Plastic Soul: John Carpenter

Let’s talk about John Carpenter for a moment please, my favorite Carpenter! Why is it that when we talk about filmmakers from the 70’s or when the establishment does, they tend to mention Spielberg and Lucas and Coppola and Brian De Palma and William Friedkin as those 70’s film school brats? Why is John Carpenter never mentioned in the same paragraph? I could never figure it out, I still can’t – is it because he’s a bit of an outsider? Because he didn’t really go the studio route? That it’s hard to pinpoint a style for him? He’s done so many different things, I’m not sure, but I think he’s a bit of a genius. I think he’s a Maverick. I think we’re lucky to have him for however long we get him, but just for kicks I wanted to go through some of his films just to show the sheer level of quality and weirdness and variety in what he’s done from the time he showed up at least until the mid-90’s.

Master of Horror: John Carpenter’s Iconic Filmography

It starts with Dark Star, a weird sci-fi comedy, but it’s co-written by him and Dan O’Bannon. Dan O’Bannon ended up co-writing Alien a few years later then Carpenter does a movie called Assault on Precinct 13 which is a great little thriller – a little police precinct, a couple of bad guys have to help out the good guys, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but it’s low budget, it’s fun. Then right from there he goes and makes a movie called Halloween which becomes, I believe, the biggest independent movie ever made. It made so much money, it’s been sequeled and remade and redone so many times I can’t even keep track anymore, but it was massive. It was huge – it’s a cultural thing – best Halloween movie ever made I suppose.

After that he does a TV movie with Kurt Russell called Elvis. It was the first time he worked with Kurt Russell (more on him later) – it’s a good TV movie as such things go and Kurt Russell does a great job as Elvis. Then he does a movie called The Fog which did okay when it came out but has certainly become a modern horror classic. He kind of wanted to do a PG ghost story, horror film, there’s some gore in it, but not much. He kind of took a left turn from the expectations of Halloween, but it’s a great movie, it’s now a classic.

In 1981 he does Escape From New York – I think it did very well. He teams up with Kurt Russell who plays the tough guy, and crime is so bad in the future New York has become a giant prison, the president gets kidnapped, only one man can go in and get him! And that’s Snake Pliskin, who’s a bad guy, but it’s total pulp and it works! It’s a classic, then Carpenter does the remake of The Thing which got terrible reviews when it came out, did no business. But 40 years later is heralded as probably one of the best horror sci-fi films of all time. Certainly, one of the greatest horror films of all time, the effects, the screenplay, the music, Kurt Russell again, then a year later licking his wounds after that, because it didn’t do well and he’s very disappointed, he was really hurt by it.

He does Christine a Stephen King adaptation, it was huge. Then he does a movie called Starman with Jeff Bridges, one of my favorite actors, I think it earned him an Academy Award nomination, huge movie. Karen Allen’s in it too, Marion Ravenwood from Raiders, can’t go wrong there. Then he does a weird, extra left turn and does Big Trouble in Little China which didn’t do any business when it came out, but if you got it – if you understood it, if you dug it when it came out, you were there, you got it – it’s become another cult classic. Another team up with Kurt Russell, I love it, it’s definitely an acquired taste, but it took a while to find an audience, eventually did and it’s fantastic then he does another horror film that not a lot of people have seen that I cannot recommend enough, because it’s so weird and creepy.

It’s called Prince of Darkness, and that title should kind of tell you who it’s about, but it is truly a disturbing horror movie with some gore for sure. It’s a weird one, it’s kind of a forgotten John Carpenter, but it’s got to do with people having the same dream and the end of the world coming up, he uses lots of names of famous horror authors for characters in the movie.

John Carpenter’s Enduring Impact on Horror

The last thing he does that’s really a landmark to me is a movie called In the Mouth of Madness with Sam Neal. It’s Carpenter’s sort of homage to H.P. Lovecraft. A very strange film, again, very disturbing, very well done, very John Carpenter, the music, the humor in it and so on. And he never repeats himself, except he did do Halloween 2 that was a sequel. He didn’t direct it, but he was involved with that, and he was involved with Halloween 3, but he did a sequel to Escape from New York which is Escape from LA which we don’t need to talk about.

The other cool thing about Carpenter is how many of his movies have been made into action figures or characters or creatures from his movies have been made into action figures. One of the pirates from The Fog, Kurt Russell, creatures from The Thing, Halloween. He really is on the Mount Rushmore of horror icons as far as I’m concerned, a genre icon. Remember how I talked about Timothy Dalton before? My sort of man crush on Timothy Dalton? I kind of have one on John Carpenter too, so I just wanted to do a quick shout out for no reason whatsoever to John Carpenter.

Let Us Know Your Thoughts

If you know, you know. If you dig him, you dig him, there’s nothing to explain, but if you haven’t explored his work enough, there’s some movies to recommend that you should check out.

What are your thoughts? Do you like John Carpenter? Are you a big fan? Do you wish he’d get back in the director’s chair and do something, or does he not need to because he’s done so much? Let us know in the comments, please hit like, and subscribe, and don’t forget to sign up for the Entertainment Earth email newsletter to stay up to date on all your pop culture needs, they won’t let you down! I’m going to watch this again for the millionth time, see you soon!



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