October Ode to John Carpenter

It’s the appropriate time of year to celebrate one of horror’s greatest film makers.  Although he is most associated with the horror genre, he has also directed films in sci-fi, martial arts, drama, and action. Of course, he is best known for dark, dystopic and bleak. Over the years, John Carpenter has created some great classic horror films over the years.   Many were largely ignored when released, but now have transcended cult-classic status.

His horror films highlight his incredible skill in creating tension in scenes.  He does this in part by, not only directing and writing the scenes, but composing the score that builds the tension and sets an eerie mood.  In fact, earlier this year, he released an album, Lost Themes, showcasing his musical talent.

For those of us that hail from southern Kentucky, films like The Fog and Halloween give a nod to to Bowling Green and surrounding areas with placed street names and landmarks throughout the movie.  So if you are home alone watching The Fog, you may really suspect that the fog is rolling down Smallhouse Road during the tense scene in which Stevie broadcasts the fog’s movements from the lighthouse.  On the other hand, you might be disappointed to learn there isn’t a Warren County Smiths Grove Sanitarium nearby his hometown, as featured in Halloween.   For local fans, it’s most disappointing that movie was actually filmed in Illinois, not Kentucky.

The Thing - courtesy of wikipedia
The Thing – courtesy of wikipedia

For those who aren’t exactly fans, I did create a list of my favorite John Carpenter films.  It’s a start, an introduction to John Carpenter.  I’m positive there are other fans out there that would have some qualms over something in my particular list.  I’m not a film student, nor do I always choose movies based on their content, but for some nostalgic reason.  That would definitely be evident if I ever completed a list of my favorite western films.

  1. The Thing – You can’t be a fan of John Carpenter films without enjoying this movie.  This is, hands down, his best film.  I would also say that it is the top favorite in the horror genre for both Cam and I.  Cam particularly likes movies in which the characters do not trust each other.  You can feel the tension between the characters when they try to determine who has been infected  It also has one of the best open-ended endings.  To top it off, Kurt Russell rocks a beard way before hipsters made it cool. Just don’t confuse it with the prequel from 2011 that is oddly also called The Thing.  You’ll be disappointed with that one.
  2. Halloween –  It’s probably his most well known film.  He created the villain that would spawn other faceless murderers in film, such as Jason Voorhees.  This was the first Carpenter movie I saw.  It also spawned several sequels and remakes, but like most remakes of Carpenter films, they don’t have the same soul.
  3. The Fog – What I really like about The Fog is the unpredictability of the dead sailors coming out of the glowing fog.  It seems as though they’ll target anyone.  It’s not learned until later in the film, and clarified in a novelization of the movie, that specific descendants of the town’s founders were being targeted.  It’s also important to note that the discovered bloody origins of Antonio Bay can serve as a metaphor for even America’s violent origins.  Once again, ignore the remake from 2005.  It seems that no one can replicate Carpenter very well.
  4. Escape from New York –  Set in a dystopic future in which Manhattan has been turned into a prison after crime in the US escalates.  It’s a solid sci-fi action film, if you’re not into the otherworldly creatures or gore of his horror flicks.  Kurt Russell is the perfect antihero and rocks the eye patch even better than the beard in The Thing.
  5. Big Trouble in Little China – This is just one fun, campy film.  I also promise this isn’t a favorite Kurt Russell films list.  Russell plays a truck driver who gets roped into an adventure helping his friend find his kidnapped fiance. It’s action, martial arts, fantasy, and pretty goofy.  This film has recently seen a resurgence, probably because there is word of a remake.  Of course, as always, it won’t be as good as the first.

So, there’s my top 5.  If I added anything else, it might be They Live, an alien satire film from which produced the quote “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”  I guess you’ll have to watch it to understand.

What would be your favorite John Carpenter film?


It Follows

It Follows poster from wikipedia
It Follows poster
from wikipedia

Yesterday, Cam and I went to the movie theater. There’s just something special about date night seeing a horror flick that puts you on the edge of your seat and pays homage to old school horror. It Follows was everything we expected and hoped it could be.

For starters, the soundtrack is amazing. It’s fresh, but still has the feeling of horror from the 70’s – 80’s. It’s reminiscent of John Carpenter. To be honest, the music alone creeps me out and puts me on edge.

If you’re not that familiar with the movie or haven’t seen the trailer, It Follows is about a young girl who has a seemingly innocent sexual encounter with a guy she started dating. After her encounter with him, It begins following her. It is visible only to those it is following, appearing in various human forms. Its movements are slow, but it doesn’t stop.  In your typical horror flick, having sex generally means you’re probably going to die.  This movie plays on that premise.  The force will start to follow you once you have sex with the person it is currently following.  You can pass it along by having sex with someone else.  The film doesn’t demonize sex, but it does desensitize you.

What we really enjoyed about the movie was that the tension never let up. You were never sure when it was going to appear again or what form it took. Its form was human, but its movements and actions were inhuman. It never spoke. It never deviated from its chase. It didn’t seem to have any motive.

We did read a few bad reviews, with criticisms ranging from “it’s just a girl and her friends running away the whole time” to “there is no explanation of why it is happening.” I always hate with a decent little horror flick goes on to explain every little detail of why something is happening and how it came about. This movie does not. If you need an explanation, don’t watch this movie. Providing any explanation or motive of the force following her would ruin the mystique of the film. The horror that the movie invokes is fear and confusion shared by the protagonist and the viewer.

The answer to whether we highly recommend this film is a thousand times yes.  The fact that the film offers no explanation allows multiple interpretations.  In fact, we are still debating it.

How many bad movies can one person own?

To answer that, we can take a look at Cam’s movie collection.

When I bought my home, I owned only one set of DVDs – season 5 of The Wire. One day while I was sick, Cam bought me the movie Frozen to cheer me up. That is the extent of my disc collection. When Cam moved in with me, he brought hundreds. More than half are zombie movies. Most of those zombie movies are just bad zombie movies.  I’ll never watch them all.  I’ll never watch Automaton Transfusion or Raiders of the Living Dead.
Some of the movies he owns are really good.  The first time I went to his house, we watched his copy of 300. The second time, we watched the excellent REC. Maybe that’s when he figured I would stick around. Who else would stick around after watching a Spanish zombie movie with subtitles? It’s a really good movie.  It’s way better than its American rehash, Quarantine, and given his love for bad zombie movies, it’s no surprise he owns that one as well.
Or how about The Man from Earth? He is the only other person I met that really enjoyed that movie. To my surprise, it was nestled on his shelf nicely between Mallrats and Matrix Reloaded. (It seems he only has The Matrix on VHS, and the rest of the trilogy on DVD.)
His propensity for the weird, the bad, and the interesting boggles me sometimes. In fact, to this day he defends his ownership of even Hell of the Living Dead and House of the Dead. He wonders why he’s left to watch some of them while I’m not at home.
I guess the tables are turned sometimes…like when made him watch Love Actually. I’m not defending it as a good movie. I think he actually thinks Hell of the Living Dead is a good movie. So bad it’s good, he thinks. I’ve never actually made him finish Across the Universe or Les Mis. I choose to indulge in my western movie addiction while Cam is at work. He’ll never understand my obsession with old John Wayne movies, much like I’ll never understand what is so great about Jackie Chan.
We probably agree more when it comes to television shows. If a movie cannot be settled upon, we can always agree on a few episodes of Star Trek instead.