It took a while but the 30th of “The Thing” is done.
Blade Runner comes tomorrow.
It took a while but the 30th of “The Thing” is done.
Blade Runner comes tomorrow.
article to follow
June the 25th 1982. On this day in history two incredible science fiction films opened at the same time. Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” Both films were ahead of their time in terms of visual design and creature effects and influenced the way movies looked for decades after. At the time of their release both pictures did quite poorly at the box office. “ET” had come out two weeks earlier and Spielberg’s masterpiece made the world turn all soft and cuddly in the way audiences viewed Science Fiction and aliens in particular. So these two dark and heavy films chased the good mood crowds away. 30 years later their popularity is without measure and both films stand out as classics. Reviewers and fans alike will say that both movies are the directors crowning achievements. I love both motion pictures immensely, but Carpenter’s version of “The Thing” stands as one of my all time favorite movies. My good buddy Rod Andrewson and I were there on opening night and I don’t really think either of us were prepared to experience what we were about to see. The coming attraction trailer’s we got for this one were very vague and showed nothing from the film. Being huge fans of Hawk’s original, the teaser only showed a block of ice with something moving inside of it followed by text saying, “coming this Summer”. On opening night however terror in movies took on a whole new meaning. Most of my popcorn wound up in the air and on the floor and Rods candy did just about the same. Great times to be sure and we both went out and took back as many friends, (or victims would be a more proper term) as we could for the rest of the summer! hard to believe that all happened 30 years ago……. Anyways!!!!!!!
If your a regular reader here your very familiar with the name John Carpenter. Johns films and music have always been amongst my favorites, and with today being the 30th Anniversary of “The Thing” I couldn’t think of a better way to remember this film than to have a quick chat with the master himself. John has done a lot of interviews as well as a great commentary on “The Thing” and every time there is a new discussion more interesting behind the scenes information comes out. Working on a location film is a huge undertaking and what you see on film is really the smallest part of the adventure. Watching the movie on screen you can only imagine that making “The Thing” was an incredible challenge on multiple levels. Ask anyone who was a part of this film and they will tell you that the production was hard but the end results were all worth it.
So without any further babble, here is John Carpenter answering a few questions about the making of “The Thing”
JE. Hi John, Thanks for taking some time today to talk about your film. I remember watching your first big hit “Halloween” in the 70’s, and in one of the background scenes we see Jamie Lee Curtis watching Howard Hawks “The Thing” on TV. It was obvious then that you were a fan and it was funny to see just a few years later you would be doing your own version. If I could ask how did this come to be. Did you approach Universal about doing the film or did they come to you???
JC. I was asked to do The Thing, I was a fan but I really didn’t want to remake this movie. It took a while but Universal finally convinced me to sign on. so I agreed and the adventure began.
JE. I was so glad that you took it on. When the trailers started showing in the theaters I was thrilled to see your name as the director. A lot of your previous films credited you with conceiving the screenplay. For “The Thing” you were taking on an existing story and I was curious to how much Universal allowed you to contribute.
JC. Bill Lancaster (the son of Burt Lancaster) and I wrote the story together. We based our version on the Original story “Who Goes there” by John Campbell. We stayed far away from Hawk’s film, and we really wanted to make our own story.
JE. Well You certainly did!!! For your Production designer you brought on John L. Lloyd. John has had a fabulous Career working on decades of Classic Television, and more recently some rather extravagant movies. What a treat it must have been to work with him.
JC. It was!! John was a blast to work with and he was so professional. He solved a lot of problems before they had a chance start.
JE. That was a brilliant idea to Use the US compound after it was blown up for the Norwegian camp in the opening of the film.
JC. Yes it worked out great. We shot all the Norwegian exteriors last using the burned out US outpost and saved a lot of money. John (John Lloyd) did a fantastic job utilizing the same location for both sets.
JE. I became a big fan of Mike Ploog’s art because of “The Thing” He does some brilliant fantasy work and I love his style of story boarding. How was it having him as a part of your team?
