By Gerald Dean Rice
Like every horror writer, I’m a fan of horror movies. I saw movies like Creepshow and The Howling when I was five years old. I’ve seen my fair share of really bad ones and some good ones too. Occasionally, there are great horror movies that I see something new even after watching them hundreds of times. One such movie, my favorite of all time by the way, is John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The Thing is the 1982 version (not remake) of the John W Campbell, Jr. short story, “Who Goes There?” which was originally made as The Thing from Another World. Everyone who’s even a casual fan of horror over the last 30 years has seen this movie, so I don’t need to rehash the plot. But there is one key sentence that reveals that the story unfolds during the holiday season.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is an allegory for what happens to bad little boys at Christmas.
Five words are all that’s needed to set up my argument. “First g***amn week of winter.”
Those were MacReady’s words after the two Swedes Norwegians landed at the U.S. outpost, intent on killing what appeared to be a malamute, but who wind up getting blown up and shot.
The first day of winter back in 1982 was December 22, a Wednesday, three days before Christmas. The movie is seen over the course of five days–from the helicopter firing on the malamute to Mac and Childs sitting near the burning camp, exhausted. Now your first assumption might be that the first day was a Wednesday, but had he meant that he would have said it was the first day of winter. So how do we know what day it is when Mac declares they’re turning the corner of the Winter Solstice? The week starts on Sunday, the 19th in this case, to Saturday, the 25th.
The movie begins on a Tuesday. And before you say I have no evidence to back that up, let me lay out out my argument over the course of days and you’ll see how I backdated to this day.
We all know the story (and in case you don’t, I’ll wait while you purchase and watch), but let’s go through the chronology. I’ll just hit the highlights.
Day 1 :
- Dead Norwegians
- Malamute infects Palmer and Norris
- Norwegian camp and two-headed corpse
- Malamute eats sled dogs
- Bennings is assimilated
- Blair goes nuts
- Fuchs is killed (or assimilated?)
- Nauls goes with Mac to his shack
- Mac takes control with a stick of dynamite
- Norris-thing kills Copper
- The test
- Palmer reveals itself
- Blair-thing kills Garry
- Outpost 31 is systematically blown up
- Blair-thing gets blown up with a stick of dynamite
- Mac and Childs are the last two left
You might dispute the chronology slightly, but the last item for each day could just as easily bleed over into the morning of the next considering there weren’t any clocks and I do have to concede the Blair-thing could just as easily have revealed itself at 8pm as 2am, but if movies like to do anything, they like that sense of arbitrary balance. The monster tends to like popping out at midnight and that’s what I believe happened here. Starting from Tuesday the 21st that makes the Blair-thing blowing up happen on the 25th. Merry Christmas.
But that’s only half the argument. What do bad little boys have to do with anything? The first two clues are staring each other in the face at the end of the movie: Mac and Childs. Childs is obvious, you know what a child is. MacReady is a Scottish name and the nickname Mac is Scottish for son. Childs has a temper, Mac breaks his toys (pouring booze into his computer), Palmer smokes weed, Windows falls asleep instead of getting his job (or chore) done, Nauls plays his music too loud, Blair doesn’t play well with others, Fuchs plays with fire, Garry loses his keys, Clark lets the dog make a mess, Bennings has a boo-boo and Norris is a follower. I couldn’t really think of what Copper did that could be considered bad and the Bennings one is weak. Perhaps that one can be swapped with Bennings running with scissors (his hands after he’d been assimilated). Also consider this: Windows’ name originally had been Sanchez in the script. Sanchez is a Spanish surname that means holy or blameless. Another word for blameless is innocent. You know, like children are.
And as long as we’re bringing up religious undertones (it is CHRISTmas, afterall), a palmer is a pilgrim who has returned from a trip to the Holy Land. The name Bennings derives from the Roman name Benedictus, which means blessed. A clark is a person of a minor religious order. When Blair says to Mac he doesn’t know who to trust anymore, Mac responds with, “Trust in the Lord.”
Finally, also consider what a present is. It’s a container that has something in it that is unknown until it is unwrapped. Just as Palmer had something in him that was unknown until he was unwrapped. A large part of Christmas is the unknown as gifts are put under the tree where they await opening. A large component of The Thing is fear of the unknown. By the time Nauls comes back from Mac’s shack without him, no one trusts anyone and Childs is about ready to burn everybody just to be on the safe side. Oh, and Copper derived from kuper which derived from kup, which is also a container.
Although my evidence is admittedly akin to circumstantial, taken in total it plainly shows how Bill Lancaster either intentionally or subconsciously had a horrifying idea that bad things should befall little boys around the Christmas season. There is no way to see this from any other angle. Nope. None.
…Unless when Mac referred to the first week of winter he wasn’t harkening back to the northern winter solstice (I assume by his accent he’s American) and really meant the winter solstice of the southern hemisphere, where the Antarctic and Outpost 31 are which occurs sometime between June 20th and 22nd. No, my carefully laid out, time-devouring argument is right. It just has to be.