Monday, March 23, 2009

Master of Horror: John Carpenter

Well, I figured it was about time I updated again (last week was a bit hectic for me between work and other things, I apologize for the lack of updates), so I figured I would do a second installment of the Master of Horror look. Today: John Carpenter steps up to the plate. Let's take a look, shall we?

*Again, this isn't a full filmography, go here if you would like to see that.

Halloween (1978): Okay, so admittedly, he directed some movies that don't sound all that great in the 60s and early 70s (Gorgon, the Space Monster?), but then he broke onto the scene with his slasher Halloween (it should be noted that he directed Assault on Precinct 13 before that, but it's not horror, so I'm not going there). Halloween is, in my not so humble opinion, the best slasher flick of all time. Dark, foreboding, not even very violent, and terrifying, it defines the genre. Check one great movie off for John.

The Fog (1980): An ample follow up. While it's not the greatest movie ever done, it's a good sophomore effort for John Carpenter. It's a pretty taut little movie, and as scary as you can make ghost pirates seem. It's also the second movie on this list that has been remade. That's usually a good sign when movies you've made are being redone (sometimes poorly). So far, so good.

The Thing (1982): This movie is more than ample, it's fucking great. This is probably my favorite Carpenter film, and that's saying something considering how much I like Halloween. After Escape from NY (again, not horror, not touching), Carpenter struck horror gold. While Escape from NY was good, it couldn't hold a candle to this movie. John Carpenter started to get some name recognition after this film, which led him to make...

Christine (1983): An adaptation of a Stephen King book, once again, we see Carpenter making something decidedly unscary (a killer car) into something fairly hair raising. It's not a masterpiece by any means, but it's a good movie to have and can usually be found cheap at Best Buy or Target.

Prince of Darkness
(1987): Not a great movie by any means, but an average horror flick. Carpenter took a movie off from horror (Big Trouble in Little China, a good movie as well) and came back with a resounding "meh". Pretty much his first misstep on the list. Again, it's not really that bad, but just considering what he's done for the genre up to this point, it fails a bit. It should be noted this is part of his "Apocalypse Trilogy", what John considers to be the three films representing the end of the world. It started with The Thing, then this, and ends in a couple entries with In the Mouth of Madness.

They Live (1988): After watching this movie, I have to wonder how Rowdy Roddy Piper never made it as an action star. It's a terrible movie by most merits, which is all the more reason to love it. It's cheesy, campy, filled with 80s cliches, and awesome for every last second. For god's sake, it was the inspiration for cripple fight from South Park! That makes any movie a victory in my book.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994): The end of the "Apocalypse Trilogy", this movie is better than the previous entry in the set. In the Mouth of Madness actually hearkens back to the John Carpenter films of the 80s with his self produced synth score and weird creature effects. It actually uses all traditional make up effects, which I respect, especially right after we had seen T2 and Jurassic Park make computer effects look really good.

Village of the Damned (1995): It's been a while since I've seen this film, but I can remember it fondly, for whatever that's worth. I don't own this movie, though it's one I often consider buying. It's sort of forgettable, anyone else have any thoughts? I don't consider it bad, just sort of filler.

Vampires (1998): I can't get behind this movie. It's just not that good. It's a pretty sub par vampire flick and hot on the heels of Escape from LA, we've hit the low point of John's career. I mean, the main vampire's name is a consonant sound away from being "phallic". And it has Daniel Baldwin, aka the fat Baldwin. Really?

Ghosts of Mars (2001): This movie, while pretty ridiculous, is actually pretty entertaining. I don't have a problem with it, which from what I understand is somewhat strange. Again, it's pretty much like his remake of Village of the Damned: it's just kind of there.

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns (2005): This was one of my favorite entries in the first season of Masters of Horror (I have yet to see any of the second season, so I don't know about Pro-life), but this definitely lived up to the Master of Horror billing.

So, in the end, Carpenter has been pretty overwhelmingly good (or at least passable). I think he's much more of a Master than Craven because he's actually made some good movies since 1988. But I must admit that, like Craven, his first few were his best. They both burst onto the scene and kept it going for a while. In the end, Carpenter has 7 films I like, 3 movies I'm okay with, and 1 that I don't like (not including his diversions from horror and the ones I haven't seen). As per usual, what do you think?


  1. I pretty much echo all you said here. "Halloween" is, in my opinion, his best film, over "The Thing". Don't get me wrong, "The Thing" is awesome, but unlike any other horror film, "Halloween" has consistently kept me scared, over multiple viewings.

    It has been way too long since I have seen some of his other stuff. Might have to get some in my Netflix queue.

    Great post!

  2. I agree, HALLOWEEN is a masterpiece!
    Jamie Lee Curtis can be grateful for that...
    Plus, it was one of the first slasher movies with FRIDAY THE 13rd, wasn't it?

  3. While I have seen all 3 of Carpenter's 'end of the world' films, I never knew that they were referred to as the 'Apocalypse Trilogy' - very interesting. . .

    I've seen them all and enjoy them all!
    Great post Zach!

  4. John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns has inspired me to make an experimental short film. I studied different techniques of influencing the human mind and attempted to implement them into a story. Art can be presented in the form of a product, or it can be used as a tool to promote different products, people, and ideas. Art can be seen as a tool for manipulation of the mind, the same way a scalpel is a tool for manipulation of the flesh.

    You can watch my short film on YouTube:

    or in case you prefer Vimeo: