Words alone can not sum up exactly how much I love John Carpenter’s THE THING. It’s the go to response when someone complains about remakes. “Well, what about John Carpenter’s THE THING? That’s a classic!” Although it wasn’t heralded as such upon its release, it sure as hell is considered one nowadays, especially by die-hard horror enthusiasts.
Scream Factory is giving it the special edition treatment with a brand new Blu-Ray release. And as they tweak one minor glitch in the original test discs, they’ve set the release date for October 11th. On top of a brand new, flawless 2K scan of the original interpositive, as well as all pre-existing documentaries and featurettes carted over from previous editions, plus a healthy batch of new features created exclusively for this 2 disc package, you’re looking at quite a collection. I was very humbled and honored to be asked to moderate the new commentary with legendary cinematographer Dean Cundey. I had interviewed Dean in the past, and he was a guest a few years back on one of the stand out episodes of the Killer POV podcast, but this was a rare opportunity to sit and watch THE THING with the man who shot it!
I really strongly advise you to check out the commentary when you get the disc, but there was one thing I haven’t stopped thinking about since we sat together for that session. Well, two things, really. The first I already wrote about several months back. Early on in the film, the contaminated dog walks into one of the characters’ rooms, implying that one of them is already “the thing.” All we, the audience, see is a shadow on the wall. People have speculated for years who it really is, but in actuality, it’s none of them. Dean confirms in the commentary it’s actually stuntman and former Michael Myers Dick Warlock! (See it for yourself here!) But character-wise, producer Stuart Cohen once was quoted as saying it’s intended to be Palmer.
Now, the beauty of THE THING is no matter how many times I see it, I always get so wrapped up in the story that I forget which of the characters might already be “the thing.” During the infamous “blood test” scene, I’m always on the edge of my seat trying to wrack my brain and recall which one of them it might be. It turns out to be Palmer, which makes the above theory make narrative sense. But here’s a tid-bit I guarantee you probably never noticed before, because I know I sure as hell didn’t until Cundey pointed it out to me!
Early on in the commentary track, I asked Cundey if he and John discussed doing a subtle lighting trick to imply who might be “the thing.” He waited until the blood scene to answer my question. As the scene began, he explained, “So we were looking for some kind of a subtle way, to say which one of these (men) might be human. You’ll notice there’s always an eye light, we call it, a little gleam in the eye of the actor. It gives life.”
“But not here. Not there.”
“There is right here.”
“And there is right here.”
“But there is no eye light (on Palmer). Let’s make it look subtle like he’s different and the audience won’t know until later. So he has dead eyes.”
For years, fans have speculated about the ending of THE THING. Are either MacCready or Childs infected by “the thing” in the closing moments of the film? People have come to the conclusion that maybe Childs is “the thing” because the lack of fog in his breath. Others think it’s MacCready because he doesn’t take a sip of the whiskey. (I like to remain optimistic that it’s neither, although that doesn’t bode well for them given their situation!) Carpenter himself shot down all these theories and said there is no definitive answer in there.
Or is there? If we take the subtle lighting of the eye trick that was used during the blood scene, and apply it to this final scene, does it reveal “the thing?”
“That was discussed,” Cundey explained on the commentary track. “Should one of these guys be treated as if one of them are “the thing?” But no, John very deliberately wanted to leave the question of if one, or both, or neither of these guys is “the thing.””
I’ll just say it. In those final shots. Kurt Russell has the gleam lighting in his eyes. Childs does not! Make of that what you will.
For more on John Carpenter’s THE THING, check out the original un-used creature designs right here!