According to Adam B. Vary at Variety, John Carpenter has been in discussions with Blumhouse to potentially reboot his masterwork, and my personal favorite movie of all time, The Thing. While this is pretty exciting news, the obvious question is, of course, is this a good idea? Reboots are risky propositions, and more than a few notable horror films have dropped the ball doing so.
Blumhouse has done Mr. Carpenter proud with their successful and scary re-imagining of Halloween. While giving a presentation at this year’s Fantasia Festival he was asked if he had anything else in development with Jason Blum, he offered up this nugget:
“I have? I don’t know about that. But we’ve talked about…I think he’s going to be working on ‘The Thing,’ rebooting ‘The Thing.’ I’m involved with that, maybe. Down the road.”John Carpenter at Fantasia Festival 2020
Pretty exciting news, right? It’s a bit curious though. The Thing is not exactly a movie that fits squarely within Jason Blum’s philosophy of movie production. Blum believes in low risk, high-profit ventures that keep the cost of films at around $4 million and giving the directors a lot of creativity. This is, after all the house built by Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Creep, Sinister, The Purge, and Happy Death Day. Each of those films shares a number of traits. They were done on the cheap, they were solid, simple stories, and they made exponentially more money than they cost to make. It’s great since if the movie doesn’t make much money, not much was invested. But when one of those movies turns into Get Out, and not only makes a metric ton of moolah but also gets to go to the Oscar Stage… that spreads the prestige around.
Another important aspect to Blum’s methodology is that he allows the directors an enormous amount of freedom, staying hands-off until the project reaches $4-$5 million, at which point the studio steps in to assist. Blum took a calculated risk, allowed Jordan Peele a lot of freedom to do what he wanted, and was rewarded handsomely. In a way, this is the Roger Corman school, but with a bit more of a pedigree.
This good fortune has allowed Blumhouse to delve into a grade up from the shaky-cam found footage fare, and into the realm of larger budgets. The Invisible Man, abandoned by Universal Pictures following the disaster that was The Mummy, ($125 Million) and showed Universal how to make a good scary remake of a classic on a tight budget ($8 million) and make it look like something that cost 10X that much. And, it made bank too! ($64 million to date.)
This brings us back around to The Thing. Blum believes strongly in finding movie ideas that have not been done before, so The Thing reboot/sequel is a bit of a departure from that attitude, but his willingness to use existing material with Halloween, and its subsequent success suggests that perhaps that a Thing movie would be an exception to the rule.
Remember that The Thing was also done by Universal, and following the success of Halloween and The Fog, they gave Carpenter a healthy budget ($15 million in 1980 money) and he used that money extremely successfully thanks to the technical wizardry that was Rob Bottin’s practical effects. He also had a fantastic cast of veteran stage actors and bypassed the original movie source material to use John W. Campbell’s more fascinating novella “Who Goes There” instead. It also was a financial bomb at the box office, not even making its money back, after marketing costs.
The critics at the time skewered the movie, and it may seem hard to remember now, but people were grossed out by the movie. The movie earned a reputation as being pure exploitation, and it wasn’t until decades later that people were able to dial into the paranoia and body-snatcher-on-steroids storyline. It was fear of your neighbor. Fear of your friends. Fear of disease. Fear of dogs. Fear of isolation. It was the embodiment of fear.
In the end, though, it was by many horror fan’s opinions a near-perfect horror movie. It is now revered as not only one of the best horror movies ever made, but belongs in the pantheon of all-time cinema classics, regardless of genre.
So, how best to handle a new Thing movie? This is what I would want to see in the production. A few suggestions:
- Do NOT do a shot-for-shot remake. The 2011 prequel attempted to do something similar and paled by comparison.
- Use practical effects! One of the reasons that this movie still holds up so well is that the practical effects still scare and horrify. Utterly convincing and it set a high standard for what can be done with physical effects. Again, the 2011 film, though ambitious, failed with its weak-sauce conclusion. Some of the CGI effects up to that point worked, but when Amalgamated Dynamics showed what they had developed with practical effects, it proved that the producers were a bunch of chickens.
- Don’t be afraid to locate this story outside of the Antarctic. The Dark Horse Comic “Sequel” set the story in the jungles of the Amazon. Or in a desert. The isolation was a great source of much of the paranoia. If you’re feeling really ambitious, drop the creature into an urban environment, and it becomes an end of the world scenario.
- Continue to use stage actors, rather than known Hollywood stars. One of the great reasons why The Thing was convincing was that the actors looked like regular people, not supermodels… except for Wilford Brimley, am I right? Also, the cast got a chance to work with each other in an early boot camp to role-play their scenarios. They all tapped into their inner method school and delivered us a crew who felt like they had been living and working together for months. For a great behind the scenes look at why this cast worked so well together, check out The Making of the Thing video.
- Tap into the Pandemic fears, making this into a contemporary story. The 6-foot distancing. The Masks. Our current fear of contact with each other is something that is now deep in our psyche. Now add into this that you should only eat from canned food and that you need safety in numbers while still keeping your distance, and now you’ve got a dilemma! We’ll still remember this part of our lives even if a vaccine arrives soon.
- Break the rules a little. Make this FEEL like the Thing, but keep us on our toes about how this creature works. One of the reasons the Alien franchise got stale was we became too accustomed to the beats of the story. By the third movie, it felt like the story had played out, and it has yet to recapture the spirit of the first two installations. If you’re going to do a reboot (and remember that Carpenter was rebooting Howard Hawk’s The Thing From Another World) you’ve got to bring something new to the party.
- When you change up the cast, change up the roles. One of the great fun elements of this story is the mystery and suspense of who has been infected. This also goes back to the casting comment I made earlier. Having a cast of interesting characters, but not well-known actors, it allows you to suspend belief about the various protagonists. Don’t make it easy for us to predict who has been infected.
- Adjust the pace. The Thing was masterful in how it blended its big effects stage pieces and the necessary, fascinating exposition. You will need both. And in the exposition, this is where some false assumptions can be placed… or new elements can be revealed.
I know that it stung Carpenter for many years that his opportunity for a big-budget was deemed a failure, despite knowing what a great piece of work he had produced. I hope that he is going to get another chance at this, as he has earned another shot at the brass ring that eluded him the last time. If not Carpenter, then I propose Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski who did what was perhaps the best homage to The Thing with their super gory Cosmic Horror film The Void. the would also certainly be able to do this on a Blumhouse level budget. I think Frank Darabont would do a great job based on his work on The Mist and The Walking Dead, and if Ari Aster or Jordan Peele would be willing to take a shot I would be thrilled!
So, color me cautiously optimistic. There is a lot of story to tell. I just hope that it is a fresh take, and not a rinse and repeat version of something we’ve already seen. It is encouraging that Jason Blum is willing to take some risks, and also that Carpenter is involved, even if his role is limited like Halloween. If Blumhouse pulls this off successfully I will be in horror heaven.
I’m not the only one at the Scariest Things whose favorite film this is. Robert is also a massive fan of this movie, and he has done a writeup of each of the essential films within the Thing Canon.
The Thing From Another World (1951) Dir. Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks
The Thing (1982) Dir. John Carpenter
The Thing (2011) Dir. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.