The Thing: John Carpenter and Keith David on the Infamous Ending

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June 1982 saw the release of not one, but two movies about aliens bonding with humans. Both of them are remembered today as early masterpieces that confirm their directors’ skill and vision. One, of course, is Steven Spielberg‘s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which released on June 11, 1982. Two weeks later came The Thing, directed by John Carpenter. But in 1982, only E.T. earned praise.

“In fact the film was an enormous failure,” Carpenter recently told The Guardian in his typically blunt manner in a feature that published Tuesday morning. But then that’s about as nostalgic as Carpenter often sounds, even while discussing his first studio picture which remade one of his favorite movies: 1951’s The Thing From Another World.

Although he scuttled the chummy tone of the 1951 movie , opting instead for the paranoia of the source material, the 1938 novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Carpenter still lavished in the big budget effects he could bring to the screen.

“Rob Bottin, our special effects creator, said early on that the Thing could look like anything, because it’s been imitating creatures across the galaxy,” recalled Carpenter. “That’s its survival mechanism – so it could do all sorts of different mutation things to the Earth creatures it imitates. I thought: ‘Oh man, I haven’t seen a creature do that in a movie before. Let’s do that.'”

And yet, despite the original premise and fantastic effects, audiences found The Thing repellent in ’82, especially with its ending.

“They wanted to know who the Thing was – which was left up in the air,” said Carpenter about the time he was forced to stand his ground. “They hated that but I don’t care, that’s the way I wanted to end it. The film was about the end of the world.”

Against the general reaction, there was one person who loved the ending from the start: Keith David, who portrays the stoic Childs. The movie ends with only Childs and MacReady (Kurt Russell) still standing, unsure if one or the other is the Thing and resolved to dying in the Arctic to prevent the creature from spreading.

“We played it various ways; as if I was the Thing, as if it was MacReady, and as if it was neither of us,” David told The Guardian. In the years since the movie’s release, some viewers have put together complicated explainers, “proving” that a particular character is or is not the Thing.

But David is unimpressed. “People wonder why there’s no breath coming out of my mouth in the cold after the station burns down, and say it had to be me. But I say that if I’m downstage of the fire you wouldn’t see steam coming from my mouth because there’s too much heat. That’s how I explain it, but it’s your movie, your experience. The Thing is whoever you think it is.”

One thing that David does claim for himself, however, is the meaning of the ending. “This was one of the first movies where the Black guy lasts to the final scene. I don’t think I’m the only brother who’s ever survived in a horror or sci-fi movie, but I’m certainly one of the few,” he enthused. “It was great foresight on John’s part.”

While Carpenter certainly appreciates David’s vote of confidence, he has no illusions about the public’s current opinion about The Thing. “I got fired because of it and was out of work for a while, but slowly its reputation changed,” he admitted, at least for a moment. “Not everybody’s convinced, though. There are still plenty of people who think it’s a piece of trash.”

The post The Thing: John Carpenter and Keith David on the Infamous Ending appeared first on Den of Geek.

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