Is it a dog or isn’t it? Well, that’s the key question posed during the opening scenes of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). The Alaskan Malamute arrives at an American Antarctic research camp, pursued by a helicopter full of angry Norwegians from their own camp across the way. Before any of the Americans can figure out what the deuce is going on, the helicopter explodes, station commander Garry is forced to shoot the last crazed Norwegian, and the poor pooch is taken into their midst. The fools…
This version of The Thing is the second screen treatment of the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr., under the pseudonym “Don A. Stuart”. Despite criticism from fans of the earlier, black-and-white film starring James Arness, the much gorier and slimier John Carpenter adaptation stays closer to the original story about a shapechanging alien battling against an isolated and increasingly paranoid research team led by helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, in his second of four starring roles for Carpenter).
Jed (White Fang) plays the dog for much of the film, though not the opening chase. For that scene, Carpenter used a dog with a coat dyed to look like Jed. He does get plenty of screen time, however, and was praised by Carpenter for his acting ability. Jed passed in 1995 at the ripe old age of 17. By all accounts, he was a consummate professional and leaves behind a fine legacy in film.
Special effects wizard Stan Winston was responsible for the design of the dog creature. 1982 would mark his first Academy Award nomination, for the insipid Andy Kaufman/Bernadette Peters robot romcom Heartbeeps, but his collaboration here with fellow SFX icon Rob Bottin (King Kong, The Howling) insured it would not be his last. Before his death in 2008, Stan Winston had racked up 4 Oscars (one for Aliens, a pair for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the last for Jurassic Park).
The Thing marked the first time director John Carpenter didn’t score his own film, but he found a more than adequate replacement in the legendary Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly). Ambient noise also adds to the film’s signature sound. The howling Antarctic wind was actually recorded in the desert outside of Palm Springs, but you can practically feel it taking hold of your bones as the weather becomes an antagonist to be feared every bit as much as the alien horror. In a final bit of sound trivia, Carpenter’s then-wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau is the only female voice in the film, as the sultry-voiced “Chess Wizard.”
You know it’s bad when a bottle of J&B Scotch and a phone sex chess computer are what passes for intimate companionship. Now, Clark’s obsession with those yapping dogs of his don’t seem so crazy, does it? Beats watching videotaped episodes of Let’s Make a Deal.
Okay, so earlier in this countdown, I gave some deserved attention to Silence! The Musical. It seems those Kaplan scamps are at it again.
Oh, and also spoilertastic as it recaps the entire movie in song.
Please join us for the rest of these infamous “Dog Days of Summer” as we count down
“A Dozen Diabolical Dogs”.