JC. Boarding the film was a very important factor especially because for the most part we were shooting the movie in order. Mike put together a book logging all of boards, as well as some illustrations of how a lot of the visual gags would work. Mike took on the task and really did a great job with it.
JE. Up to this point you had composed and performed all of your own scores. I was expecting the same with “The Thing” and was surprised to see Ennio Morricone’s name on the poster. I never knew the story about this so I was assuming that the scope of the show was huge and you didn’t have time to do it yourself, so you hired Ennio. HAAAA! Is that even close to what really happened?
JC. No not at all, Universal didn’t want me to score the film,,, They wanted something more for their movie. Ennio was available so we hired him and I couldn’t have asked for more. I was always big fan of his music.
JE. Ennio’s score defiantly captured your style, were you a part of how the score would be composed?
JC. Yes, We were able to work together on the score, and mutually came up with how it should sound. Very fun times.
JE. As far as your cast went you had no leading ladies, is that how it was Campbell’s story?
JC. yes the all male cast came from Campbell and the actors we chose were all great fun to work with. This was my third picture with Kurt Russell and my first with many of the others.
JE. Will Brimley pulled off quite a performance and he seemed like a fun actor to work with. From watching his other films he seems the same both on and off the camera.
JC. Brimley is Brimley, He really made his character (Blair) very believable and he was great to work with,, I liked him very much
JE. He is a good friend of my father in law and he says the same about you!
JE. This is also your third film using Dean Cundey as your director of photography. You two have had a great working relationship and I was curious to how you two work. I’ve been on sets where the DP not only lights the shot but dictates where the camera positions will be.
JC. I love working with Dean… No one can light a set like he does and what he did on “The Thing” was just great. As far as setting up the camera, I don’t let anyone set up my shots for me, Haaa.
JE. Watching “The Thing ” in Arizona was quite a treat, the theaters were always packed with screaming fans, and the local critics had nothing but praise for the film. This didn’t seem to be the case around the rest of the country. The reviews were harsh to say the least and the box office attendance was not what Universal was hoping for… You put a lot of yourself into your work so all of this had to have hit pretty hard.
JC. Yes it did… Critics are critics and they really didn’t like the film. “The Thing” was supposed to come out before “ET” but Universal changed the order of release so our movie came out a few weeks later. Audiences now wanted nice alien movies and I feel this really pulled the film down. What hurt me the most though was that the fans didn’t like it! They bashed it severely and I couldn’t understand why. This all really effected me.
JE. I can’t even imagine how hard those times must have been. You really do put a lot into what you do and I can’t believe that it was attacked so… Looking back on the film at the time of it’s release. regardless of how it was received, you as a film director have to be very proud of what you and your team put together.
JC. In perspective I am very proud of “The Thing”. It all came together and I was very happy with film.
JE. It must be rewarding to see how popular the movie has become today.
JC. I am, it took a long time for the audience to come around and it seems to have a cult following.
JE. Well John Thank you so much for taking the time to reminisce about”The Thing” and I am so glad we had a chance to catch up a bit. Take care and talk to you again soon.
JC. My pleasure.
In case you haven’t seen “The thing” yet here is a brief synopsis of the film and some images to wet your appetite.
