Why The Thing Wasn’t A Hit When It Came Out, According To Kurt Russell

In an interview with Esquire, Russell explained that a possible reason why audiences took time to warm up to “The Thing” was that Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” had been released two weeks before Carpenter’s film. As opposed to Carpenter’s icy foray into an alien invasion from hell, “E.T.” posited a warm, cuddly rendition of extraterrestrials, while etching a story about childhood wonder, nostalgia, and found family. Moreover, while E.T. is a perceivable figure capable of compassion, the murderous, shape-shifting alien from “The Thing” cannot be seen, as it assumes the form of those we know and care about. Russell commented on this “paranoia” that the story posits and how it defied genre expectations at the time:

“It came out the same year as E.T. and we had an alien most of the audience couldn’t watch! It was just a story of paranoia, extremely well handled by a master. Yet at the time, it was just ‘Holy s***, what is this?’ What would you call that genre? The horror genre?”

“The Thing” is a loose adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novella, “Who Goes There?,” which follows an Antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the remains of an alien spaceship. While this premise forms the basis of Carpenter’s adaptation, the film shifts into horror-adjacent territories, especially with the abundance of mutating flesh, anthropomorphic body parts, and the atmospheric terror that grips the narrative. Although alien invasion films preceding “The Thing” have veered into horror, the way Carpenter handles the escalating paranoia of the ‘other’ pretending to be someone you know/trust situates the film into a territory seldom chartered before. It is a film devoid of warmth: here, bonds dissipate under pressure, people turn on each other, and there isn’t a single moment of respite.

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