Friday, April 26, 2013

Discuss: John Carpenter

Karen: A prolific film-maker with a definite style all his own - discuss the many films of John Carpenter.


Matt Celis said...

Only seen his "Thing" remake. It was pretty good. Nothing too special, kind of "Alien" in Alaska but not as exciting or well made.

J.A. Morris said...

I'm not a big fan,when I was a kid I enjoyed all those movies, when I've gone back to revisit them, they haven't done much for me.

But 'Starman' (which Carpenter directed but didn't write) is still good, and 'Escape From New York' is okay.

I think the best thing Carpenter ever did was compose the them music for 'Halloween'. I think that's aged better than any of his movies.

I offered my (mostly negative) take on 'Halloween' last year my Holiday Film Reviews blog, if'n you're interested:

Humanbelly said...

He's sort of the epitome' of hit-or-miss. And I've seen a goodly number (although not all) of his films.

LOVED HALLOWEEN! BUT-- I was at exactly the right age to see it in an old, decaying big-screen theater when it came out. Truly. . . TRULY. . . one of the seminal movie-going experiences of my life (both times!). The movie is completely made for that venue, and simply doesn't translate to the smaller screen and an intimate audience well at all. I have never been to a horror film where the audiences visceral surrender was so unbelievably intense. 1st time: Guy sitting across the aisle fell on the FLOOR while screaming "STAB HIM!!! STAB HIM!!!" in that final sequence. . . and it didn't particularly stand out as an inappropriate reaction. 2nd time: The theater exits were down at either side of the screen, and my buddies and I were among the first to get down there, in front of a packed house of freaked-out movie-goers at the end of the show. And my DEAR friend Patrick, who was a pretty big guy, decides, as we reach the door, to turn around and roar RRRAAAAAARGHH! at everyone coming down behind us. The unison scream of terror was unbelievable. . . followed (unfortuanately) by an indignant shout of "Hey, that's not funny-!"--- aaaand we were subsequently chased out of the theater. . . and the parking lot. . . by some rather mortified local fellows. Ohhhhh, love that Patrick. . .

Loved THE THING-- would like to see it again on the small screen.

THE FOG was embarrassingly bad, I thought-- and I actually kind of liked the remake, which was a huge bomb.

Thought ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was kinda "enh" on the big screen, and even less impressive on the small one.

STARMAN, yep, good film. More Capra, less Hitchcock.

The film of his that has stuck with me for 25 years, though, that no one has ever seen is THE BOY WHO COULD FLY. Wonderfully sweet little gem of a film about, oh gosh, friendship and yearning and belief and loyalty and growing up. . . I imagine many found it sappy, but I loved it unabashedly.

Looking at Wikipedia, I can't believe how little his films have grossed over the years! All of them put together only equate to a modest hit today (although I'm sure they fare much better w/ inflation adjustment and all).


humanbelly said...

Well rats, I was just double-checking my filmography, and I was under the mistaken belief that Carpenter had directed BOY WHO COULD FLY, and it turns out he simply had a cameo in it. Man, I am TOTALLY disappointed-- here I thought he had this tremendous, untapped directorial range. . . and it seems to not be the case.

(Ha-- still love that film, though!)


Inkstained Wretch said...

Big fan here. I have seen most of his films and have several of them on DVD. Happy to give a few thoughts on the man & his work.

Best film: The Thing - Creepy-crawly, scary, well-acted, great special effects, great production values. One of the best of the 80s in fact.

Worst film: Prince of Darkness - Silly premise, weakly executed. Gets points for casting Alice Cooper as the main ghoul though.

Most underrated: Cigarette Burns - Made-for-cable feature about a film buff searching for the legendary scariest movie of all time. Makes a misstep with a too-early reveal, but otherwise a top-notch Twilight Zone-esque story -- just with some serious gore.

Most overrated: Escape From New York. Great premise, great lead performance by Kurt Russell, great supporting cast, great visualization of Manhattan-as-No-Man's Land, but... surprisingly lacking in action.

Lives up to the Hype: The original Halloween. Still creepy and suspenseful and soooooo much better than virtually all slashers that followed it. And that wonderful John Carpenter theme music!

Worth digging up: His tv-movie biopic of Elvis starring Kurt Russell as The King. Hard to find due to copyright issues BUT an edited version was released on vhs in the 80s and it really is a lot of fun. Interesting look at what Carpenter might have done if he hadn't gotten typecast as a horror director.

Most subversive: Big Trouble in Little China. A great action flick with the twist that the sidekick is the hero and the hero is a big doofus.

Most disappointing: The Fog. The film just pours on the moody, spooky atmosphere for an hour ... and then has no payoff.

Worth checking out: They Live - Heavy-handed as a satire, but its comically blunt straightforwardness is what makes it fun. Plus Roddy Piper's lead performance is a hoot.

Carpenter is also one of the best makers of director dvd commentaries. His chats are loaded with great insights and funny anecdotes about making movies.

HannibalCat said...

He remains one of my favourite indie directors; though his earlier work remains superior. Ironically, his best films was his huge, studio movie; The Thing. A certified classic and the work by which he will be remembered. His most streamlined piece was Assault on Precinct 13, a low budget gem, I was never that fond of Halloween. Escape From New York is an enjoyable but cliched Clint Eastwood sf movie, but Escape From L.A. is an abomination. Latterly, Vampires was a return to form, but lately...?

Humanbelly said...

I.W., I think I have watched PRINCE OF DARKNESS three times, simply because I thought there HAD to be something more to that film that I was getting. It was entirely a film of incomprehensible set-up. . . until the end (which made no flippin' sense at all)-- and no actual story ever happened. Spot-on call w/ Alice Cooper, though. And I always enjoy ol' Donald Pleasance. That fellow was born looking a certain age, and hardly ever changed throughout his adult career! 20 years before his Carpenter years, he was in a very touching Twilight Zone episode, playing an aged, retiring professor-- older than characters he'd play twenty years later-!


mr. oyola said...

The Thing is one of my favorite movies.

Re-watched Halloween as an adult and was disappointed.

The Fog has a great set-up and TERRIBLE execution.

Prince of Darkness is similar, but about 50,000x worse than the Fog

I find Big Trouble in Little China a little racially troubling, but I have not seen it in a long time.

Escape from NY was the first R rated movie I ever saw in the theatre. I have a special love for it.

Matt Celis said...

Didn't realize he made Big Trouble. I like that one for the most part.My understanding is that the story began life as a sequel to Buckaroo Banzai and was repurposed after BB flopped. I can see the Hong Kong Cavaliers in there, and the villain could easily be swapped out for BB's nemesis (I forget the name, something Vietnamese), but have never seen any evidence to support this understanding I gleaned from various sources.

Garett said...

This lively interview with John Carpenter just ran in my hometown paper today:

Garett said...

The Thing is fantastic, watch it every few years. Great mood, characters.

Halloween scared me as a kid in theatre, but it's not my favorite genre of movie, so haven't watched it again.

Escape from New York/LA have a great lead character. On first viewing I liked NY better, but I saw LA again recently, and if you don't take it seriously, it's a hoot.

Dark Star is an odd early sci-fi film, worth checking out if you like something off the beaten path. Carpenter's low budget student film:

Inkstained Wretch said...

Ha, that's a great interview Garrett. Thanks for sharing it.

here's m favorite exchange from it:

Interviewer: Here’s another one. I’ve always pretended Roddy Piper just thinks he’s seeing the invaders when he puts on those sunglasses. Have you ever considered that idea? He’s a total serial killer then, instead of saving the world.

John Carpenter: (Laughs hard) No, I never considered that, but it sounds fun. I should have thought of that. It would be a different ending to the movie. He’s laid waste to all these police and these innocent people. I like it!

Karen said...

Although I have enjoyed a number of Carpenter's films, I think HB had it right when he said he's hit or miss. But The Thing is just a great film -a case where I love both the original and remake equally. It's definitely my favorite of all his work.

The others -I often like elements of some, like Escape from New York, or Big Trouble, but I don't love them whole-heartedly. Prince of Darkness is a movie I wanted to like; I think Carpenter was trying to channel his inner Quatermass but it didn't come out in a coherent form. The same with The Fog -I really like parts of it but it doesn't all hold together.

They Live is quirky fun though. His later stuff -Escape from LA, Ghost of Mars -is pretty weak tea.

William Preston said...

I rewatch The Thing every few years. The greatest display of practical effects ever, plus one of the most suspenseful films ever made.

Recently saw They Live while reading Lethem's book about the film. I recommend the experience here:

Rip Jagger said...

Like Carpenter movies...a lot!

Halloween is iconic.

Escape from New York is a classic.

Jack Burton says Big Trouble in Little China is a classic.

The Thing is a classic. (Though I still prefer the original movie.)

I really like They Live despite Roddy Piper's questionable acting, and I really enjoy Prince of Darkness, the more I see it. This one is likely his most underrated effort. Vampires is rock solid entertainment but exceedingly crude.

Ghosts of Mars has strengths, as does The Fog. Escape from LA is a bit frothy, but still diverting.

Not all of Carpenter's movies are great by any means, but he delivers a reliable cinema experience. They're all good enough.

Rip Off

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