After getting a frosty reception back in 1982 when it was released, it gradually made its way into the hearts of the masses, securing its place in the upper echelons of horror history.
Why and how this all happened is a very interesting story and it’s one that film expert and writer Jez Conolly covers in impressive detail in his latest book, ‘The Thing (Devil’s Advocates)’. And as we’re big fans of The Thing and John Carpenter, we thought it would be great to talk to Jez in more detail about it.
Interview with Jez Conolly
What can you remember of your first experiences with The Thing?
In the intro to the book I explain that my first sight of any part of The Thing was actually on a BBC news report concerning the perceived dangers of video nasties. In the report they showed two adolescents feeding a videotape into a machine followed by a shot of the opening titles of The Thing on the TV screen. So this report warning me of the dangers of such material led directly to me renting and watching The Thing! In those days all you can get was a fairly poorly panned and scanned copy of the film on tape, so in a sense I didn’t see it ‘properly’ until much later and the advent of proper aspect ratio DVD. But those early viewings clearly left their mark on me. There was something about the stark Antarctic landscape and the unspeakable horror that appealed to me more than any other film around that time.
And have you always enjoyed writing?
Yes I have. In the 80s and 90s I harboured ambitions to be an artist, but that proved a difficult nut to crack. Writing presented itself as an alternative and by the early 2000s I was co-creator of a satirical website called The Commentary Box, which we maintained for a couple of years. I started film writing in earnest around 2004 when I began a Masters in Film Studies. This led to working with the publishers that I’m still associated with today.
What inspired you to embark on this particular literary expedition?
Despite quite a bit having been written previously about The Thing I guess I felt there was more mileage in it. I especially wanted to expand on several themes that i think the film throws up which hadn’t been collectively covered before in one place.
Can you understand why The Thing initially got such a ‘frosty’ reception?
Yes – in 1982 the acceptable form of aliens was clearly ET-shaped. So the horrors of The Thing’s organism just didn’t fit. Also, the film is more in tune with some of the more downbeat cynical post-Vietnam/post- Watergate movies of the 70s. By the 80s, with Reagan in the White House there seemed to be a diminished appetite among cinemagoers for The Thing’s brand of bleak existentialism.
What is the most significant thing that makes The Thing worthy of your (and our) analytical focus?
It is a superb example of Carpenter’s film-making technique. He is a true master of cutting the widescreen picture and assembling his cast and sets within the frame. In the book I talk a lot about ‘intrinsic weighting’ which put simply concerns the positioning choices for characters within the picture in order to emphasise their traits. if you watch the film any time soon take notice of which portion of the screen carpenter positioned MacReady. You’ll see he’s frequently on the right side, apart from that section of the film around two thirds in when his humanity is brought into question, at which point he switches to the left side.
Are any other John Carpenter films worthy of similarly detailed analysis?
Well another writer has done Halloween in the Devil’s Advocates book series, so there’s one. Perhaps another would be They Live, although I won’t be covering it.
We’ve talked a bit about what we like about Carpenter’s work, but is there anything that you’ve not been such a big fan of?
If I’m completely honest I don’t think there’s really been a great deal from him since They Live which I could honestly rave about. A bit harsh perhaps, it’s good enough for me to think that he’s still able to make films. But this is the man who gave us Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, Escape From New York, not to mention The Thing, so he’s firmly and permanently ensconced as a great director as far as I’m concerned.
What do you think of the direction that horror cinema has taken since 1982?
I’m no fan of the ‘torture porn’ cycle of post-9/11 movies, but I do have a good deal of time for subjective POV movies such as The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Troll Hunter. I also think that The Mist will come to be regarded as an important horror movie in years to come.
What are you working on next?
It’s another book in the Devil’s Advocates series, this time concerning the 1945 Ealing Studios horror anthology Dead of Night. Nothing like as widely seen as The Thing, so one of the challenges will be engaging the more casual reader. But that’s part of the point of the Devil’s Advocates series: to champion and promote a movie that we think deserves more attention. It’ll be due out late 2015.
The Thing (Devil’s Advocates)
Jez Conolly’s book, The Thing (Devil’s Advocates) is out now and available to buy from Amazon:
The Thing (Devil’s Advocates)