• Hey, guest user. Hope you're enjoying NeoGAF! Have you considered registering for an account? Come join us and add your take to the daily discourse.
  • Hey Guest. Check out the NeoGAF 2.2 Update Thread for details on our new Giphy integration and other new features.

Let's talk John Carpenter / Carpenter 101

Status
Not open for further replies.

Fancy Clown

Member
Dec 3, 2013
15,752
7
0

This may come as a surprise to you, but I enjoy the films of John Carpenter. I imagine many of you do as well. So I figured we could use a place to talk about this legend, his movies, his music, his legacy, and his mustache.

For the uninitiated:

Who is John Carpenter and why does he need a thread?

First of all, shame on you. But second of all, you're probably not alone in asking this because although he's amassed a sizable cult following, he is still one of the most undervalued of great American directors. He had one smash hit with everyone's favorite slasher Halloween, an Oscar nominated film Starman, but by and large his films have either been scorned by (American) critics and/or spectacularly failed at the box office. Now generally accepted as the classic that it is, The Thing opened on June 25th, 1982, and earned terrible reviews and noone saw it. The very same day the same thing happened to Blade Runner. There was obviously something weird going on that day.

Anyway, to get back to the point, John Carpenter is a genre filmmaker, who suffuses very campy elements and low budget charm backed by incredibly strong filmmaking in the school of Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks. He is known for his stunningly visual storytelling with perfect use of widescreen compositions, lots of stedicam, and atmospheric lighting. His movies feel like throwbacks to a bygone era of American machismo, but are totally self aware about these inclinations as well (Big Trouble in Little China being an excellent example of this).

He also composed or composed most of the music to his films, and it is amazing (prepare yourself for lots of links to examples of said dope soundtracks to follow in the next section). His synth fueled scores are often as iconic as the films themselves. His music, predilection for slow building tension, strong visual compositions, and immensely enjoyable B-movie trappings make for some of the most enjoyable and atmospheric movies ever made. He's had quite a filmography that has sadly diminished in quality in the 90's and has since sputtered out, but his legacy and impact are far reaching.

But really all you need to know is that John Carpenter is the fucking man, and all the evidence you need for that is in his filmography.

What movies has he made, and which ones should I watch? Aren't a lot of them supposed to be crappy?

Never fear, I've whipped together a handy primer on his movies. It's true there are some real stinkers in his catalogue, but even the most reviled seem to have something to offer as even Ghosts of Mars has garnered a following. *Disclaimer* I haven't seen all his movies yet (shame on me) so I can't be as thorough on some of his more obscure titles, but that's why I'm making this thread, so someone can even school me on some of these.

1. Dark Star (1974)
Not so selected listening
What it's about: A satiric look at the problems experienced by a crew of bumbling astronauts on a mission to destroy rogue planets.
Why you should see it: It stars a beach ball as a monster alien, and was co-written by Dan O'Bannon. O'Bannon would use this idea as the impetus for a little movie called Alien which he would write soon after.
Choice quote: "I do not like the men on this spaceship. They are uncouth and fail to appreciate my better qualities." - Pinback

2. Assault on Precinct 13 (1975)
Selected listening
What it's about: LAPD and prisoners alike team up to survive a horrific onslaught of gang members avenging the slaying of several of their members.
Why you should see it: The birth of Carpenter as we know him, in his full widescreen glory. Still a relentlessly intense siege movie in the vein of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, and stars the first of many Carpenter badasses in the convict character Napoleon.
Choice quote: "Got a smoke?" - Napoleon

3. Halloween (1978)
Selected listening
What it's about: On Halloween an escaped mental patient returns to his hometown for a night of slaughter.
Why you should see it: The movie that put Carpenter on the map, and by far his most successful, it would spawn over a decade's worth of imitators, though none can capture the simmering tension and beautifully shadowy cinematography of this horror masterpiece.
Choice quote: "It's Halloween, everyone's entitled to one good scare." - Sheriff Leigh Brackett