It’s the winter of 1982 and a huge Antarctic snow storm is about to hit. Scientists at small American research base are stunned when a Norwegian helicopter begins to circle their camp, chasing and firing at a dog. When the helicopter is destroyed and the two passengers are killed, the dog is let into the base and roams free while the American’s try to figure out what has just happened. The American crew discover that their is a Norwegian base not too far from their own. So a the doctor and the US Helicopter pilot travel to the Norwegian base to see if their are any survivors. On arrival, they find that the place has been totally destroyed from the inside out. The two discover and large block of ice in one of the rooms that at one time had something frozen in it. Further exploration finds a frozen mans body in one of the burned out rooms He had committed suicide with a strait razor. On departure they make one more grizzly find. It’s of the mangled remains of what was at one time a person. They bring back the remains for further study and what the team discovers from the autopsies and by watching the Norwegians tapes leaves them all feeling that they are in horrible danger. As the clues are beginning to add up; the dog transforms into a horrible into a creature that attacks the other dogs in the kennel as well as the scientific team.. Fire seems to be the best weapon and the charred remains open up a box of more questions with very little answers. A new tweam is assembled and off again they fly back to the Norwegian camp and on this trip they discover the remains of a giant flying saucer frozen in the ice as well as the spot where the block of ice was cut from. They come to a terrible conclusion that they are dealing with an alien life form that has the power to transform and take the appearance of any living creature that it comes in close contact with. And man is the warmest place to hide. Paranoia sets in as the crew doesn’t know who the thing could be hiding in. Havoc ensues and one by one the the crew is lost as the Thing tries to survive. As the team’s #’s dwindle they discover that the creature has been building a spaceship under the ice using parts from their tractors and helicopter. The decision is made that the whole camp has to go at any cost before the thing can escape, or freeze again only to awakened when the rescue team comes in spring. Lots of story twists bring this horrifying to an open ended final and you are left wanting more.
Carpenter and his team really made one wicked tale with “The Thing” and Johns talent’s as a director shined oh so brightly !!!! His story took us on a two hour adventure, deep into a frozen world where fear, claustrophobia and paranoia are the emotional fuels that make this film so utterly horrifying.
Happy 30th John and to your amazing movie as well.
Finally I had time to finish an anniversary article so go back a post and read about “INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN” with guest appearance by Bob Burns
June the 19th 1957, A night of fright times 2. American International Pictures released “Invasion of the Saucer men” on a double bill with “I Was a Teenage Werewolf”. what an incredible night that would have been to experience it as it happened.. The story of the Teenage Werewolf will have to come later because this post is exclusively for INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN!!!!! I was introduced to this film when I was about 10 years old. Every Saturday night at 10:30 my dad and I would flip the TV over to KPHO channel 5 (our local Phoenix Arizona Television station) for the late movie. Channel 5 would present a cavalcade of genres to the small screen and every Saturday night, the best of Hollywood would takes us on new and exciting adventures. Sci-Fi seemed to be a big favorite of whoever programmed the broadcasting and it was always such a treat to see these fabulous old B&W movies. My dad would generally fall asleep in the first 15 minutes of the movie leaving me to fend for myself at some of the scariest moments my little mind could handle. One particular Saturday it was a a tough call between a space movie on channel 5, and a John Wayne movie on another station. Because my dad controlled the TV John Wayne would always win out. from the opening credits that I saw briefly of the space movie I was more than anxious for dad to fall asleep so I could switch the channel back and it was only a matter of about 20 minutes and he was out. I quietly switched the set over to Channel 5 and what I saw in the next 5 minutes terrified me beyond belief.. the scenes opened up on a teenage couple driving in the night woods with their lights off and in a flash of lightning this horrible things runs in front of the car and they hit it,, The couple jumps out of the car and more lightning flashes reveal a strange little body with a huge head pined under the car. while the couple tries to figure things out, we see the creatures hand fall off and crawl over to the tire. The severed hand has an eyeball on top of it’s veiny surface and as the eye is looking around sharp needles start to grow out of the finger tips…. next the hand dives at the tire and pops it from under the car…. This was all I could handle and I grabbed the dial and flipped it away from the horror that had just taken me over. I didn’t know what the movie was called I only knew it was a space movie and the scenes were so horrible that they haunted me for at least 20 years.. Fast forward to 1987 and my new sci-fi buddy Nelson Broskey and I are reminiscing about old movies and those scenes entered the conversation.. Without hesitation he said; OH that’s from “Invasion of the Saucer Men”. It took a while but we tracked down a copy and watched it and sure enough this was the movie that damaged me so badly!!! With this new knowledge I was an instant fan and not long after, Nelson and I tracked down a big movie and prop collector named Bob Burns,, I didn’t know who Bob was but Nelson knew all about him. We went to his house one evening and when he opened the door Rays of light emitted out into the yard and we were drawn in,,,,, it was like angels opening the gates of heaven and the light of God gently welcomed us to paradise. Bob’s house was a museum of artifacts with very recognizable robot and monster heads on the wall where you entered and a slight right turn past the stairs opened into a room of cases full of props. movie monsters. matte paintings, and all the things that were magic on the big screen. Bob was not only a fan of all of this stuff, but he had become the ultimate collector. In addition to his life long passion for Sci-Fi and horror he actually worked on a string of classic b movies from the mid to late 50’s. We all became good friends right away and frequent visits were always in order when Nelson would come to town. As time went on Bob would tell us stories of those fun days working with Paul Blaisdale on so many great movies including today’s classic “Invasion of the the Saucer Men”. For the anniversary I thought it would be fun to call Bob and chat with him about the film and he was very excited to reminisce and share his adventure with us all today. Invasion of the Saucer Men was based on a short story that was featured in the May 1955 magazine “Amazing Stories” and was written by, Paul Fairman. Bob say’s that Paul’s story was much more evil and terrifying than the comedic translation that the movie version took.
