As assimilated into the Hell of Fame
by Phil Fasso, for June Fasso with love
This one’s really for my mom.
Mom wasn’t a huge horror fan, but she sure influenced me at a few key points when it came to becoming a horror fan myself. One of those was her immediate obsession with John Carpenter’s THE THING, which over the last 36 years has made such a profound impression on my love of all things monsters. If Mom hadn’t turned me onto a few films, there may be no Death Ensemble today, let alone a Hell of Fame.
When Mom loved a horror flick, I could guarantee it was a great one. She’d previously turned me on to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, with her great story about coming into the theatre back in 1968 at the end of the previous showing, and how blown away she was. She loved John Landis’ AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which is deliriously fun (even though I much prefer THE HOWLING, which she watched with my siblings and me one Saturday; she was so in tune with it, she even predicted the last line of dialogue). We’d watched ALIEN at my aunt’s house a few years earlier, and I still can’t believe my Aunt Diana was there when I saw what is likely my first gore scene with John Hurt. But THE THING… THE THING was something else.
You have to understand the scene was vastly different in 1982. VCR’s were just coming into homes across America (I don’t think we’d have our first unit until 1984 or 85), pay-per-view and streaming services were years and decades away respectively, and there were about seven or eight channels on the TV. When THE THING hit theatres in summer of 1982, I was only 10, and both my brother and sister are younger than I, so there’s no way we were seeing an R-rated gore fest at the box office. I did see E.T. with my family, a choice it seems most of the country was making. Mom played it safe, and though I still love and associate with Elliot and his alien friendship, these many years later I wish Mom would’ve gone against the grain and taken us to see THE THING.
THE THING tanked hard, but a few months later, something amazing happened: it showed up on cable. At that time, cable TV was the only real outlet to see movies if you didn’t go to see them in a theatre. And cable would play movies in heavy rotation once it had them. So one late night, Mom put on Showtime or HBO, and on came John Carpenter’s alien masterpiece. And I’ve never been the same.
From the very first shot of an alien ship searing through Earth’s atmosphere on its way to crash-land, and the subsequent scene of Norwegians shooting at and trying to blow up a fleet footed Husky, I was hooked. I had no idea I was watching the end of the world as humankind knows it, but I could see even at that early age that something different was going on here. Over the next two hours, my mom, brother Al and I would encounter a dog splitting open, a defibrillator usage gone wrong, a blood test for the ages, and an ending so bleak and dark, that we were blown away. The three of us reveled in every intense scene, wondering how Carpenter would ramp things up next. THE THING was scary, and gory, and tense, and absolutely awesome. It became one of my favorite movies when I was at a formative age.
It also became Mom’s obsession for a bit. She fell in love with Carpenter’s gory piece of genius, and with damn good reason. THE THING is a damn near perfect film. All those critics in 1982 who pummeled it in their reviews and proclaimed Carpenter a “pornographer of violence” were looking at it from a much snobbier perch than my mom. All she saw was next level moviemaking on every level: from Bill Lancaster’s taut script to Carpenter’s beautiful use of Panavision, from Dean Cundey’s lighting to Rob Bottin’s wild makeup effects, from Ennio Morricone’s heartbeat in the opening score to an ensemble cast that all bought in, THE THING is top notch at every level. And R.J. MacReady was one of mom’s horror heroes. With a spot-on performance by Kurt Russell, how could he not be? For a while there, THE THING became Mom’s movie.
Because when I said “heavy rotation,” I mean HEAVY ROTATION. It seemed the film was on cable every time the sun set, and for a while I could find Mom in front of the TV sitting on our beat up green couch, watching it every time it started. I clearly remember like it was yesterday, one time when I woke up on a school night somewhere around 4 am, scared to death because I heard noises in the living room. Nothing to fear; it was Mom watching THE THING again, with the volume way up as she recited lines of dialogue. Groggy and disoriented, I turned to go back to sleep when Mom invited me to watch the rest with her. Yes, Mom was that cool.
So cool, in fact, that there was no other way to induct THE THING into the Hell of Fame but to tell her story with the film. I could’ve covered it from any number of angles, talked about how the paranoid atmosphere drives the film, how Carpenter masterfully tells his story, why it’s in my Fasso 6-Pack of favorite horror films. I’m so in love with the special effects that I nominated Rob Bottin into the Hell of Fame during last year’s Hell of Fame Week. All that’s been covered before, some on DE and the rest in a multitude of other places. But what’s never been covered in any media is the very personal story of how June Fasso fell in love with John Carpenter’s THE THING in 1982, and how that inspired one impressionable young lad to become a horror fan. So with all the love I can put into it, I say proudly: This one’s for you, Junie.