4. The Fog (1980)
Selected listening
What it's about: A mysterious fog rolls in on a seaside town and bodies start piling up.
Why you should see it: One of Carpenter's most underrated films (you'll hear me say this a few times) had the difficult proposition of following up Halloween. It failed to elicit the same level of excitement from moviegoers and critics, but it absolutely delivered on a highly entertaining throwback to classic ghost stories. It is perhaps Carpenter and his frequent cinematographer Dean Cundey's finest collaboration, a stunning looking movie and the seaside location that recalls the thick atmosphere and sense of place found in Jaw's Amity. The film is framed as a campfire story, and conjures up the same perfect spooky yet comfy charm.
Choice quote: "11:55, almost midnight. Enough time for one more story. One more story before 12:00, just to keep us warm." - Mr. Machen

5. Escape from New York (1981)
Selected listening
What it's about: In the distant future of 1997, New York City has been turned into a massive prison island to contain the growing crime outbreak. The President of the United States is held hostage inside, and the meanest convict around is offered the chance of freedom in return for rescuing the president.
Why you should see it: Snake Plissken is the first of Carpenter and Kurt Russell's amazing collaborations, and is worth the price of admission alone. As a bonus you get one of the best action movies ever made, effortlessly shifting genres and set against an amazingly gritty and lo-fi dystopian cityscape, Donald Pleasance as the President of America, and multiple staredowns between Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef.
Choice quote: "It's the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don't give a shit about." - Bob Hauk

6. The Thing (1982)
Selected listening
What it's about: Something that came out of the ice, something not human, is infecting members of a remote Antarctic research facility. The only problem is, it's impossible to tell who's still human and who's a thing.
Why you should see it: It's John Carpenter's masterpiece and one of the best movies ever made. In addition to the finest and most intense depictions of paranoia and isolated tension ever put to film, it is a display of incredible special effects that are stunning to this very day. It's also the first of Carpenter's thematically tied Apocalypse Trilogy.
Choice quote: "Somebody in this camp ain't what he appears to be." - Macready

7. Christine (1983)
Selected listening
What it's about: A nerd lovingly restores a 1958 Plymouth Fury that is nicknamed Christine. The car gets defaced and then begins to kill people.
Why you should see it: I haven't seen this one yet myself, but John Carpenter adapting a Stephen King book about a car that kills people is reason enough for me.
Choice quote: "Whoa, whoa. You better watch what you say about my car. She's real sensitive." - Arnie

8. Starman (1984)
Selected listening
What it's about: An alien on the run from the government enhabits the body of a Wisconsin woman's dead husband, and the two forge a powerful bond.
Why you should see it: It's very different from Carpenter's usual bond, and is a surprisingly effective love story. It's also the only time a Carpenter film was nominated for an academy award, in this case for Jeff Bridges performance as the titular Starman.
Choice quote: "You are a strange species. Not like any other. And you'd be surprised how many there are. Intelligent but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you?" - Starman

9. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Selected listening
What it's about: Ancient curses, kidnapping, immortal spirits, magic, and all sorts of other weirdness is going down in San Francisco's Chinatown, and ol Jack Burton, truck driver and all around awesome--if incompetent--dude is caught in the middle of it.
Why you should see it: Probably Carpenter's most fun, and quotable movie. Kurt Russell's inept hero set against the constant weirdness and amazingly hammy cast is never not a blast to watch.
Choice quote: "Just remember what ol' Jack Burton does when the earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol' storm right square in the eye and he says, "Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it."" - Jack Burton

10. Prince of Darkness (1987)
Selected listening
What it's about: Scientists and a Priest team up to investigate a vat of swirling green goo in the basement of a church. They soon find themselves in a fight for there lives against and for the survival of the human race.
Why you should see it: Another of Carpenter's most underrated gems, and is Carpenter at his utmost Carpenteriest. It's a horror siege movie starring a joyously hammy Donald Pleasance and perhaps Carpenter's best score in a legitimately creepy film that expertly builds up tension until it unleashes absolute madness. This is the second film in the Apocalypse Trilogy.
Choice quote: "This is not a dream" - ???

