has to be fully realized. This wishy-washy threat never gets satisfactorily explored or convincingly/consistently deployed and this was obviously going to be the case from the first episode. (See also: It Follows.)
To top it all off I just wasn’t a fan of the creature design. The five-second scene of the melting head from The Thing blew it out of the water.
And speaking of John Carpenter…
7. The Score
Everyone’s going on about how fantastic the soundtrack—by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin-based synth quartet S U R V I V E—is. And I’m not saying that it’s bad. It’s certainly authentic sounding, which is good. But just one question—how does it go again? I can’t remember, can you whistle the theme tune for me please? The beauty of John Carpenter’s original synth-based scores was not just in the signature sound palette he managed to conjure up, but in the memorable melodies he lodged in our brains, melodies that came back to haunt us long after the credits had rolled. He’s also the master at using minimal music cues to build genuine tension. In contrast, some of the Stranger Things music cues were way too much. The pounding drums during the sheriff’s breaking in at the research facility didn’t make the scene more tense, it just became grating. One of the things that tripped the score up in my mind, was the inclusion on the soundtrack of some genuinely atmospheric synth masterpieces that put the original score in the shade. I’m thinking in particular of this, one of my favourite pieces by Tangerine Dream (that was used to accompany a fist fight scene?!?):
Which brings me to…
8. The Hype
Ah, the hype. The Stranger Things hype is the thing that is really pissing me off, more than anything actually featured in the show itself. To the point where I felt compelled to write this piece so at least there could be ONE dissenting voice out there to balance the (suspiciously universal) adoration for the show.
It took a while, but John Carpenter has lately been getting due recognition for his considerable accomplishments as a composer.
Just a month ago the director of so many classic movies from the 1970s and 1980s released Lost Themes II, the follow up to his successful 2015 album Lost Themes, which so effortlessly made a decidedly ‘80s aesthetic sound fresh as a daisy.
It’s strange to think of someone starting a second career as a touring musician in his late 60s, but that’s pretty much what Carpenter is doing this year. In 2016 Carpenter will play his first-ever performances as a musician, hitting New York City and London as well as the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona and All Tomorrow’s Parties in Iceland.
Today came news of Carpenter’s intention to release two double-A-sided 12-inches featuring film themes from four of his movies from 1976 to 1981. Halloween (1978) will be paired with Escape From New York (1981) (available for preorder here), and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) will be paired with The Fog (1980) (available for preorder here).
The dueling 12-inches will be released by Sacred Bones Records, which also put out both of the Lost Themes albums.
Today was apparently John Carpenter Day at Sacred Bones, which also released this terrific video of an in-studio performance of the Escape From New York theme:
Dennis Hopper (dressed as his character ‘Lt. Boude “Lefty” Enright’) and director Tobe Hooper on the set of the 1986 film, ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’.
As I know many of our Dangerous Minds readers are also fans of movies that curdle even the blackest of blood-types, I’m sure that you will enjoy ogling these “behind the scenes” shots from some of my favorite horror films like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, the second installment of Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw franchise, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (that features a chainsaw-wielding Dennis Hopper, pictured above), and the films of the great John Carpenter, among others.
Dario Argento goofing around on the set of his 1977 film, ‘Suspiria.’
Images of Dario Argento not being laser-serious for a change on set (pictured above), to candid photos of actors hanging out during their downtime still dressed like their gory characters, as well as amusing shots of FX master, Tom Savini in action happily creating fiends that have frequented your nightmares for the last few decades, follow. That said, some of what you’re about to see should be considered NSFW. But you knew that the minute I said “chainsaw massacre,” right?
Director John Carpenter with P.J. Soles and John Michael Graham on the set of ‘Halloween,’ 1978.
You have to hand it to the folks at All Tomorrow’s Parties, they really know how to program and produce amazing events. Continuing their never-ending streak of fine concert festivals, ATP has announced a very unexpected special guest for their upcoming event—and when I say “upcoming” I mean July 2016—in Ásbrú, a former NATO base in Keflavík, Iceland. It’s none other than the great horror director—and musician—John Carpenter, who will be performing his soundtrack music live for the very first time
The director and composer behind Halloween, Escape From New York and Assault on Precinct 13 will perform his classic soundtracks and songs from last year’s originals album, Lost Themes, at the festival.
The musical retrospective will mark the first time Carpenter has performed his music live, which is something of a coup for the beleaguered festival. He’ll be joined onstage by his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies, both of whom co-recorded Lost Themes, in addition to a full live band and “spectacular stage production.”
If you were living in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, you might remember this interview which aired on that “magnificent obsession,” the legendary Z Channel, a local cable channel that catered to film nuts until its inevitable demise in 1989. The host here is Mick Garris, a renowned expert in the horror genre.
