This is the next entry in a Theatre… a Movie… and a Time, a series that was begun here. There are movies that you know instantly are great as you watch them, and then there are those that literally leave you slack-jawed and stunned. The latter landed on me with this one — so much so, it took me awhile to realize that it belonged with the former.
Childs: “What do we do now?”
MacReady: “Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens… “
June 19, 1982: What a year this was for films — especially the science fiction and horror variety. I mean E.T., Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Tron for sci-fi, and Creepshow, Halloween III, and Butterfly for horror (sorry, couldn’t resist). So, when I was given the opportunity to preview John Carpenter’s new film, this time a big-budgeted piece for Universal, the weekend before its scheduled launch, I jumped at the last-minute chance.
I went all by myself, too. Made so by my steady (she-whose-name-is-not-to-be-uttered) working the evening shift that Saturday at a med center in nearby Culver City. Still, to see the pre-release screening of The Thing at Century City’s Plaza Cinemas, the same place I saw JAWS years before, wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The theater was packed and my single ticket status really helped me to find a seat.
Back then, this theater received a fair amount of studio previews — the 20th Century studio lot was literally a block or two away. Plus, the crowd that night was decidedly more mixed than I would have expected. Middle-aged and older couples (likely out-on-the-town folk trying something new with a preview showing). Having these interlaced with the groups of young people (those you’d more likely expect at a horror movie, mind you), made it so.
The memory of it all remains indelible. I swear, every single breakout moment of gore and/or jaw-dropping scenes (like the iconic runaway alien head sequence) had dozens literally jumping out of their seats to leave the theater. And when the film ended, those left sat in total silence. This horror film opened officially six days later, to scant business. Which happened to be within days of another one-of-kind science fiction film‘s debut (which will be up next in the series).