It’s Black History Month and we’re hoping to kick off a month of great articles and reviews celebrating Black culture in film, and pop culture. To help usher in the month, here is yet another installment of the “Minority Movie Heroes” series. As I’ve explained in the past, it’s hard to find actual heroes in film that are people of color whether African American, Latinx, Asian, et al. So, as with all the previous entries I scoured film as much as I could to feature five more minority movie heroes that deserve celebrating.
In 1996, John Carpenter essentially pulled a Sam Raimi with one of his key creations, Snake Plissken. While “Escape from New York” is a great scifi action film, Carpenter is this time given a bigger budget and decides to cover a wider field of his mythology, cramming in as much as he could with this sequel/remake. While I wouldn’t call “Escape from LA,” it manages to rise above the rest in Carpenter’s ouevre with some very good concepts, and Kurt Russell doing a bang up job, as always.
The best way to explain the considerable impact John Carpenter’s original slasher has had on me can best be expressed through that infamous Halloween eve when I was a kid. Long before cable, network television played horror movies on Halloween; My brother and I were given the option to watch either “Creepshow” or “Halloween” my brother and I took the option of sitting to watch “Halloween.” I can fondly remember it as one of the worst Halloweens ever because when we sat to watch John Carpenter’s classic we were so scared by the second half that we started crying. This decision later was regretted by us and my mom took the time out to calm us down by letting us watch “Creepshow.”
I love John Carpenter. I love John Carpenter just as much as Spielberg, and that’s saying a lot as anyone who knows me knows I’m a big Spielberg nut. In either case, even Carpenter’s lesser efforts in the late nineties to early aughts are somewhat entertaining, if only because even when he never quite sticks the landing, he’s at least going for something different. With “Vampires,” Carpenter tries his best to rethink and remold the modern vampire and make them terrifying again. While the movie isn’t great, its ambition and ability to make Vampires primal monsters again is admirable and worthy of an audience.
I’ve always been and will continue to be a staunch defender of John Carpenter. He’s one of my all time favorite filmmakers and even his weakest outputs have some great creativity to them. “Vampires” is fun in all its schlocky nonsense, and “Ghosts of Mars” is a fun remake of “Assault on Precinct 13” for a contemporary audience. Eighteen years later, “Ghosts of Mars” is fine C grade science fiction redeemed by Carpenter’s sharp direction, and the absolutely gorgeous Natasha Henstridge.
You have to give it to John Carpenter. Even when he stumbles, he’s still one of the finest directors around who manages to set himself apart from his contemporaries stylistically. While “Star Man” is an obvious attempt to cash in on the good Spielberg “ET” dough, “Star Man” manages to be a pretty okay movie, either way. Carpenter sets aside his usual nihilism in favor of a more measured alien love story where it retains much of its appeal thanks to the wonderful turns by Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges. This is especially a movie where Allen shines, as she delivers a performance filled with layers and emotion to the very end.
One thing you can say about “Memoirs of an Invisible Man,” is while it’s not one of John Carpenter’s best films, it certainly is inventive. Carpenter is no stranger to science fiction and whenever he hits the genre, he attacks it with a new angle and inventive gimmick that make it worth watching. “Memoirs of an Invisible Man” is about a man who begins to live life when he realizes he’s completely invisible to just about everyone, and must also deal with everything from a clandestine government organization to learning how to eat in spite of being incapable of seeing his fingers or mouth.
John Carpenter has always been about transcending what ever form of storytelling he pursued. Even when paying homage toWesterns or remaking something like “Village of the Damned,” Carpenter never approaches it conventionally. With “In the Mouth of Madness,” he had every chance to repeat the same meta-beats as “They Live,” but he ends up delivering a genius, beautifully loony, often brilliant piece of cinema that’s both a tribute to literature, a meditation on the power of the imagination, and our own state of being and reality.