In the era of CGI, it's worth remembering that not all special effects are created with computers, green screens, and tracking suits. Our eyes quickly adapt to ever-changing technology, and it can be easy to pick out "older" CGI from its contemporary counterparts. The same cannot be said of the practical effects of John Carpenter's The Thing, which are still celebrated by horror enthusiasts to this day.
One of the film's most memorable scenes is the defibrillator scene, affectionately known as the "chest-chomp" by fans. The scene was an arduous process to create, with each of the creatures - including the one that chomps off Dr. Copper's arms - painstakingly made by hand and operated using radio controls, puppetry, and even hydraulic rigs.
The Thing's chest-chomp still makes audiences squeamish, despite the fact it uses over 40-year-old special effects techniques.
The Idea For The Scene Came From Special Effects Creator Rob Bottin - And It Was Initially A Joke
Director John Carpenter had worked with special effects supervisor Rob Bottin on his 1980 film The Fog, so he knew he could trust Bottin's judgment.
According to Bottin, the film's most memorable scene began as a joke between the two men. When Carpenter asked his FX supervisor what happens next in the film, Bottin replied:
I would say a joke out of black humor like, you know, this guy's stomach rips open and turns into a big mouth, you know, and he bites this guy's arms off. And John would start laughing and go, "You know, that's not a bad idea."
The Effects Team Spent 10 Days Creating A Prosthetic Norris
With production of The Thing underway in 1981, special effects artist Rob Bottin and his team worked tirelessly on a slew of monster prosthetics. Actor Charles Hallahan, who played the ill-fated Vance Norris, spent 10 days with Bottin to help create the chest-chomping beast. As Hallahan explains in The Making of The Thing, "They molded my face in a lot of different expressions, then with my hands, my legs, my torso."
The attention to detail didn't end with the features of Hallahan's body. According to CineFix, Bottin and his crew were so meticulous with the design that they mimicked Norris's chest hair patterns to make them look as realistic as possible. Hallahan elaborated, "They even took photographs of my chest without a shirt on and they assigned one person to make the hair pattern match."
The Scene Took 10 Hours To Set Up And An Entire Day To Film
The chest-chomp scene required a wild amount of attention to detail. Setting up actor Charles Hallahan's rig, complete with puppeteers, harnesses, and loads of fake blood, took roughly 10 hours. And that 10 hours was spent simply setting the scene; it didn't include the time it took to reset this intense and messy sequence.
The scene was supposed to be one-and-done, but there was something John Carpenter wasn't pleased with: the tentacles emerging out of Vance Norris's chest. According to CineFix, Carpenter requested the team reset for a second - and final - attempt.
John Carpenter Thought The First Take Looked Like 'A Las Vegas Fountain'
Given the intense amount of setup, it is no wonder that John Carpenter wanted to try to land this sequence in one single take. Special effects expert Rob Bottin explained how they filmed the scene in The Making of The Thing - and how it didn't exactly go as planned the first time round:
It was a one-take situation - we had to make him up [Charles Hallahan] and blend this whole body that had this interior mechanism that would rip open, right? And what happened of course is take one goes awry, you know, after 10 hours of makeup, right? And Charlie's sitting inside this box and was working on it and stuff, you know, the cameras are all set, tweaking the lighting... John says action, right? [After the chest opened] unfortunately what happened is [the viscera in his chest] looked like a fountain in Vegas... and he yells, "Cut!" and asks, "What happened? That was horrible!"