11. They Live (1988)
Selected listening
What it's about: A wanderer receives special sunglasses that reveal America is being run by aliens that control the population through subliminal messages to get them to become capitalist consumers.
Why you should see it: In addition to all the iconic visuals this film has spawned, it's one of Carpenter's last thoroughly enjoyable films (although in my slanderous opinion, it's one of his more overrated films). It stars wrestler Rowdy Rody Piper and is completely ridiculous. It also has an amazingly gratuitous fistfight that goes on forever.
Choice quote: "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum." - Nada

12. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Selected listening
What it's about: Chevy chase being invisible.
Why you should see it: It also has Sam Neil and Daryl Hannah in it.
Choice quote: "I want my molecules back!" - Nick

13. In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
Selected listening
What it's about: Horror novelist Sutter Cane goes missing, and his works of fiction start to take on a life of their own.
Why you should see it: Another criminally underrated Carpenter film (last time I say that, I promise) and the last of his great films. Sam Neil is great in it, and it's probably the best Lovecraftian film I've seen. A bigger budget could have helped with some of the effects, but the ideas behind the film--and some effective scares--aren't hampered in the slightest. It also concludes the Apocalypse Trilogy, with just as perfect of an ending as the previous two films.
Choice quote: "Do you read Sutter Cane?" - Axe maniac

14. Village of the Damned (1995)
Selected listening
What it's about: After a mysterious event in which a whole town passes out at the same time, 10 women give birth to children with mysterious and frightening powers.
Why you should see it: I haven't seen this one nor heard many good things about it, but it's got a small town setting that Carpenter excels at has Christopher Reeves and Mark Hamill.
Choice quote: "They have the look of man... but not the nature of mankind." - Reverend George

15. Escape from L.A. (1996)
Selected listening
What it's about: Snake is called back for one more mission to get the President's daughter, and the weapon she has, out of the island Los Angeles.
Why you should see it: For more Snake Plissken of course, in particular if you have a strong desire to watch him surf.
Choice quote: "Sad story. You got a smoke?" - Snake

16. Vampires (1998)
Selected listening
What it's about: Professional vampire killer with a personal vendetta runs up against a vampire king pin in the infested lands of New Mexico.
Why you should see it: I personally found it to be a bit trash, but there's some fun in the first reel, and James Woods gives it his all. All the characters a really dickish though and not in a good way, and quite a bit homophobic. It also has one of the lesser Baldwin's in it. The movie has developed its own little cult following however, so ymmv.
Choice quote: "Padre... I'm beginning to like you... so don't make me hurt you, OK?" - Jack Crow

17. Ghosts of Mars (2001)
Selected listening:
What it's about: Ghosts. On Mars.
Why you should see it: I'll save you an hour and a half:
.
Choice quote: "Tide's up. Time to stay alive" - Desolation Williams

18. The Ward (2010)
Selected listening
What it's about: A psychiatric patient claims a dead patient is stalking the halls of the facility, but no one believes her.
Why you should see it: Um...I'll get back to you on this one.
Choice quote: "Sorry, I don't converse with loonies" - Sarah

And there you have it, John Carpenter's feature filmography. As you can see it trails off towards the end, but there is an incredibly strong run from 1978-1995. Now get to (re)watching.

Okay, now I've seen them all. I want more.

Wow that was fast. Lucky for you he directed two segments for Masters of Horror called "Cigarette Burns" and "Pro-Life". He also co-directed a Creepshow-like anthology horror movie called Body Bags with Tobe Hooper, of Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame. Carpenter himself served as the host for the segment, as you can see. This also marked his first collaboration with Mark Hamill, whom he would return to work with in Village of the Damned in 1995.

Body Bags (1993)
Selected listening

And if you want more filmy stuff he worked on (greedy, but understandable) he also produced, wrote the screenplay , and composed the music, for Halloween 2. I haven't seen it, but apparently it's mostly a ho hum follow up although it does add much of the series' now iconic backstory to Michael Myers, and is notable for Dean Cundey returning to grace the picture with his amazing shadow filled widescreen compositions, and John Carpenter's extremely dope fuller sounding rendition of the Halloween theme.

