Back in 1982, American audiences were enamored with the extraterrestrial. We were in a time where the prospect of aliens was cuddly and friendly, and we were capable of exploring vast new worlds. What with “ET” and “Close Encounters” and “Star Wars,” who didn’t want to visit new worlds? Then John Carpenter came along in 1982 with his version of “Who Goes There?” a short story about an amorphous alien entity that could consume human bodies, and America wasn’t too kind to it. John Carpenter’s masterpiece is notorious for not being welcomed by critics or the box office during its release date, but thankfully years later, horror fans and movie buffs alike have embraced “The Thing” for the sheer pitch perfect masterpiece it is. John Carpenter doesn’t provide us with a more positive outlook of an alien visitor as he did with “Starman.”
With “Escape from New York,” director John Carpenter once again evokes the western by delivering his own trademark twist of the sub-genre. Through his film he offers up a classic tale of a hero in the badlands while also introducing us to one of the most colorful figures in the Carpenter gallery: Snake Plissken. Plissken is a role only Kurt Russsell could have played, a brooding and rebellious anti hero who is also very cunning and of few words.
Almost forty years later, director John Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” is still an excellent and mean contemporary western that never lets up on its audience. Director Carpenter has a knack for lensing the world to look like an alien habitat filled with despair and evil, and “Assault” is no exception. What begins as moving day for a local precinct descends in to violence, chaos, and murder with an enemy that will stop at nothing to quench its thirst for vengeance.
What began as a concept for an anthology series was formed to become a pretty solid anthology horror film that has the advantage of director John Carpenter under its wing. Surely, it’s not the best anthology movie ever made. It’s not even in the top ten anthology horror movies ever made, but it promises a decent horror trip with three stories varying in quality and often jarring changes in tone. Director John Carpenter comes out of his shell as a decrepit and demented coroner who brings us in to his morgue to gander at the bodies in his care. Every corpse has a story to tell, and he brings us the tale of three unfortunate souls.
Compared to other John Carpenter films, “Halloween” demonstrates an amazing amount of restraint for the director. Which is not to say the chaotic elements of “The Thing” and “Assault on Precinct 13” aren’t amazing, but Carpenter displays a surprising competence for pulling back as he does with unleashing hell on a slew of characters. Like many of Carpenter’s films, “Halloween” is also relegated to a limited setting, where the slasher tropes for hundreds of other slasher films would be built. There’s a small town, a curse, a crime that resonates within the community, and a virginal final girl who would stand off against the monster.
John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness,” the second leg in the “Apocalypse Trilogy” is a horrifying film about the apocalypse and one of the many Carpenter films where good fights evil and evil wins. Again. And again. It’s interesting that “Prince of Darkness” is almost a precursor to the found footage film boom of the mid aughts, as director John Carpenter stages a series of dream sequences void of cinematic flare. Through fuzzy hand held cameras, he manages to stage numerous horrific dream sequences signaling the coming of the anti-god, and the anti-Christ, all the while using it as a means of expressing how imminent the apocalypse is. The thirty second dream sequences are much more horrifying than most found footage films I’ve ever seen.
This year, director John Carpenter and the horror community are celebrating the 35th anniversary of the 1978 horror masterpiece “Halloween.” The immortal slasher film that inspired dozens of rip offs and wannabes, horror fans get their reward this year with a new edition of the film that would help close out the seventies. In honor of Carpenter, and “Halloween,” here are our five favorite John Carpenter directed films.
What are you favorites from Carpenter?
5. In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
One of the most interesting and demented explorations of rabid fandom, “In the Mouth of Madness” takes on a world where a popular author has bred a legion of fans so anxious for his work they’ll murder to get to it. John Carpenter creates the sentient villain Sutter Cane in homage of Stephen King whose based most of his works around Lovecraftian novels that have garnered an immense and violent fan base. When a book agent is sent to a mysterious town to meet Cane, he learns that Cane himself is not just a creator of his world, but most likely lost complete control and now has invented our world. There may be two realities, one of which Cane’s, and it’s the one we see in “In the Mouth of Madness.”
And in essence Cane likely invented himself. Things go from bad to worse when studios decide to begin turning his novels in to movies. Filled with an array of Easter eggs, wonderful in-jokes, subtle meta-jokes that only the keen observer will notice and an array of excellent performances from people like Sam Neill and Jürgen Prochnow, “In the Mouth of Madness” is an excellent meta horror film that builds a world within a world within a world to where we can never be sure if anything on-screen is human or just the cognizant creation of their God also known as the author. Do you read Sutter Cane?
4. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Carpenter’s version of a contemporary Western that doubles as a remake of “Rio Bravo,” the 1976 action thriller is a frantic and relentless roller coaster that is never lets up in its energy. When a man’s young daughter is murdered in the middle of a crime infested neighborhood he strikes down the gang that left her to die. Retreating from them, he ends up at a local precinct about to be closed down, and the shit hits the fan. Caught in the crossfire, literally everyone in the precinct are marked by an endless horde of violent gang members, all of whom want in to the precinct and intend on murdering the civilians as horribly as possible.
Now a few beat cops, a secretary, and a ruthless convict have to fend off against the gang members using their wits, their endurance, and only a few fire arms at hand. It’s a ridiculously exciting and fantastic action picture, that Carpenter could never quite duplicate again. And he tried with “Ghosts of Mars.” Speaking of which, let’s be honest: It’s not that bad a film.
3. Halloween (1978)
Originally known as the Babysitter Murders, “Halloween” is the metaphorical gun that started the marathon of a thousand slasher films that would storm theaters in the eighties in search of the almighty dollar. Carpenter’s film is a slasher masterpiece second only to Bob Clark’s “Black Christmas.” Set years after a baffling murder conducted by a young boy named Michael Myers, his therapist travels to his mental asylum horrified to discover Michael has broken out. Now on the way back to his old town of Haddonfield, he builds an odd obsession with local teen Laurie, and seeks to destroy everything around her.
Viciously murdering her friends, Michael is a merciless and shapeless monster who meets his match with young Laurie on Halloween night. “Halloween” is still a very effective and engrossing slasher thriller that introduces an iconic new monster that would haunt the holiday as long as he lived. Ending on the horrifying breaths of its maniac, “Halloween” is a spooky horror film that makes you proud to be a horror fanatic.
2. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)
Initially a flop and critically lambasted, John Carpenter treats his audience with his own version of the short story “Who Goes There?” Considered a remake of Howard Hawk’s “The Thing,” John Carpenter side steps the monster movie and offers up a cerebral and deeply horrifying tale of survival as he creates a faceless, formless, and grotesque alien capable of becoming us. It will do anything to survive, even taking on the perverse and gruesome forms of its victims.
Kurt Russell leads a cast of seasoned veterans as RJ MacReady, a helicopter pilot who save a stray dog after thwarting its owners attempts to murder it. When they take it in, they realize too late that they’ve invited in an alien presence that uses humans as a vessel for safety. Soon begins the fight for survival as RJ struggles to find out who is the Thing. As the crew’s numbers dwindle, the blood soaked fight for dominance balances action, horror, science fiction and dark comedy, all topped off with a brilliant and immortal eerie closing scene. “The Thing” is the remake to end all remakes.
1. They Live (1988)
John Carpenter’s science fiction actioner is a brilliant and still widely relevant alien invasion film that sets its sights on society. The aliens are the yuppies and consumers, while the bad guys are the lower class and working man. The aliens, in an effort to gradually destroy the common man, subliminally program them to consume, reproduce, buy, and watch television. Oblivious to their pre-destined world that’s now under rule of the bug eyed aliens that camouflage as normal humans, the only hope is Nada.
A mysterious drifter seeking work, he ends up the only chance mankind has of re-gaining control as he infiltrates the alien operation thanks to enigmatic black shades that help him see through the alien facade. Roddy Piper is unconventional casting as the film’s hero who is at first a reluctant bystander, and then decides he has to spearhead this take down of this sentient alien society or else life as we know it will continues to be owned by our alien overlords.
Featuring a great supporting performance by Carpenter regular Keith David, “They Live” packs a punch with intellect, humor, social commentary, great action set pieces, and a kick ass hero we can get behind. Piper is at his best under the wing of Carpenter and really goes to town on the alien establishment. “They Live” is a consistent favorite and one of the films that will achieve immortality from Carpenter’s repertoire.
This year, the film world is celebrating the 35th anniversary of John Carpenter’s iconic horror film “Halloween” with a year long exploration of the movie, as well as the release of a special edition that promises new looks at the 1978 masterpiece that shot the gun for hundreds of copycats, wannabes, and unofficial remakes that would storm the theaters in the eighties looking for their own piece of the pie. With that, we sound off on our top ten John Carpenter characters.
Who are some of your favorite John Carpenter characters? Let us Know Below!