The Thing’s Monstrous Merchandise

JOHN CARPENTER‘s THE THING‘s poor box office performance has been blamed time and time again on the fact that STEVEN SPIELBERG‘s E.T. was released two weeks prior. Although the diminutive Reeses Pieces pusher may not have helped matters much, it is more likely that bad merchandising judgment was the film’s ultimate downfall. Looking back, it seems Universal (who also released E.T.) made every conceivable mistake while promoting their would-be summer blockbuster and only have themselves to blame if audiences were less than enthusiastic by the time the actual movie hit theaters. 

The first mistake was selling toy rights to Mattel instead of Kenner whose line of STAR WARS toys were an unmitigated success. Mattel, on the other hand, was well known for opportunist cheap knock offs and reusing the same toy molds OVER AND OVER AGAIN. In addition Mattel’s history of translating science fiction characters into toys was QUESTIONABLE AT BEST. Rushed to meet a demand that was never to come, the toy company hobbled together an action figure using various pieces of pre-existing toys. In this case the unsuccessful BATTLESTAR GALACTICA line of figures were gutted and redressed and the results were abysmal. Due to dismal pre-orders from major department store chains, the doll was discontinued shortly after production. For years Mattel’s THE THING action figure was a familiar sight in bargain bins across the nation. A recent visit to eBay confirmed the toy’s continued worthlessness.
Perhaps Universal’s biggest blunder was to scoff at-then mega star MICHAEL JACKSON when he approached them with an interest to do a musical tie-in to celebrate the release of THE THING. Not wanting to burn bridges with the artist, they offered him E.T. instead but informed Jackson that they were hellbent on securing sister LATOYA to do the honers of introducing the world to JOHN CARPENTER’s vision. The result, LATOYA‘s “Outer Space Candy Party” was a catastrophe that resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs. Music historians are quick to point out that the song may contain the earliest known example of “sampling” and is therefore ahead of its time, but having WILFORD BRIMLEY repeat “I’ll kill you!” over a thumping disco beat does not a radio hit make and “Outer Space Candy Party” failed to make a dent in America. On the other hand, the song was a number one hit in Japan and spent the summer of ’82 hovering just outside the U.K.’s top ten, although sales plummeted dramatically after THE SUN ran a bonfire inspiring article linking the tune with epileptic seizures and unexplained poltergeist activity.
This promotional T-shirt given away at early advanced screenings of THE THING was considered in bad taste by many. Ideas of mass marketing the apparel were shelved when it was found that nearly 97 percent of the free T-shirts were left discarded on the theater floor after the screening. Attempts to recycle the design as a maternity dress also went nowhere.
Although Kenner had much success with their ALIEN ACTION FIGURE, it is hard to understand Universal’s insistence on gearing merchandise for the R-rated THE THING to an underage audience. They hit rock bottom with the THE THING SNOWCONE MAKER, a device that, by all accounts, delivered a nearly inedible confection and whose commercial was considered so alarming to children that it had to be pulled off the air. Its jingle, which included lyrics like “First you stick it in, then you pull it out, then you squirt the juice, then you make me shout,” was labeled obscene by angry parent groups and hefty fines and lawsuits followed. As recent as 2005, many of these lawsuits were still pending, including one filed by Kenner which claims the commercial’s nearly pornographic ditty was a fragrant rip off of their popular ICE BIRD SONG.

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Hail Ants
Hail Ants
15 years ago

Wasn’t April 1st two weeks ago!? There is no way this merchandise was ever made. This has got to be a joke.

Pax Romano
15 years ago

You had me up until LaToya’s record!

That was brilliant!

15 years ago

The first action figure is brilliant… and, had I been drinking chocolate milk, it would have shot out of my nose when I saw the alien dog head superimposed on the tiny snow man. Fantastic post…

15 years ago

What in the HELL is that Thing Snowcone Maker?! I have no recollection of anything like that, ever.

Eric Eddy
11 years ago

I forgot about this article! Hilarious!