Halloween II (1981)
Selected listening

And then Carpenter produced and composed the music for Halloween III: Season of the Witch. This entry is notable for not having anything to do with the Michael Myers. Originally Carpenter wanted Halloween to be an anthology series connected only by being horror films set on Halloween, but sadly after this one garnered backlash and poor reviews the series course corrected back to being Halloween: The Rehashining, gracing us with such cinematic treasures as Halloween H20: LL Cool J Edition. Again I haven't seen this entry in the series, but it has garnered quite a following. The premise sounds absolutely bonkers, and it stars Tom Atkins of The Fog fame!

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Selected listening


But wait...The Ward came out 6 years ago. Is he gonna make another movie again?

Sadly the outlook for that is not so good. He seems burnt out on filmmaking, and I don't blame him, especially after the reception many of his films have gotten stateside, and the constant struggle to get funding.

So what's he been up to?

The next best thing to making more movies of course, making new music! He has released two albums. Lost Themes, and his second ever sequel, Lost Themes II. They are the soundtracks to all the imaginary movies he's not making at the moment, and they are awesome.

Lost Themes (2015)
The whole shebang

Lost Themes II (2016)
The whole shebang II

Now you're all caught up on John Carpenter! Congrats. Now you can see just how much of an impact his legacy has had on media. From video games (Metal Gear Solid), to movies (stuff like It Follows, The Guest), and even Netflix tv shows (Stranger Things) all have a little to a lot of Carpenter influence in them. You'll start to see it everywhere.

But no more John Carpenter stuff :( What now?

Well, when some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."

That didn't really answer my question...

 

MrCuddle

Member
Apr 15, 2012
128
0
0
Scania, Sweden
Good stuff, good stuff! Reminds me that I need to go and watch In The Mouth of Madness.

Really looking forward to seeing him perform live in a few weeks.
 

Forceatowulf

G***n S**n*bi
Jun 18, 2006
18,079
0
0
Where the games are.
Haha! I literally watched The Thing with one of my buds just yesterday. :D

He totally dug it by the way. Unfortunately, the only Carpenter films he's seen are Escape from NY, Big Trouble in Little China, and The Thing. I gotta fix that obviously.

They Live and Vampires is next on the Carpenter hit list.
 

Monocle

Member
Jan 16, 2008
36,258
12
940
What a great OP. You've convinced me to dig deeper into Carpenter's catalog.
 

gamz

Member
Nov 11, 2015
13,664
5
370
He had an amazing 20 run.

Churned out genre classics left and right.

As a kid he was my hero.

Great OP and he deserved it.
 

Sumio Mondo

Member
May 27, 2015
5,188
4
0
Manchester, United Kingdom
He also wrote/directed a TV movie around the time of Halloween called 'Someone's Watching Me (1978) which is supposed to be good.

Here's an interview about the film with the man himself:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdIbqqB297g

So hard to find, really want to see it.

And it might be worth mentioning his writing/musical credits on Halloween 2 (he actually directed some of this film supposedly, adding in a few extra scenes since it "wasn't scary enough" according to Carpenter) and Halloween 3 (although this was uncredited for the writing part, not much is known on how much he did here, I don't think).

He also wrote Eyes of Laura Mars and Black Moon Rising, but let's not mention those.

EDIT: And that Elvis biopic that he directed with Kurt Russell in the lead role (their first collab together).

Seeing this man in October in Manchester at his music event. Cannot wait. What a legend.
 

Jazzkokehead

Member
Sep 24, 2013
837
0
0
Love me some John Carpenter - one of my favorite directors. Just bought Escape from New York on Blu-ray recently actually, and can't wait for the new version of The Thing to come out.

He's also currently doing a live tour playing music from his films and his two recent albums, which I was lucky enough to attend a show of. It was a lot of fun.
 

bob_arctor

Tough_Smooth
Jun 7, 2004
18,636
2
0
48
Carpenter is one of my cinematic gods. Love his style. I am in the process of watching his classics with my kids. We have seen Halloween, They Live, Escape from New York, The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. Next up is The Fog.
 

