Edgar Wright Remembers Seeing, And Being Scarred By, The Thing For The First Time

When we look back on the iconic films from the summer of 1982, we typically discuss their artistic and commercial influence on the medium. What we don't do nearly enough is dig into how they shaped the next generation of filmmakers.

While millions of youngsters left movies like "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," "Poltergeist," "Blade Runner," "Conan the Barbarian" and "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" dreaming bigger than ever, a select group strode out of the theater determined to realize their own big-screen dreams. They studied how these movies were crafted, taking note of basics like camera placement, staging, and editing. Then they picked up the family's video camera or, if they really meant business, hit the local photo shop and bought an honest-to-god film camera. If they had the patience to hone their skill and the ability to tell captivating stories, they might've made the leap to becoming professional filmmakers. In time, a select few emerged from this group to become the Spielbergs and Lucases and Scotts of today.

Edgar Wright is one of those filmmakers. The director has enthralled critics and fans with modern classics like "Shaun of the Dead," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and "Last Night in Soho." He lives and breathes cinema. He knows as much about movies as anyone I've ever met. So when it came time to once again muse over what might be the summer of 1982's finest work, John Carpenter's "The Thing," rather than rehash my own thoughts, I shot him an email asking for a paragraph or two explaining how the movie impacted his development as a filmmaker. I was not surprised when he delivered more than that.

While the folks are away, The Thing shall play

Wright and I were both eight when "The Thing" hit theaters on June 25, 1982, so we share the experience of being forbidden from seeing the movie in theaters. "I wish I had a cooler story about seeing 'The Thing' for the first time. The cooler version would be this: I was eight when it came out and sneaked into a screening (after a matinee of 'Grease 2') and immediately felt like an adult film fan as the credits rolled." Instead, Wright had to wait a few years for the movie to play on network television in the United Kingdom. "I certainly knew of ['The Thing'], but only from black-and-white stills in Starburst magazine that revealed little about the content." He was especially captivated by Drew Struzan's eerie theatrical poster and the gnarly VHS box bearing the tagline "Man is the warmest place to hide."

As Wright recalls, "My parents didn't have the money to get a VHS recorder. Thus, if a 15- or 18-certificated film hadn't been rented by my older brother's friends and watched illicitly in the afternoon before the parents returned, then I hadn't seen it." The burgeoning, eleven-year-old cinephile finally got his chance to behold Carpenter's masterpiece when it played uncut on television one night while his parents were out (a once-a-year rarity at most in the Wright household). The timing couldn't have been more propitious. What happened next is seared forever in Wright's memory.

Screams and snooker

"My brother and I watched it in the kitchen with the lights on, and, I cannot lie, at the sight of the first sticky set piece with the dog's head peeling and bloody tentacles spreading, we FREAKED OUT and changed channels to the snooker on BBC2. The change from this freakout set piece to the quietest sport on television was memorable, and this pattern repeated itself whenever we were brave enough to return to the Carpenter film. Man amputated by teeth in chest? Switch back to the snooker. Palmer's face melting after the blood test reveals he's The Thing? Switch back to the snooker."

Wright hails "The Thing" as an "ice-cold classic" that stands alongside Ridley Scott's "Alien" as the pinnacle of sci-fi/horror filmmaking. "But," he says, "unlike 'Alien,' which has been a little sullied by endless spinoffs and WWE grudge matches, the gnarly, knotty, never-bettered monster mayhem in Carpenter's film has retained the power to shock. CGI may continue to develop and proceed, but, still, there's no contest against the nasty nightmare fuel of Rob Bottin's creations." He's not alone in his adoration of Bottin's trailblazing work. Fellow Gen-X filmmaking genius Guillermo del Toro once told me Bottin's creature f/x represents the absolute pinnacle of the craft.

The assimilation is complete and irrevocable

Wright closed out his effusive remembrance by paying homage to the master of horror responsible for a decade's worth of sleepless nights. "I know John Carpenter was forever disappointed by the stone-walling the film received in 1982, and its critical reappraisal is cold comfort now. But perhaps this film was always destined to worm its way into our affections. It's now fully assimilated into our bloodstreams and will dominate forever."

Amen to that. So if you've got a precocious, eleven-year-old horror fan living under your roof, maybe set up a viewing replete with a snooker release valve. "This partial viewing of the film only made its sheer force of memorable nastiness grow in my imagination," says Wright. "I proclaim it the best and worst way to watch 'The Thing.'"