As you might recall, the 1982 version of The Thing opens in a shroud of mystery. Two Norwegians are in a helicopter trying to shoot a dog. Then a grenade goes off. The story that unraveled in the next two hours, was — if you ask its cult fans — one of the best horror movies of all time. Now, almost 30 years later, audiences will get a chance to revisit the world of The Thing, but this time, they’ll learn The Thing‘s backstory in a prequel out this Friday. “There’s a lot of storytelling gold to be mined in that and that’s why I think this movie got it right, from the top down,” says one of its stars, Eric Christian Olsen, of NCIS: LA fame. “It pays homage to the type of storytelling they did in the ’80s, which was that slow burn. It wasn’t just that quick something jumps out and somebody’s got an axe and somebody decides to go wake-boarding naked. It’s storytelling thriller. It’s storytelling that leads you to a place where it’s about paranoia, it’s about betrayal, it’s about relationships. I think that’s much more universal.”
Horror is a genre Olsen has always found himself fascinated with — even when he was probably too young to be watching. Lucky for us, it also made him the perfect person with whom to revisit some of the best horror-thrillers of the ’80s. Below, EW walks through five particular movies that Olsen says left an impact on him — for better and for worse.
The Thing (1982): “I think the first one we have to talk about is the actual Thing because that’s the one that I’ve most recently re-watched 10 times. I remember seeing it as a kid, and I think, for me, I respond to thrillers more than I do horror films. I think there are cheap thrills which is like you go around a corner and something jumps out but that goes just as quick as it came. And then there’s a kind of thriller — that’s a slow burn with rising tension and paranoia. That’s a different kind of scary, and those are my favorite kinds of film. I think The Thing is definitely a great example of that. By the time you get to the scene where they’re testing the blood with the wire to see who has been infected, you’re terrified. That movie, at that point, that’s master storytelling in the thriller genre. The first time I saw it I was terrified of that scene.”
Jaws (1975): “Jaws — nobody had any idea how scary that movie was and how it was going to change the world forever. It’s one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I remember Robert Shaw — it’s one of my favorite scenes in any thriller — when Robert Shaw is in that boat telling the story of the Indianapolis saying 1100 soldiers went into the water and 316 came out — I can still remember those numbers; that’s crazy. And he tells the story of his buddy that was bobbing in the water, and he flipped over and the sharks had attacked him throughout the whole night. Nothing, there’s nothing that can replace that because that’s so, then, deeply embedded in your audience by the time you get to the reveal of the shark. It’s just perfect. That movie is flawless, it’s one of my favorite movies. I’ll re-watch it every time it comes on TV.”
Aliens (1986): “Ripley was one of my favorite characters, and I think what we do right in our prequel to The Thing is that we have a female protagonist. But also Bill Paxton. Do you remember Bill Paxton in Aliens? I mean, that was one of my favorite characters of all time. He was so funny because everything he said was, ‘What are we even doing here, man? Let’s just get out of here, man.’ That was a great fantastic character in a framework of a thriller. I think the more interesting story in a thriller is how an alien — or the introduction of whatever creature — is used as a catalyst to change our human characters and what happens with those relationships. And I remember Paul Reiser’s character in Aliens, I hated him. I hated him more than the alien. Like, I wanted him to die. [Laughs] That’s an example of, you get into a philosophy of humankind. Are we inherently good, are we inherently evil? And what happens when whatever society dictates rules for us is gone and it becomes this uncivilized world? Can we overcome with this natural evil that lives inside of us? And that’s what happens with Paul Reiser in Aliens, and that’s what happens to one of our characters in the prequel to The Thing. I think that’s a much more interesting story.”
Fatal Attraction (1987): That movie scarred me for a long time. Glenn Close is so perfect at the beginning of that movie, and you’re like ‘Oh, this is so fantastic.’ Then you start to see these little glimpses of ‘Oh, you’re insane.’ I always remember the quote in which her character, Alex Forrest, is talking to Michael Douglas’ character and she says, ‘What am I supposed to do? You don’t answer my calls! You change your number. I mean, I am not going to be ignored, Dan!’ I just remember that line so well. And I remember when I had my first true stalker psycho ex-girlfriend, all I could remember was Fatal Attraction and how quickly it all slipped into this kind of murderous rage of a woman scorned. I saw it just before I was in high school, and I had a fantastic, crazy girlfriend while in high school. I would come home, and I would look outside my window and there was an alley behind our yard, and she would be sitting in the alley with the dome light on. When I would look out the window, and she would turn the dome light off and drive away. And she’d steal clothes of the clothesline once in a while, and one time, she showed up to school wearing one of the shirts that my mom had put on the clothesline. She was just full-blown crazy. I had my own Alex Forrest and maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Like, maybe I made that happened by living in fear. I created it myself.”
Cujo (1983): “I saw it and was probably 14. I grew up in Iowa, and I walked four blocks to the bus. On the road that led to my house, there was this giant German Shepard in the backyard, and it didn’t have a gate. It was just shrubs and had one of those corkscrew ties that was stuck in the ground and the dog was on a rope. And I would walk home after seeing that movie, and I think that I became more scared of the dog. I think the dog then started to feel that fear, so it started to become more aggressive. After weeks of walking by, the dog started running the full length of the rope and I think everyday the cork in the ground got more and more unearthed to the point where — maybe I was in my freshman year or the year before my freshman year, so I’m like 5’6’’ 130 pounds — it charged and it came out. The dog ran straight through this little gap in the bushes and jumped up towards towards my head. I remember I had started picking up sticks just as I walked by just wanted to have something to defend myself with, and I just swung as hard as I could right as it was going for like my head and my neck. Of course he was stunned and I ran away. I think that’s another example — prior to that movie, I wasn’t scared of this dog. After watching that movie I kind of created this environment in myself that became more fearful and all the sudden this dog reacted to that and the next thing I know it was lunging at my neck. But I now have two giant dogs.”
(Benjamin Wood contributed to this report.)