The film’s tale is a simple one and it begins with the opening of a book that states on the cover, “A true story”. The credits are revealed by the flipping of the pages which feature whimsical alien drawings by Paul Blaisdell (The man responsible for creating all the creatures and models for the film). Once the movie gets under way a narrative starts up By Lyn Osborn who plays a character named Artie Burns in the film. This true story is basically his account of the evening and how he encountered aliens from another world. While the narrative fades off we come across a couple of teenage smoochers (played by Steven Terrell and Gloria Castillo) parked up at lovers lane. They are about to get on their way to elope but instead run over an alien with their car. The Alien’s hand falls off and comes to life puncturing the kids tire leaving them stranded. The teens run to a nearby ranch (owned by Raymond Hatton) to call the police which jokingly do not believe them. The rancher comes home and chases the teens out of his house not believing their story and instead thinks they ran over one of his prize heifers. In the mean time a drunken fortune seeker named Joe Gruen (played by Frank Gorshin “The Riddler” from TV’s batman”) comes across the alien crushed under the teens car. He attempts to get the aliens body and take it home but is attacked by the other aliens who kill him by injecting him with alcohol from their needle sharp finger tips. Meanwhile a military unit has found the Alien craft and wind up blowing it up while trying to find a way in. Back in the woods, the Aliens swap out their comrades body with the man they just killed, framing the teens for manslaughter. The teens finally get to the police who are booking them for running over Gruen. The lovers escape the police and get a hold of Joe Gruen’s business partner and room mate named Artie Burns (Lyn Osborne) who believes the kids story and decides to help them out. Back at the army camp the soldiers are covering up all evidence that an alien space ship was once sitting there. The teens accompanied with Artie Burns journey back into the woods and encounter the severed alien hand that is stalking them, as well as the whole tribe of aliens who are moving in to catch the them. The trio discovers that the aliens don’t like bright car lights. While trying to keep their distance from the aliens the cars spotlight goes out and Artie is captured and injected with alcohol like his buddy was just a short time earlier. The teens decide to take maters into their own hands and race up to lovers lane and get the help from their friends. The gang all drive their cars with the lights out to the clearing where the flying saucer once was. They surround the aliens and turn on their headlights which in turn kills all of the saucer men. Artie Burns awakes drunk nearby and the story ends with a bit more of his narrative,,,, We see one more clip of the book with it’s final page saying “the end”, as the book closes the aliens severed hand is attached to the back cover which makes you wonder if the story really is over???
