JOHN CARPENTER LOVEFEST

Why John Carpenter Is My Favorite Director

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The Maestro in Action

Many directors have a distinct style. When directors carve out their own niche, for the most part, the men behind the lens gain notoriety. Great examples of this are Martin Scorsese, with his quick cut, narrated crime capers. Quentin Tarantino, who uses dialogue and ultra-violence to give his stories life. There is also, my personal favorite director; John Carpenter. From the time I was a boy, there is something about Carpenter’s films that hook me. The ingredients he uses to cook up his films fit perfectly with my movie pallet. For this reason, I would like to tell you why John Carpenter is my favorite movie director.

Simplicity   There is one common thread through Carpenter’s work; survival. From Assault On Precinct 13 to Ghosts of Mars and everywhere in between, a fight for survival against an evil force is the main theme throughout. This makes for his films to be unsettling, intense, and simple. Babysitter versus madman, scientists versus alien, or truck driver pitted against evil sorcerer. You get the picture. A simple plot. Good versus evil. Everything right down to Michael Myers expressionless white mask is uncomplicated. This makes a plot like an escaped mental patient stalking babysitters in small town Illinois seem plausible, organic, and more terrifying; it could happen to anyone. Simple is good. Carpenter does it well.

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The Soundtracks   If you were to take away the haunting synth-based soundtrack from the previously mentioned Halloween, what are you left with? You have footage of a man walking around the dark with a knife. This is not nearly as effective as the same footage armed with the iconic theme of the film. Carpenter’s soundtrack scores and themes are very effect in drawing out the tension and action. The main title from his 1980 ghost story The Fog is my personal favorite. The music is creepy in all the right places. Carpenter still continues to tour, performing his vast collection of synthesizer music. His Anthology and Lost Theme albums are amazing.

The Villains   All great stories have a great protagonist. John Carpenter’s films have a wide arrange of monsters and bad guys. From a possessed 1957 Plymouth Fury named Christine, to a whole island filled with violent criminals in Escape From New York, Carpenter villains run the gamut. The Shape, also known as Michael Myers has even become a pop culture icon since he first appeared in 1978. Perhaps his best creature is the parasitic alien that jumps from host to host in The Thing. This is Carpenter’s best film, and it is party because the alien is convincing and pretty damn cool. A great movie monster goes a long way in telling a great story.

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They Live (1988)

The Anti-Hero   John Carpenter’s films also have another common theme; the anti-hero protagonist. Anti-hero, by definition, is “a central character in a story, movie, or drama, who lacks conventional heroic attributes. Carpenter’s heroes do not wear capes, drive fast cars, or fit into any typical hero mold. Look at these characters, for example. Snake Plisskin is a convicted bank robber who sent into a crime infested Manhattan to save the U.S. president. In Big Trouble in Little China, Jack Burton is hard-living truck driver who battles a sorcerer. For the Kurt Russel hat-trick, whiskey drinking anti-social helicopter pilot McReady battle the alien that invades his Alaskan science outpost in The Thing. Nada, the drifter in They Live and Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers psychiatrist are also examples of Carpenter’s unconventional good guys.

Genre Crossover   Blending genres is something that can make a compelling story. John Carpenter is the master of blending horror and science fiction together to make great cinema. Look at films like The Thing, They Live, and Village of the Damned. All great horror films with some science thrown in for good measure. His use of aliens and Martians is pretty much a Carpenter trademark. Humor is also something the director does well. It is usually subtle, but in a movie like Big Trouble, the laughs are right on the surface. Starman is a blend of sci-fi and romance. I think you get the point I am trying to make. The man is a damn good writer and filmmaker.

 

My Top Five John Carpenter Movies:

  1. The Thing
  2. Halloween
  3. Escape From New York
  4. The Fog
  5. They Live / Big Trouble In Little China

T.

List-O-rama: Top Five Favorite John Carpenter Films

Five Favorite John Carpenter Films

n-john-carpenter-433-1Mr. 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.

