John Carpenter has been one of the reigning kings of the genre movie – especially horror – for decades, but he’s slowed down in the last decade to focus on music. Between 1976 and 1988, he made classic after classic, but not all of them were recognized as such at the time of release. And he was repeatedly subject to studio interference.
1982’s The Thing is probably John Carpenter‘s most critically acclaimed film today, and regularly comes near the top of lists of the best horror movies. But at the time, The Thing was not a critical or commercial success and it’s taken years for it become lauded.
Carpenter explained to Variety in his 75th birthday interview that the studio was supportive while he was making The Thing but “all of a sudden nobody liked the ending. [They said] ‘We want it triumphant.’ [Universal exec Sidney] Sheinberg said, ‘Well, you know what, it’ll be great when you have this big orchestra and they’re killing The Thing.’ That’s not the kind of movie we made, so we previewed it and it didn’t do so great. So then they were on me pretty bad to change it.”
Carpenter says that he fought to keep the downbeat ending, as the sense of fatality, futility, and doom is present from the beginning; “The movie was about the end of everything right from the start. You felt it right when that dog was running through the snow. You felt the feeling of it. And we were going to change that with some ending? That’s just not going to happen. So my cut went out and it was great.”
“Then the movie was attacked like nobody’s business. It was a hated, cursed movie for a very long time. And I was out of work and feeling pretty bleak. But you know, I’m happy that my movie was not compromised. I didn’t give in.”
Like The Thing, 1988’s They Live is also a science fiction movie and specifically an alien movie, blended with horror. Carpenter got some notes on that movie too “which I ignored completely, they didn’t want the aliens to be capitalists. They wanted to gut the whole movie. ‘Why don’t you make them cannibals from outer space?’ It was just ridiculous. But anyway, we did it and I got the movie I wanted to make.”
As it’s October, it’s the perfect time to catch up with John Carpenter’s classic horror movies if there’s any you still haven’t seen – something I’m planning on doing myself. You should also check out our guides to the best slasher movies, the best monster movies, and to the best Halloween movies. We’re also looking forward to Wednesday season 2.