Discotheque

Banned
Oct 5, 2009
51,294
1
0
I think he slowly lost it as a filmmaker with his last few. But with lost themes hes still got it on the composing front
 

SeanC

Member
Oct 30, 2015
3,122
0
0
Los Angeles, CA
Great thread about one of my favorites. He has five movies that I consider some of my favorites alone, more than just about any other director I can think of (mabe Spielberg or Scorsese).

Interesting thing about Invisible Man is that Carpenter was just a hired hand. It was Chase's vanity project and nobody wanted to work with him on it but Carpenter wasn't doing much at the time so was like "ok..." . He hasn't talked about it much, but I think it's easy to assume it wasn't a good experience for him because of lack of creative control.

I've seen Body Bags many times but it's weird...I never remember anything from it and every time I pop it in I'm like "oh yeah..." then I forget everything again.
 

CREMSteve

Member
Feb 9, 2012
8,336
0
715
British Columbia
OP, Christine and Village of the Damned are excellent flicks, watch ASAP.

I also recommend Body Bags, he plays the Cryptkeeper-like Coroner and directs alongside Tobe Hooper. Loved that one as a kid.
 

breadtruck

Member
Jun 1, 2013
2,157
1
0
Wisconsin
A couple of Carpenter's movies are part of my all-time favorite flicks. Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing.

That said, I enjoy all his movies. They Live and Escape were campy fun.
 

True Savior

Member
Sep 13, 2014
7,678
2
400
I think he slowly lost it as a filmmaker with his last few. But with lost themes hes still got it on the composing front

As a person who actually heard personally Carpenter talk about his works, and how dispassionate he talked about it, I think he stopped giving any fucks. After a while he made movies cause he knew how to make them. That was it. A job. Just basic craft after so much disappointments he had in his artistry path.
 

wenis

Registered for GAF on September 11, 2001.
Aug 22, 2007
37,496
0
0
Really really happy I had the opportunity to watch him play his theme songs and albums live. A really amazing time from one of my favorite directors of all time.
 

Obscura

Member
Aug 5, 2011
726
0
0
Atlanta, Georgia
It's embarrassing I didn't know he directed Christine. With that said I never would have guessed watching it. Saw it for the first time about a month ago. Absolutely hated it. For me, Arnie was unbearably annoying.

The Thing is as perfect a Horror film as there could ever be. Best f/x of all time. Botin could have only ever worked on The Thing and he'd still be a legend among legends. It also has Stevie Wonder's Superstition amongst all the Morricone madness and songs don't get much better.

...I'm going to go watch The Thing.
 

B-Dubs

No Scrubs
Mar 19, 2012
60,819
0
685
The fact Escape from Planet Earth never got made is a crime. Fucking love me some Carpenter.
 

Fancy Clown

Member
Dec 3, 2013
15,752
7
0
Dexpressing fact about The Thing's score: Morricone was nominated for a Razzie for worst score that year for his work on The Thing.
 

Discotheque

Banned
Oct 5, 2009
51,294
1
0
Dexpressing fact about The Thing's score: Morricone was nominated for a Razzie for worst score that year for his work on The Thing.

Man I can only imagine what a lot of ppl on this forum would be saying about it if RT was around back then too lol. The Thing got trashed by critics back in the day smh.
 

Eightguy

Neo Member
Jul 17, 2014
44
0
0
31
Lexington, KY
Man I can only imagine what a lot of ppl on this forum would be saying about it if RT was around back then too lol. The Thing got trashed by critics back in the day smh.

Was it ever explained why The Thing was critically panned? The gore? All-male cast?

Really great thread, OP. Love me some John Carpenter.
 

Zetta

Member
Jul 26, 2013
3,113
0
0
Yeah I've seen about all of them but this thread will have me re-watch them(no mars though). Will go in this threads order and enjoy every second of it.
 

Warm Machine

Member
Jun 9, 2004
15,812
63
1,585
Vancouver
firebase.ca
Was it ever explained why The Thing was critically panned? The gore? All-male cast?

Really great thread, OP. Love me some John Carpenter.

The gore didn't help. Fun fact, there was an episode of David Letterman that had Carpenter on it as a guest just before The Thing came out. The clip they showed was the dog sequence I believe.

ET came out the week before and had people loving cute aliens. Tron also came out that year and critics didn't like it.

I swear Ghosts of Mars is Carpenters abadoned take on making the Doom movie. Too many close similarities for it not to be.
 

gamz

Member
Nov 11, 2015
13,664
5
370
Was it ever explained why The Thing was critically panned? The gore? All-male cast?

Really great thread, OP. Love me some John Carpenter.

Read Ebert's review and that was pretty much the consensus at the time.

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-thing-1982
"The Thing" is basically, then, just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen. There's nothing wrong with that; I like being scared and I was scared by many scenes in "The Thing." But it seems clear that Carpenter made his choice early on to concentrate on the special effects and the technology and to allow the story and people to become secondary
 

Dai101

Banned
Jan 12, 2010
26,859
0
0
GDL
Great OP, OP.

Just a nitpick. Christine had already that name for the original owner Roland LeBay. I know you haven't watched it yet, you need to fix that ASAP. It's one of my favourite movies of all time.
"She had the smell of a brand new car, and that's just about the finest smell in the world, except maybe for pussy."
 

SapphiCine

Member
Jan 16, 2016
1,287
0
305
Still plenty of his films I need to see but I wholeheartedly recommend Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing. Going to watch In the Mouth of Madness soon.
 

Violence Jack

Member
Jun 20, 2013
13,179
0
0
I cannot think of a single Carpenter movie that I dislike. His movies are enjoyable, even his not so legendary ones.

I had tickets to go to his concert back in June, but apparently the venue that he was going to perform at cancelled his show 3 days before. I was pretty pissed.
 

Net_Wrecker

Member
Jul 16, 2009
32,836
2
0
Dexpressing fact about The Thing's score: Morricone was nominated for a Razzie for worst score that year for his work on The Thing.

They nominated Thief and The Thing in back to back years. The Razzies were on all the drugs .



ANYWAY, great thread. Carpenter is one of my favorite directors, and The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In The Mouth of Madness, Big Trouble In Little China, Assault On Precinct 13, Starman, and Halloween are yearly or bi-yearly watches.

The Thing in particular is probably one of my top 10 of all time. Brilliant movie.
 

Fancy Clown

Member
Dec 3, 2013
15,752
7
0
They nominated Thief and The Thing in back to back years. The Razzies were on all the drugs.

AND Kubrick for The Shining in 80.

I should correct my mistake of not having seen Christine, Prince Of Darkness, Dark Star, and In The Mouth Of Madness. Great OP, Fancy Clown!

A double feature of Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness would make for an excellently apocalyptic evening.
 

EBE

Member
Jun 14, 2013
6,037
167
440
LA, CA
gonna go ahead and say i think big trouble in little china is shit. i just dont like it. i dont think its funny or fun. at all.

The Thing and Halloween are goddamn masterpieces though.

escape from new york has a great first half. the rest i always skip.
 
Mar 20, 2016
688
97
335
Truly one of the most influential indie movie directors who was ahead of his time.

I've heard all he does nowdays is play video games and wants to remake games to movies like Dead Space.
 

Brakke

Banned
Jan 21, 2014
16,745
0
0
www.terrisus.com
Great OP. I absolutely adore Carpenter. The Thing is my all time favorite film. A bunch of total classics in his ouvre. I have a couple blind spots -- In The Mouth of Madness most egregious, I think -- that I've been meaning to take care of. Thanks for the reminder.
 

kunonabi

Member
Dec 2, 2010
18,536
4,018
1,000
Memoirs of an Invisible Man is actually my favorite invisible man movie. I never heard of Starman so I'm going to have to check that one out.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.