Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Horror Part III: John Carpenter Edition

This was a tough one to write.  What can you really say about John Carpenter's movies?  You either love them or you hate them.  If you love them, you know everything I'm about to say.  If you hate them, me saying that I love them and why probably won't change your mind.  Here goes nothing...

It's important, I think, to remember that Carpenter at his best is an auteur - some of his best and most fondly remembered films are instances where he exerted his influence on multiple levels.  At various points he has written, directed, produced, acted in and composed music for his movies.  Say what you will about his films, but very often they have a strong "voice" that carries throughout the work.  There is a list here that breaks down his entire filmography based on his contributions to each work.  Follow the link and be amazed!

Rather than try and list every single one of his works, I'm going to cherry pick what I feel to be some of his best.  I'll include at the end the extent of his involvement.

Halloween: Well duh.  The movie that launched an entire generation of slasher films, that defined Jamie Lee Curtis' career, that established Carpenter as force to be reckoned with in horror films, that bought Michael Meyers permanent real estate in the zeitgeist.  The story of how the movie of made is almost as interesting as the movie itself, and is worth a read, or a watch of any of the dozens of documentaries on the making of the movie.  Carpenter controlled every aspect of this film, Directing, Writing, Producing, creating the Music for it, and even put himself into it (he provides the voice for Annie's boyfriend).  This is how you make a low budget movie.  Scratch that, this is how you make a GOOD low budget movie.

The Fog: The 1980 version, naturally, the less said of the remake the better.  I'm not a huge fan of ghost story movies, but that's mostly because this one did it so damn well.  Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau lead the way, in this tale of a town's dark secret as it comes back to haunt them on the anniversary of the town's founding.  It's the story Stephen King wishes he wrote.  He directed, wrote, composed music for and acted in the film (playing the role of Bennett).

Escape From New York: Every once in awhile I run into someone who has never seen this movie, and it blows my mind every time.  I mean... Snake Plisskin - c'mon!  The second teamup between Kurt Russell and Carpenter (5 internets to anyone who knows what the first one is without googling it), and Russell proves why he's an action star for the ages.  Come to think of it, I hope he can at least make a cameo in the next Expendables.  I think he's about the only one left who hasn't.  But yeah, Escape From New York, Russell is a badass, it's postapocalyptic, it's got Isaac Hayes as the friggin Duke on New York City, Donald Pleasance as the President of the USA, how have people not seen this?????  I
It should be required viewing, 'sall I'm saying.

They Live: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he's all out of bubblegum!  You're not going to get much better sci-fi than this.  Is it a warning on the nature of large organizations and conformity, or is it a terrifying meditation on paranoia?  It can be a horror movie, it can be a sci-fi movie, it can be a balls to the wall action film, it's the Rorschach movie.  Carpenter Directed, Wrote and composed the music for this movie.   Warning: Contains the most epic fight scene you will ever see.

The Thing: I was a fan of the original.  I love the original.  I have memories of watching the original through my fingers as a kid.
I like Carpenter's version better.
It takes the basic plot of the original and spins it into a tale of paranoia, isolation and fear and you just can't look away.  Another Kurt Russell film, he continues to show why he's a badass mofo.  Interestingly, Carpenter considers this, In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness to be a sort of Apocalypse Trilogy, all of which share a common theme of cosmic horror.  He was only the director on this one, although he did have a bit part as one of the Norwegians in the video.

Body Bags: Remember this one?  The made for TV movie?
I forgive you for saying no.  It wasn't his best outing, but it has a special place in my heart, reminding me as it does of the old Amicus films from way back when.  Carpenter teams up with Tobe Hooper to bring you three tales of comedic horror, with varying results.  The first one is the best (incidentally, it takes place in Haddonfield, IL, the same town that Halloween was based in), telling about a girl locked in a gas station when a killer is on the loose.  The second is just batshit crazy, with Stacey Keach, aliens and... hair.  The third, well, the third just kind of exists.  Overall, it's not that great, but it's fun, and I enjoy it, so whatever.  He did Direct, Produce and Compose music for it.

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns: Technically not a movie, but it was his best output in years, so it needs to be mentioned (which, incidentally, made his followup on the same show so disappointing).  Tapped to direct an episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror, the title refers to the practice of film cues, meant to tell the projectionist that the reel is coming to an end.  This ties in thematically with the larger story (starring everyone's favorite survivor, Norman Reedus) as he searches for a film that supposedly drives the viewer mad.  It's a spiritual sequel to In the Mouth of Madness, another of my favorites, and, I suspect, an unofficial member of Carpenter's Apocalypse series.


  1. Kurt "Elvis" Russell turned down a role in the first Expendables and I assume the second too. Apparently he doesn't do "ensemble movies".

    They found piles of film from the original Halloween in an attic a few years ago, more than enough to do a remastered director's cut, but the rights owners don't think there's enough money in it to do so.

  2. That's a damn shame regarding Expendables :/

    Do you have a link regarding him being in Halloween? I'd love to read about that!

    And well done, sir. 5 Internets awarded.


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