Five things we learned about John Carpenter's horror classic 'The Thing' at EW's CapeTown Film Fest

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Image Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Entertainment Weekly

You know you’re among some true horror fans when below-the-line filmmakers get eager cheers.

At the Entertainment Weekly CapeTown Film Festival on Thursday, the mention of frequent Carpenter collaborators cinematographer Dean Cundey and special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin got lots of applause and cheers. But a standing ovation was reserved for the man of the hour, horror master John Carpenter. The celebrated director of all things gross and creepy participated in a Q&A moderated by American Cinematheque programmer Grant Moninger before Antarctica-set sci-fi horror flick The Thing screened at the packed Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The event marked the third night of EW’s inaugural CapeTown Film Festival.

Among the audience were some familiar faces from the world of horror movies, both seasoned scarers and the next generation of monster makers: Brian Andrews, who played Tommy Doyle in Carpenter’s Halloween, and Wayne Anderson, who was a finalist on the most recent season of Syfy’s Face Off both attended the event.

Though The Thing is now a beloved cult classic and is viewed as one of the films that made 1982 the best year in history for summer movies, it wasn’t an immediate success upon its release. “The movie tanked when it came out,” Carpenter told the crowd on Thursday. “It was hated, hated by fans. I lost a job, people hated me, they thought I was this horrible, violent — and I was. But now here we are 31 years later, and here you are filling the theater.”

Read on for five things we learned from Carpenter about The Thing at the CapeTown Fest screening:

The elements were just about as brutal as they look on screen. At Tuesday’s opening night of CapeTown Fest, Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige told the audience that Iron Man 3‘s Tennessee winter scenes were actually shot in sweltering North Carolina summer weather. That was not at all the experience of the cast and crew of The Thing when they filmed in Stewart, British Columbia. “Oh my God, it was cold,” Carpenter recalled. “It was miserable. There were no girls. It was an all-male crew and cast. It was horrible.”

The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes can take some credit for Kurt Russell’s disciplined acting. When Russell and Carpenter started their celebrated partnership with 1979 TV movie Elvis, Russell was “an enormously trained actor,” said the director. “He comes from Disney training. By that I mean he had to know word perfect the script. He had to hit his marks. The script supervisor would cut if he was off word. He is one of the most trained actors I’ve ever worked with.”

There are some sequences Carpenter wanted to do but couldn’t with 1980s technology. Though The Thing has been praised for its pre-CGI craze practical effects, Carpenter said there were concepts that didn’t make it to screen due to technical limitations. “There was a sequence written where the Thing attacks people from under the ice, and nobody could figure out how to do that,” he said.

Don’t expect Carpenter to play ball if you ask him about 2011’s The Thing. Asked what he thought of the recent Thing remake/prequel, Carpenter said, “I don’t really don’t have any comment on it. They worked real hard on that movie.” That got some laughs from the audience, so Carpenter added, “I don’t mean to be sarcastic. They did. They worked real hard, they committed to it, but I’m not going to add my two cents on it.”

And don’t expect Carpenter to reveal the truth about that ambiguous ending. SPOILER ALERT! “Really, this is a movie about the end of the world,” Carpenter said. “It does not have a real happy ending. And it has what a lot of audiences cannot stand, which is an ending that has no real conclusion. It’s ambiguous. Now, I do know, in the end, who the Thing is, but I cannot tell you.” That open-ended conclusion that leaves audiences wondering whether Childs or MacReady is the Thing was met with resistance from Universal “big time,” Carpenter said. “The studio asked me to cut the movie, drop out the final scene, have Kurt Russell do what he does with the dynamite, blow it up and then walk out, and the movie ends. It didn’t test any differently. I said, ‘We’re not gonna do that. We’re gonna do my ending.'”

The Entertainment Weekly CapeTown Film Festival runs through Monday, May 6. For readers in the L.A. area, tickets are still available for movies like like The GooniesTwelve Monkeys, and Coralinewith special guests including Neil Gaiman, Richard Donner, Terry Gilliam, and more. Check EW.com throughout the week for reports on screenings and Q&As for more of the geektastic lineup, including Return of the JediEscape From New York, and J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Learn more about the festival by clicking here.

Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyNRome

Read more:
Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige talks ‘Iron Man 3′ at EW’s CapeTown Film Festival
Edgar Wright and ‘Scott Pilgrim’ cast rock EW’s CapeTown Film Fest: Five things we learned
Leonard Nimoy, Terry Gilliam, Neil Gaiman, ‘Goonies’ added to EW CapeTown Festival

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