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Dismembrance of the Thing’s Past

Dismembrance of the Thing s Past


For all of Bottin and Carpenter’s efforts, The Thingdid a box-office face-plant on release, having the misfortune of debuting on the same weekend as E.T.—outgrossed by an alien with a beer gut who flew a bicycle into the face of a full moon. (Kurt Russell and E.T. both drank Coors.) But unlike E.T., the Thing deserves its own diorama among the frozen animal impressionists at the American Museum of Natural History. Right next to the snow wolves. As Bachelard once wrote, nature went mad long before man did. Just consult your local lobster guts: in Reverend Thomas R. R. Stebbing’s History of Crustacea (1893), an illustration of a lobster’s stomach “opened up to show the teeth, the central one of which has been supplied with eyes, nose and mouth to represent the lady in the chair.”

Despite The Thing’s reputable excess—having been revived in a decade not known for its restraint—the idea of vodka-infused Wilford Brimley–Thing assembling a UFO out of helicopter scrap (in an expertly carved ice tunnel, no less) is allowed to play out in our heads. At the BAM screening, I gauged the audience during the infamous scene where the geologist’s disembodied head sprouts spider legs and gets torched by a flamethrower for its trouble. One kid over from me, maybe thirteen, just shook his head. Big whoop. Not even a chuckle for the Lash LaRue bullwhip tongue. But did he catch a glimpse of Brimley dragging someone along the floor by his face? (Watching Brimley work the film’s Not-It nerves is a real pleasure.) The biggest crowd response was saved for a more human act near the end—Kurt Russell’s stunt double executing a dive roll when the Thing, in an uncharacteristically boneheaded move, grabs the dynamite plunger.

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Kurt Russell and E.T. both drank Coors! So did the guys in Smokey and the Bandit. 

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