The early 1980s were such a great moment for the horror genre, and these three men were right at the center of it all. This interview was probably conducted in early 1982—Landis had recently come out with An American Werewolf in London, and was a year away from releasing the video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which anyone who lived through the era will tell you was not just any ordinary music video—it was a 13-minute horror movie on the zombie theme, and both song and video featured a memorable vocal bridge by Vincent Price. Carpenter, of course, had kicked off the Halloween franchise in 1978, had recently come out with The Fog, and would release The Thing in the summer of 1982. Cronenberg, whose previous two features were Scanners and The Brood, was promoting Videodrome, which would come out in 1983, the same year as The Dead Zone. And that’s not even counting something like the first Evil Dead movie, which came out in 1981, or Alien, which came out in 1979. The Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises started in 1980 and 1984, respectively, and that same period saw a whole lot of Stephen King movies too, like Firestarter, Cujo, Creepshow, and Christine.
It’s a pretty interesting interview—Carpenter insists that movies don’t scare him but then admits that seeing It Came From Outer Space when he was 4 years old did scare him. Landis thinks that there’s been a change in horror movies—back in the day, the movies were fairly good but then the effect is ruined by the appearance of a shitty-looking monster; by 1981 the movies had gotten worse but the monsters actually look pretty convincing. The names Rick Baker and Roger Corman are bandied about liberally. Both Landis and Carpenter bemoan the need for entire days being spent to make a single effects-heavy shot. Cronenberg complains about censorship in Canada and points out several positive aspects of the U.S. system (this was taped before the introduction of PG-13, which precisely mirrors a suggestion made by Cornenberg). Cronenberg shows decent self-knowledge when he says, “My films tend to be very body-conscious”—an understatement, to say the least.
Above all, this is a great video if you are a big fan of brown jackets.
As the film writer Anne Billson has pointed out most critics were wrong about John Carpenter’s The Thing when it was first released in 1982. In general they hated it and damned the film as “too phony looking to be disgusting. It qualifies only as instant junk.” While another reviewer squealed:
“The only avenue left to explore would seem to be either concentration camp documentaries or the snuff movie.”
The reviews were sadly all rather disappointing, more so for the fact these hacks had failed to grasp how Carpenter had created an adult, intelligent and highly faithful cinematic version of John W. Campbell’s source story “Who Goes There?”—the basis for Howard Hawks’ original production The Thing from Another World directed by Christian Nyby in 1951. Unlike the Hawks’ production, Carpenter kept snug with Campbell’s tale of paranoia and a shape-shifting alien. More importantly, his version was also a major progression in cinematic story-telling as the expected tropes of character and motivation were made quickly apparent without having to be overly explained or developed through dialog. A younger audience understood this, the older critics did not, and damned the film for what they perceived was its lack of emotional depth. This is maybe explained by the release earlier in the same year of Steven Spielberg’s grossly sentimental E.T.: The Extraterrestrial which received overwhelmingly positive reviews. However, as Billson notes, some of the opprobrium heaped on Carpenter had been previously dumped on Nyby:
Variety wrote: “What the old picture delivered – and what Carpenter has missed – was a sense of intense dread.” Which is funny, because in 1951, the same paper had said of Nyby’s film: “The resourcefulness shown in building the plot groundwork is lacking as the yarn gets into full swing. Cast members ... fail to communicate any real terror.”
The negative reviews had a deleterious affect on Carpenter, who later said:
“I take every failure hard. The one I took the hardest was The Thing. My career would have been different if that had been a big hit…The movie was hated. Even by science-fiction fans. They thought that I had betrayed some kind of trust, and the piling on was insane. Even the original movie’s director, Christian Nyby, was dissing me.”
Which was a shame, for John Carpenter is a true artist, one of American cinema’s greatest offbeat film directors, whose movies have had considerable influence on succeeding generations of filmmakers.
Film editor Vashni Nedomansky is a fan of Carpenter’s The Thing, describing the film as one of his favorites and going so far as to claim:
The story, characters, score, location and practical visual effects are some of the most memorable in film history.
He also writes that certain of film’s scenes “destroyed” him and “left me cinematically scarred as a child.”
As a fan of the film, Nedomansky recently edited together a comparison between the original storyboards by Mike Ploog and Mentor Huebner with Carpenter’s finished movie. It’s an interesting comparison as it reveals how collaborative a process filmmaking can be, as Nedomansky explains on his blog Vashi Visuals:
The visuals of both the desolate Antarctic and the ever-morphing alien creatures in THE THING were envisioned long before the movie was shot. Extensive storyboards were drawn by artist Michael Ploog and Mentor Huebner so that all the departments of the production were on the same page in their preparation for the shoot. This is nothing new…but the similarity between the storyboards and the final imagery shot by legendary DP Dean Cundey is staggering. Storyboards are often only a guide, but in this film they were so specifically rendered that they became gospel. The detail and artistry of Ploog’s work up front, allowed the crew to have clear and defined goals on those frigid shooting days in both Alaska and Canada.
To demonstrate this point…I’ve taken two scenes from THE THING and laid down the storyboards next to the shots in the final edit of the film. The video below examines the discovery of the alien spaceship and the transformation of Norris in the shocking scene that still haunts me today. Just like Hitchcock worked with Saul Bass to create the famous shower scene in Psycho…Ploog crafted beautiful storyboards for Carpenter so that the time on set was best utilized to tell the story.
