Five Favorite John Carpenter Films
Mr. John Carpenter is the man. What else can I say about a writer/director who has manufactured so many brilliant stories, and memorable characters. His full-length film debut, Dark Star, was in released in 1974. Since then, he has treated movie-goers to thrills, chills, comedy, horror, science fiction, and just pure cinematic beauty. And despite what Hollywood has become over the last couple decades, Carpenter keeps it real and does it his way. Also, yesterday was his sixty-ninth birthday. Let’s celebrate with a top five list of my personal favorite J.C. films. You may or may not agree with these choices, so feel free to comment. From five to one…
5. Escape From New York (1981 MGM) – Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, and Earnest Borgnine? This is top five on that merit alone. Basically, the President of the United States crash lands in Manhattan. Sounds simple, but Manhattan in the future is now a large maximum security prison, and the inmates have the commander in chief. A one-eyes bank robber named Snake Plissken is sent in to retrieve the captives and the downed airplane’s cargo. I get a Mad Max, Man With No Name feel whenever I watch this movie. Amazing Soundtrack, a bad ass anti-hero main character, and Donald Pleasence as the President. I think I have proven my point.
4. They Live (1988 Universal) – Humans are being kept under sedation by a race of alien creatures through subliminal messages that appear on billboards, television etc. Nada (played by the late, great Roddy Piper), a down on his luck blue-collar guy finds a pair of sunglasses and soon uncovers the brainwashing and manipulation. I love this film because it does star “Hot Rod” Piper, but I also appreciate the Twilight Zone vibe it gives off. They Live is an alien movie, but it also a social comment on how society is told what to do through advertising, and we don’t even know it. Also contains one of the longest fist fight scenes in the history of film. You cannot argue with that.
3. The Fog (1980 Embassy) – The plot sounds crazy; one hundred years ago, a ship of lepers bound for the shores of Antonio Bay, California are deliberately guided to crash into the rocks along the coast, and thus left for dead. Now as Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate it’s centennial year, a ghostly fog washes across the seaside town. What is inside this fog now seeks revenge for the wrong doings of the town’ ancestors. A spooky ghost story with some creepy atmosphere and strong female performances make this one of Carpenter’s more underrated films. Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, and Adrienne Barbeau star, even though the real star of the film is the ambiance and mood.
2. The Thing (1982 Universal) – Claustrophobia and paranoia make for brilliant film. John Carpenter’s The Thing is chock full of both these elements. An American research station in remote Antarctica is confronted with a being not of this earth. Soon, it is all out panic and mistrust as the alien begins to take on the forms of the research team. Trust is lost and all hell breaks loose. Carpenter favorite Kurt Russell is R.J. MacReady, and Keith David is great as Childs, the two men who take it upon themselves to flush out and destroy The Thing. This is not only a great Carpenter film, but one of my favorite science fiction/horrors. If you have not seen this film, go watch now.
1. Halloween (1978 Universal) No big surprise here. The film about babysitters being stalked by a man wearing an expressionless mask, made on a shoe string budget, snowballed into a massive hit. A simple story about a boy, Michael Myers, gone wrong, locked away in an institution, only to return home fifteen years later to murder his estranged sister. It sounds like anyone could make this movie. Unfortunately, not just anybody is John Carpenter. On a low budget, Carpenter squeezed out all he could and the result is a true classic. To the point acting, an iconic soundtrack, and the quintessential slasher is the perfect storm. Sure, the Halloween franchise has pretty much spun out of control, but that has nothing to do with Carpenter. If you are a fan of bare-bones horror, I’m sure this film is right up there on your list as well.