Production of “Saucermen” began on April the 8th 1957 and the live action was shot in 6 days at ZIV studios in Hollywood Ca. One additional day was for the VFX and was shot at the Howard Anderson studio for a grand total of 7 days for the entire film to be shot in. Bob Burns worked with Paul Blaisdell on most of his monster movies and I was so glad that he shared so many memories about their working together on Saucermen. Bob filled me in with all the above details as well as what is coming up next. Bob and Paul were on the set everyday performing in all the moments where the creatures would interact with cast. A group of midgets were cast as the Aliens and Paul and Bob created their terrifying masks and hands. Actor Lyn Osborn lended his vocal talents as the creatures strange little voices, and the noises he did were quite creepy. The midget cast were dressed in full head to toe suits and masks and were used primarily for full figure and medium to close shots. When it came time for detailed and extremely tight close ups, the masks would be worn by either Bob or Paul. If there was a scene featuring a single Alien hiding in the bushes, the monster would be played by Bob,, if you would see two creatures in the scene it would be both Bob and Paul. For the close up attack scenes Where you would see the aliens hand injecting a human or an animal, You would be seeing Paul working the hand, and Bob posing as the Victims. In a few scenes of the film Larkin’s prize bull will be scene interacting with both the teens and the aliens, this again was Bob acting with a big fake bull head. In one particular scene the teen lovers are in a stolen police car and the severed alien hand is climbing up the back of the seat to get them. Bob and another actress were doubling for Steven Terrell and Gloria Castillo, their job was to sit in the front seat of the car while Paul Blaisdell, dressed in black was stuck in the cramped back seat all dressed in black puppeteering the aliens severed hand. Bob says the heat of the lights in that car was grueling to say the least and it took quite a while to get the scenes done. Haaa, these guys did so much behind the scenes stuff that they’re practically in every shot of the film in one way or another. The film was directed by Edward Cahn, and Bob had nothing but praise for this man. Mr. Cahn came to the show very prepared and unless something went wrong, he would rarely shoot a second take. Working with actor Lyn Osborne was a big treat for Bob especially because he was a huge fan of Osborne. Lyn starred as Cadet Happy from Televisions first SC-FI show called “Space Patrol” from the early 50’s. Bob’s working with Lyn would be the same as you or I working with Captain Kirk or Darth Vader. Lyn was on his way to becoming a bigger star and getting larger roles but a brain tumor claimed his life only two short years later. What an awesome and memorable time this must have been to work with your favorite television idol…. Talking about all the sets for the show, Bob was saying that they were all built on one stage, and they were accessible at any time. Standing in the center of the stage you could see in one corner the exteriors of the police station and the diner, in the next corner you had the exterior for Larken’s farm. The next corner was all of the interiors and the rest of the stage was of the woodsy forest locations and all the roads for the various other scenes for the film. When it came to day seven, Paul and Bob went over to Howard A. Anderson’s VFX studio to spend the day shooting all the effects and insert shots for the film. The unions at the time weren’t as strict as they are today and an FX artist could do a lot more on stage than they can now. There was an FX coordinator assigned to the show and according to all accounts he was quite arrogant and very difficult to work with. He would constantly try to change what was simple and make it his own and of course much more difficult. He overloaded the pyro saucer with to much blast powder despite everyone saying so and completely over did out the effect. He re-rigged the elaborate puppet rig that Paul had created for the saucer landing, and it worked miserably in comparison. Next he glued out of scale ferns on a board for the saucer to land behind,,, and this went on for a a good part of the day. The crew, including Anderson gripped about the problems he was causing and the coordinator stormed off the stage and never came back. Once gone the rest of the filming was completed with a lot of laughs. The finished filmed was released just two months later on June the 19th 1957 and was double billed with “I was a teenage werewolf” as I was mentioning earlier. This film is classic from it’s time and is still a blast to see to this day. Ronald Stein composed a fantastic score (which you can get on CD) and it added so much to the story… This movie is a hard one to find and has not been released legally due to stubborn family ownership of the titles, so bootlegs and youtube are about the only way to see it. If you can track one down don’t hesitate to add it to your guilty pleasure collection. So with all that said Happy 55th anniversary to “Invasion of the Saucer Men” and a great big thank you to Bob Burns for sharing so much about this fun movie. Below are so pix from Bob’s private collection as well as some classic grabs from the film. Enjoy and stay tuned for more behind the scenes movie talk with the people who created them.
Howdy all, still on the road so article to follow when I get home in a week. So go and watch this one and we can all recollect next week.