31 Days of Halloween Day 31 – Halloween (1978)

31 Days of Halloween – Day 31

“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts,
Covens of witches with all of their hosts
You may think they scare me, you’re probably right
Black cats and goblins On Halloween night”

Halloween (directed by John Carpenter, 1978) Typically, October 31st is the day we reserve on the calendar jack-o-lanterns, candy and costumes, and fun. Little ghosts and goblins roam the streets, going door-to-door for sweets. But in Haddonfield, Halloween took on a whole new meaning. Instead of tricks-or-treats, terror and fear fill people’s hearts. You see, October 31st is the night he came home. On Halloween night, 1963, a young boy named Michael Myers was left under the care of his older sister, Judith. Dressed as a clown, Michael climbed the stairs up to his sister’s room, pulled his mask over his face, and stabbed his sister to death. Fast forward fifteen years to Smiths Grove mental institute, where Michael has been a patient since the murder of his sister. Myers manages to escape, and returns to Haddonfield. Dr. Sam Loomis, Michael’s psychiatrist, heads to the town to try and intercept the now-adult psychopath. Loomis knows that what lies behind Michael’s dead eyes is pure evil, and realizes that the residents of Haddonfield could be in danger. After stealing an expressionless mask from the local five-and-dime store, Michael is now at large and disguised. Laurie Strode is a typical teenager, and along with her friends Annie and Lynda, become the targets of The Shape (the name given to Michael by the writers). Laurie heads out to her babysitting job, unaware that she, or the other girls are being stalked by the faceless killer. She soon discovers that her life is in danger, and must fight to survive her attacker. Dr. Loomis pieces together Michael’s intentions, but will it be too late? Can he save Laurie and stop The Shape from claiming one more victim on Halloween? This film is a study on how to get more from less. From the shoestring budget, to the minimal use of gore, to the simple story, John Carpenter’s Halloween is a home-run. The suspense and atmosphere are second to none, aided by a soundtrack that is as much part of the film as any other character. The violence is subtle, but realistic and believable. The Shape is the perfect villain. He does not stand out, he is emotionless, and becomes part of the shadows. He speaks no dialogue, remains masked, and does not command any sympathy from the audience what so ever. This makes us more sympathetic to Laurie, as she flees from the monster. It is not until Halloween II that we learn the whole back story of Michael’s family tie to Myers. The story of Halloween leaves a lot open for interpretation. We are unsure of Michael’s motives, or why he targeted these particular babysitters. The character of Dr. Loomis is important because his dialogue paints a picture of Myers as a calculated killer, and helps make Michael loom even larger. Jamie Lee Curtis is perfect as the girl-next door, all-American teenager. Halloween was her big screen debut, and she nails it as Laurie. The accomplished Donald Pleasence made great use of limited screen time, but became a horror icon as Dr, Sam Loomis. John Carpenter has brought to life numerous classic horror and sci-fi films, and Halloween fits right into that category. Numerous sequels have been made, but the only one that matters is Halloween II, which continues the story immediately after Halloween ends. If you are going to watch one film on Halloween, don’t you think it should a movie named after the occasion? There are scarier films, but there is something special about this one. To me, it encompasses everything a horror movie should be. I love Halloween because of Halloween, and vice versa.

I have really had a fun time over the last month writing about the films I consider must see Halloween viewing. I made it my mission to watch every film, whether I have watched it a couple times, or twenty five times. There were things I noticed about each film I never noticed before, and realized that there are moments that still make me cringe or give me a shiver down my spine. This is why I love these movies. I hope you can cherish them as much as I do. Thank you for reading. It has been a pleasure.

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Recap

  • Day 1 – The Conjuring
  • Day 2 – You’re Next
  • Day 3 – Rob Zombie’s Halloween
  • Day 4 – Dog Soldiers
  • Day 5 – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
  • Day 6 – Psycho (1960)
  • Day 7 – John Carpenter’s The Thing
  • Day 8 – The Prowler
  • Day 9 – Pet Sematary
  • Day 10 – The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Day 11 – Near Dark
  • Day 12 – The Lost Boys
  • Day 13 – Child’s Play
  • Day 14 – Sleepy Hollow
  • Day 15 – House of 1,000 Corpses
  • Day 16 – The Devil’s Rejects
  • Day 17 – Night of the Living Dead
  • Day 18 – Dawn of the Dead (’78)
  • Day 19 – Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
  • Day 20 – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
  • Day 21 – The Cabin In The Woods
  • Day 22 – A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
  • Day 23 – The Exorcist III
  • Day 24 – The Evil Dead (1981)
  • Day 25 – The Blair Witch Project
  • Day 26 – The Shining
  • Day 27 – Trick r Treat
  • Day 28 – An American Werewolf in London
  • Day 29 – The Changeling
  • Day 30 – The Exorcist
  • Day 31 – Halloween (1978)

T.

