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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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...