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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?