Imagine if you were watching John Carpenter’s THE THING. You’re around the 30-minute mark and it’s the classic kennel transformation scene. The Norwegian dog sits still as the other dogs grow uneasy and begin barking. Suddenly a bug-like head rips through the infected canine’s back with a pair of large glowing eyes and two hefty tusks that are not just oversized fangs, but insect-like legs conjoined at each tip. As the alien head erupts with more arthropod legs its whipping tentacles extend to grab the other dogs.
Before special effects wizard Rob Bottin reinvented the shape-shifting alien in John Carpenter’s THE THING, an artist named Dale Kuiper was first on board to take a crack at the design. “John had indicated that he wanted a creature that didn’t “fly, crawl, swim or walk” Kuiper explained in his 1986 Sketchbook. After a successful meeting with Carpenter in Los Angeles, the Green Bay based artist flew back to his studio to start working on his concept of THE THING.
Kuiper gained recognition for his dinosaur design and sculpture work on the 1981 comedy film CAVEMAN. The film’s producers and effects supervisor Roy Arbogast would later work on THE THING and recommend Kuiper’s work to John Carpenter.
Kuiper went on to produce seven illustrations of the major metamorphoses and also sculpted his version of THE THING. But all of this came to a screeching halt.
According to Kuiper, while strolling through downtown, a drunken biker assaulted the artist by shoving him through a department store window. Work designing “THE THING” was put on hold. With time burning away, Rob Bottin entered the picture. “Preproduction had already started. Some ground had already been broken by designer Dale Kuiper, however. Dale had some absolutely beautiful paintings of what he thought it should look like.” Bottin told Fangoria.
While Bottin’s creature design is always morphing, Dale Kuiper’s design on the other hand had a clear shape. At-a-glace Kuiper’s ‘THING’ resembles the spider from the 1955 classic film TARANTULA. Bottin said “it was basically a big bug.” This ‘Thing’ possessed the ability to shoot out crab claws, tentacles, man-o-war tendrils and bear claws.
One of my favorite aspects of John Carpenter’s THE THING is the mystery and horror of who the “The Thing” could be. We never actually see the alien creature attack its host, so it’s unbeknownst to the viewer. This paranoia fuels the films suspense. Instead, had Kuiper’s version came to fruition the audience experience would have been significantly different with the immediate awareness of those infected.
Like in the movie ALIEN, Kuiper’s creature at times acted like a facehugger to inhabit its prey. The parasite-like creature affixes itself to the victim’s head latching its crab-like leg tusks under the shoulders to secure the host. Spiked appendages are inserted into the neck and mouth while thousands of tiny needles probe the victim’s mind to absorb intelligence.
Kuiper thought the process of being cloned through eradication was a horror on to itself. After the absorption of knowledge the creature discharges an acidic fluid to cover the host transforming its prey into a jelly like substance to be sucked back up into its body. Moments later the cloned victim appears out of the creature’s head.
When ‘the Thing’ needs to escape from its human host it opts for an exit through the mouth. After the host’s jaw extends down we immediately see the eyes of an insect-like face protruding from the orifice. The tusk-like appendages rip in opposite directions tarring upward through the face and head then slashing down through to the stomach freeing itself to internally possess its next target.
From the looks of Kuiper’s sculptures his “Thing” transmutes into something from a 1950’s monster movie. It grows into a gigantic version of “The Thing,” which hovers and towers over its victims. This was not at all Bottin’s vision for his “Thing”, which instead never completes metamorphous because it constantly mutates and shape-shifts.
I find Kuiper’s designs intriguing. I’ve often wondered why his concepts never made it to the big screen in a different feature. His unique style could have been used in other body snatching horror movies. Using Kuiper’s creature however for John Carpenter’s THE THING, would have been a totally different movie.
You can find more original THING sketches in Dale Kuipers Sketchbook published by Green Bay Comics (1986)
Check out even more Dale Kuiper THING designs at: http://www.outpost31.com/movie/dalekuipers.shtml