You will find more storyboards from The Thinghere and Anne Billson’s BFI Classic book on John Carpenter’s The Thing can be found here.
John Carpenter originally wanted to direct westerns just like his hero Howard Hawks. But those kind of movies weren’t so popular when Carpenter first started making films at the University of Southern California in 1968.
It was here he made Dark Star, a homemade science-fiction black comedy, which Carpenter later described as “Waiting for Godot in space.”.
I didn’t see Dark Star until it turned up one Monday night on BBC TV in the late 1970s. By then I was a believer at the First Church of John Carpenter having seen his second and third movies Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween. I saw Assault on Precinct 13 at the Edinburgh Film Festival 1977 and knew, as the credits rolled and I drifted out into the warm-breathed night, this was the work of modern American cinematic genius. After Assault on Precinct 13, I had to see every movie Carpenter made. His work inspired a near religious devotion.
Unlike today where we have multiple outlets to view films in amongst the distractions of everything else, back then there was only the cinema, which were usually built like temples to magic and light. Without disc or tape to pause and stop and rewind the scenes to be scrutinized frame-by-frame-by-frame, we had to memorize film sequences and dialog from (usually) one viewing. Such extracts we would later recreate and spool through in our minds like fundamentalists who learn-by-heart and recite long religious tracts.
So, it was with Carpenter—he was a name, an auteur, whose films, like those of Hitchcock, Fuller, Powell, Russell, Fassbinder, Anderson, Kubrick, Boorman, Peckinpah, Polanski, Fosse, Fellini, Richardson, Truffaut, Chabrol, Pasolini, Jarman, Brooks, Waters, Wajda, Friedkin and Scorsese, demanded to be seen.
After Halloween (with Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance) everyone knew what to expect from a “John Carpenter Movie,” and he didn’t disappoint. Next up was The Fog, a perfectly thrilling ghost story, and then in 1981, Escape from New York, with Kurt Russell channeling his inner Clint Eastwood as Snake Plissken.
And then Carpenter made (arguably his greatest movie) a remake of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World.
The Thing is his masterpiece, a film of such cinematic brilliance, it is near perfect.
And yea, I have kept the faith, and enjoyed Big Trouble in Little China, was thrilled by Prince of Darkness, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, and even kept true to some lesser works such as Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, and so on. John Carpenter is one of America’s greatest film directors, whose movies have made cinema better. You can’t ask for much more than that.
This documentary with a mouthful of title, John Carpenter: Fear is Just the Beginning, The Man and His Movies was made in 2004, and features everyone you could hope to have in a tribute to the great man, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Nick Castle, and the late, great producer Debra Hill.
“Possibly the best thing we have seen over the entire festive period…” says John Robb over at Louder Than War, and who could disagree? Animator Lee Hardcastle retells John Carpenter’s The Thing in 60 seconds, using claymation and children’s TV favorite Pingu. Sheer bloody magic.
Director’s Cut: ‘Pingu’s The Thing’, after the jump…
There seems to be some confusion: This October will see the release of The Thing, which is, apparently, a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. If that’s the case, then I’ll save my dollars as I know the ending - everyone is killed except an Alaskan Malamute that escapes (after a disastrous helicopter chase) and infects Kurt Russell’s science station with an alien life form.
If it’s a remake, well - why bother?
John Carpenter’s The Thing was a remake of Howard Hawks’ classic 1951 film The Thing From Another World.
Hawks’s original was an unforgettable classic, an adaption of John Wood Campbell, Jr.‘s fanastic short story, “Who Goes There?” - and is one of the greatest science fiction movies of the 1950s (along with Them!, Inavders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers).
As for Carpenter’s remake, I thought it one of the best films of 1982 - it reinvented the original, gave it a dark, terrifying twist, and had incredible special effects by Rob Bottin (and Stan Winston).
So now, here’s a new version, which leaves me thinking “O, FFS,” as it again confirms Hollywood’s bankruptcy of ideas , and the unwillingness or inability to invest in new talent, new ideas, and new scripts. But make your own mind up - here’s the trailer and the official synopsis:
Antarctica: an extraordinary continent of awesome beauty. It is also home to an isolated outpost where a discovery full of scientific possibility becomes a mission of survival when an alien is unearthed by a crew of international scientists. The shape-shifting creature, accidentally unleashed at this marooned colony, has the ability to turn itself into a perfect replica of any living being. It can look just like you or me, but inside, it remains inhuman. In the thriller The Thing, paranoia spreads like an epidemic among a group of researchers as they’re infected, one by one, by a mystery from another planet.
Paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has traveled to the desolate region for the expedition of her lifetime. Joining a Norwegian scientific team that has stumbled across an extraterrestrial ship buried in the ice, she discovers an organism that seems to have died in the crash eons ago. But it is about to wake up.
When a simple experiment frees the alien from its frozen prison, Kate must join the crew’s pilot, Carter (Joel Edgerton), to keep it from killing them off one at a time. And in this vast, intense land, a parasite that can mimic anything it touches will pit human against human as it tries to survive and flourish.