The Films Of John Carpenter have always been a group of films that have intrigued and inspired me. I was in my teens before I discovered that he himself was inspired by the work of Howard Hawks, a director that, by that time in my life I had grown to love. I’d fallen out of favour with Carpenter’s films following the disappointments that he had in the early to mid 1990’s. In retrospect I wonder if this was my own opinion or the opinion of the film press. I will admit to being most disappointed with Escape from L.A, however I will go on to discuss that later. With the advent of DVD I was about to rediscover the films of John Carpenter and learn to love his forgotten features.
My first real introduction to John Carpenter was in 1990 when my father let (made) me watch cult director Alex Cox’s “Moviedrome” on BBC2. It was a Saturday night (it seems like a Saturday in the mists of time) and I sat in the darkness to watch Assault on Precinct 13, with guidance from my father that it was “from the director of Big Trouble in Little China“ a film that I loved as a child (and still do). This is one of my first culture shocks of cinema- how can someone who directed that make something so different. My father would later pull the same trick by pitching American Graffiti as being from the director of Star Wars, for a kid this was confusing and disappointing- however you can see that he was trying to broaden my film experiences.
From that night on I was a Carpenter fan, for better or for worse. The man has made some legendary films; Halloween, The Thing and Assault on Precinct 13 being the most obvious. Carpenter was always seen as a Hollywood outsider, a film geek like De Palma, Spielberg or Scorsese he was never given room to breathe or the credit that he deserved, always working within a low budget to make films like the ones that he loved as a child. It seems that the Hollywood studios have finally caught up with Carpenter and decided to pillage his back catalogue and remake his most successful film.
First came the Assault on Precinct 13. The film wasn’t a bad reworking of the Carpenter original, and considering that it was a genre film there was quite a heavyweight cast, and Gabriel Byrne is always good value (and I’m not saying that because I’m Irish). However one has to wonder why remake the film at all? Okay so the original film is a reworking of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, a film he himself would later remake as El Dorado (both starring John Wayne) but there is hardly any brand recognition with it. The original Assault on Precinct 13 was a cult film and hardly known outside of film buff circles, exactly the type of people who hate remakes of old classics. Why simply not remake the film and call it something else? We may never know. However the film was moderately successful and didn’t totally destroy the name of the original.
Now, speaking of destroying the name of the original. Let us turn our attention to Rupert Wainwright’s remake of Carpenter’s The Fog. Now, let’s get one thing straight I have respect for anyone who makes films. I made the occasional short myself and I know that you almost never match your vision. It’s an occupational hazard. That’s why I always try and look at the positives in any film, it could be a performance, the music, hell- it could even be the costume’s, there is nearly always something to recommend in any film and I will always try and defend any filmmaker. That is unless we’re talking about Rupert Wainwright. Some people hate Uwe Boll, others Michael Bay. I detest Wainwright and his work. The man has no understanding of the filmmaking process. One only has to watch Stigmata (one of the worst films ever made and yet another film starring Gabriel Byrne) to see this. So when this man tries to update and admittedly dated Carpenter classic it could only end in disaster. The casting, the effects, the direction- all wrong. Again why remake this? Why not make Stephen King’s The Mist or something?! Okay Mr Darabont I hear you. The Fog was one of Carpenter’s lesser known works, and although a hit on it’s release it has faded into relative obscurity save for the odd late night screening and a nifty DVD release.
Now you guys stateside have just had Rob Zombie’s Halloween released to pretty darn good box office results. Now I haven’t seen the film and to be honest I’m not dreading it. I quite enjoyed House Of 1000 Corpses, even though the ending was rather dire and I believe that he might be able to bring something fresh to the film that the Halloween sequels have lacked. There have been mixed reviews, some fanboys have liked it, some believe that Zombie is the cinematic anti-Christ. People are allowed their opinion, but I gave up watching the Halloween sequels a while ago, and even when I catch a bit of them they cant hold my attention. Carpenter’s original however; is another matter. It’s Hitchcockian in style and again made with an appreciation of older horror films. I can imagine Zombie bringing the style of the 70’s and 80’s films to this new film, but like I said, I’ll have to wait.
Which brings me nicely to the forthcoming Escape from New York remake, why? This again is a film firmly rooted in it’s time, a Reagan era 1980’s. I my opinion it’s the godfather of 80’s action cinema, and I believe that it has inspired everything from The Terminator to Robocop, but that’s a whole other article. The original Escape is flawless. Kurt Russell has never been better, delivering probably his most iconic role (some might argue Captain Ron, but they’d be wrong). The effects still stand up today and Carpenter’s usual synth score is a humdinger. What can the cast and crew of the remake bring to this film that Carpenter and Russell et all didn’t bring to the original or it’s inferior sequel/remake Escape From L.A?
The answer must lie in the hope that a new franchise will be born and that Gerard Butler’s Snake Plissken will at least match Russell’s swagger and grit. Again name recognition on this film is low amongst those who are not true films fans so why no be inspired by the story rather than risk the backlash?
It is simply money. Sure there will be a backlash, but fans of the original will always watch the remake and therefore more tickets will be sold and DVD’s will be bought. The original film will also be released again on DVD and of course, more money will be made from new fans who want to see what inspired the new.
If a franchise does begin, then it’s an all-round win situation for the studio and what’s wrong with few fanboy complaints.
This article first appeared on Collider as ‘Hollywood For Carpenter’ in 2007.