31 Days of Halloween *Day 7* – THE THING (1982)

31 Days of Halloween – Day 7

The Thing (directed by John Carpenter, 1982) At some point in time, we have all pondered the notion that there may be life beyond the skies of our planet. It would be unreasonable, and arrogant to think that we are alone in the universe. Many films over the years have tackled the subject of extraterrestrials visiting earth. Many of these movies go with the theme of a global invasion; hostile aliens wanting to use us as food and slaves, or cute little aliens that befriend children. John Carpenter’s The Thing goes with a different and much easier story to believe. What if these “visitors” were already here and us humans awaken them? Thousands of years ago, an alien craft crashes in Antarctica. A Norwegian exploration team discovers, and excavates the buried relic, and with it, they also discover one of the ships passengers. The shape-shifting alien eventually finds its way to an American science outpost not far from the Norwegian camp. The alien begins to infect and become members of the team. Paranoia and panic sets in as the crew loses trust and turns on each other. The Thing is a story of survival; the men trying to survive the thing, and each other, while the thing tries to survive on a foreign planet. If you crashed into a frozen wasteland only to be thawed ten thousand years later, you would probably be confused and a little pissed off. There are so many wonderful things about this film. It is a perfect blend of horror, science fiction, action, and suspense. The set design and location make this film seem desolate and claustrophobic. The cast, including the always cool Kurt Russell (R.J. MacReady) are intense. Russell is the camp’s pilot, and the only level-headed member of the doomed crew. The true star of the show is Rob Bottin’s special effects. His creations are bloody and disgusting, as I imagine an alien morphing into a human would be. John Carpenter has created some genre classics, and The Thing may be his best work. Treat yourself to some out-of-this-world horror this Halloween. You will not be disappointed by The Thing.

Cool Fact – The Thing opened in box offices the very same day as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Both films are now much loved and respected sci-fi films.

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Recap

  • Day 1 – The Conjuring
  • Day 2 – You’re Next
  • Day 3 – Rob Zombie’s Halloween
  • Day 4 – Dog Soldiers
  • Day 5 – Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
  • Day 6 – Psycho (1960)
  • Day 7 – John Carpenter’s The Thing

Five Favorite Horror Movie Theme Songs – The Music Makes It

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What element can make an average film great? The musical score. Music can add many things to a movie. The right piece of music can make an action scene that much more exciting. A beautiful score can make the most tender moment that much more heartbreaking. A song or theme can forever be attached to a movie, and make it part of popular culture. Everyone can identify the Star Wars theme. Think of any Quentin Tarantino film, and you could probably name one song that has become part of the films lore, When it comes to horror movies, music is absolutely important. The soundtrack builds tension, and it can also be placed to make the audience aware that danger is imminent. If you want to test that theory, next time you watch a scary movie, plug your ears when the tension builds. The visuals alone are not enough to frighten you. There are a handful of themes that have made their respective fright films that much better. I would like to share with you, my five favorite horror movie themes. I am sure I have left a couple out, but these are the five for me. In no particular order, here they are.

Halloween (Theme composed by John Carpenter, 1978) John Carpenter is the master of atmosphere, and the master of his own soundtrack. Carpenter composes the music for many of his films. Halloween is his best work, creating an instant classic. His other brilliant scores include The Fog, Escape From New York and They Live.

Suspiria (Theme composed and Performed by Goblin, 1977) Italian band Goblin bring Dario Argento’s Susperia to life with their beautiful, eerie, and psychedelic soundtrack. The film requires a soundtrack as equally atmospheric, and Goblin provides it wonderfully. Goblin is frequent collaborators with Argento, most notably in his other films Deep Red and Tenebre.

Exorcist (Tubular Bells – composed and performed by Mike Oldfield, 1973) The theme for The Exorcist, Tubular Bells, was not written for the movie. It was written and recorded for the Mike Oldfield’s 1973 album Tubular Bells. After being selected for The Exorcist, the song became a top ten hit, not to mention help scare the hell out of a lot of cinema goers. The theme is simple, but intense. A great fit with an all-time horror classic.

Phantasm (Theme composed by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrove. 1979) After recently watching Phantasm again, I realize that the theme and music score are the best parts of this film, along with the “Tall Man” played by Angus Scrimm. The film has some creepy elements, but really is not as frightening as I thought 25 years ago, although it is very original.

Jaws (Theme composed by John Williams, 1975) In case you are familiar with John Williams film scores, he is the man responsible for the themes to Fiddler on the Roof, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extraterrestrial and a little space epic called Star Wars. His soundtrack scores are incredible, and appear in many amazing films. The Jaws theme is perfect. If a great white shark needed an entrance theme, this intense piece of music is it. When I see people splashing around at the beach, this theme gets stuck in my head. Now that is an effective theme song!

T.