John Carpenter: An Introduction


Here’s a bit of a rundown on some John Carpenter films. He’s a masterful director who seems to have fallen off the radar in recent years. I am, and always be a fan. Carpenter is a true cinematic great who has been overlooked by Hollywood for far too long. Think of this as an introduction to the master’s work-it is not an overview…

Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Halloween is a master class in suspense filmmaking. From the opening steady-cam shot to the paranoia inducing finale, the film ticks all the right boxes to make it an extraordinary film. The success of Halloween inspired a slew of imitators (as well as sequels) throughout the 1980’s, but none would come close to matching the genius of Carpenter’s taut film. With very little gore, the film relies on music and editing to build tension, as well as everybody’s fear of the unknown. Often copied, but never bettered, this is a modern classic. Just don’t mention Rob Zombie’s remake.

The Thing
John Carpenter is a self confessed fan of Howard Hawks, and this remake of Hawks’ classic The Thing From Another World is a fantastic homage to the great director. Starring Kurt Russell, the film is a claustrophobic tale of terror, set in the desolate wastelands of the artic. When a research team uncover a buried spaceship in the ice, they discover that the alien has shape shifting capabilities and soon no-one can be trusted. A perfectly formed Sci-Fi thriller that is as much an allegory for AIDS as the original was for communism, The Thing showed that Carpenter was a director with depth and skill.

Assault on Precinct 13
Carpenter’s second film (following Dark Star) is another Hawks homage – this time riffing on the John Wayne western Rio Bravo. Shot on a low budget with unknown actors his film is an exceptional siege movie with a wonderfully infectious pulsating score. What makes the film work is the limited setting and again a fear of the unknown terror that will never stop (a Carpenter theme). Exceptional.

Escape From New York
The film that established the template for the action hero, Carpenter’s second film with Kurt Russell (following Elvis) is a futuristic western set in 1997. When the President is shot down over New York (which has become a prison) only one man can save him – Snake Plissken, a former soldier with one eye and a whole lot of attitude. Another low budget effort that hit it big, Escape offers a wonderful dystopian alternate future and a selection of bizarre characters played by an amazing cast including Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes and Harry Dean Stanton.

The Fog
The Fog is an atmospheric ghost story set in a small Californian coastal town. When The Fog starts rolling in so does the dead crew of a ship that sank years before just off the shore of the sleepy village. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to work with Carpenter following her starring role in Halloween and her voice-over work in Escape From New York. While The Fog may have aged more than most of Carpenter’s work it is still vastly superior to the recent remake that was inflicted on us a few years ago.

Prince of Darkness and They Live
Following the critical and commercial failure of Big Trouble in Little China Carpenter returned to low budget filmmaking with The Prince of Darkness and They Live. While Prince of Darkness is a bleak, demonic thriller (with nothing to do with Dracula) They Live is yet another paranoia based thriller, this time starring wrestler Roddy Piper. While not two of Carpenter’s best efforts there is enough style and thrills to entertain and provoke some thoughts on the world around us. They Live in particular is a biting satire on Reganite America.