Thread: John Carpenter's Best Films (Spoilers aren't tagged)
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1. The Thing

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This is my favorite John Carpenter film, my second favorite horror movie and hangs around my top 5 films eternally, usually at number 3. A spaceship crash lands in Antartica thousands of years ago only to have a group of Norwegians find it in the present day (1982). The stars aren't the Norwegians, if you want to see their story The Thing 2011 is an OKAY telling of that with some major flaws, it does its best to sync up with this film, though. The film begins with two Norwegians chasing a husky dog with a helicopter, a sniper rifle and some explosives. The dog reaches a group of American researchers and the Norwegian tries to warn them but in his native tongue, when he begins firing at the dog one of his shots grazes one of the researchers and this is pretty much what causes peril for all. The man is killed under the belief he's attacking the US team and no chance for translating/understanding him is afforded. The dog isn't a dog, it's an alien that can take any form and it's in their base now.

This film was a box office bomb at release and a critical flop as well. It would take years for it to be re-examined and find an audience. It's all sort of mystifying to me because the qualities of the film aren't subtle. The atmosphere, the music, those goddamn creature effects... there's little about the film that isn't stellar and the horror genre could use more films not centered around teens, it's kinda refreshing to see a film in the genre that's strictly adults who act like adults. Some of them lose it a bit as the events unfold but how many of us wouldn't? I've always enjoyed movies where you can't trust the people around you, the paranoia about their possible motives, in this case that they aren't even human. This film keeps its secrets about who is or isn't human right up until everyone finds out and usually these are the biggest shocks of the film.

While movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers used this paranoid device to represent things like the fear of communism in this film I'm going to argue it's about the spread of STDs. They're all men, the tagline is "Man is the warmest place to hide", they do blood tests to figure out who has it, it passes it to you when you're alone and out of sight of other prying eyes and the big give away is a certain poster behind Kurt Russell during the big blood test scene. It's an old timey poster saying "They aren't labelled, hun" with some girl smiling on it while wearing a pin that says "I've got VD" VD is for venereal disease. It's subtle enough I usually didn't notice, but when you think of the production of a film everything has a purpose, why put that poster up so it's visible during the blood test sequence? Anyway not important I convince others of this, the movie is great without it.

Ennio Morricone's score for the film is among his finest, definitely among my favorite scores, what some may not realize, though is that not all of his cues were used for the film. Carpenter wanted things more subtle than some of what Morricone provided, he ended up rendering some extra music with Alan Howarth that isn't credited in the film. In fact their contributions only got released recently, a few years back. A few of the tracks Morricone provided that aren't in the film at all made an appearance in The Hateful Eight, another film about people trapped in the cold who can't trust who's who.

I'm kind of obsessed with horror centering around aliens and on top of that horror that is atmospheric, this film gives me one of the most enigmatic and terrifying alien creatures ever put to film, with multiple disgusting and terrifying forms taken throughout the course of the film and the sort of atmosphere that actually makes me feel cold and alone while watching. There's an early scene of Kurt Russell's RJ MacReady playing a chess computer game, when he loses he accuses the computer of cheating and pours his alcohol into it, frying it. To me this sums up the film, it's a big chess game between him and the Thing and when he realizes he's being outplayed... he decides to burn it all down. Then, of course, there's the final scene where Childs returns from God knows where and they sit in the cold, waiting to see what happens next... he offers Childs some of his liquor... maybe Childs accepts it because at this point who cares, they're both dead either way... but it's established earlier in the film they should do things like eat out cans and not share bottles (even saliva can pass on the STD!) so Childs accepting it could be a sign he's The Thing at the end. In the script after passing the bottle MacReady realizes Childs is the Thing and torches him with his flamethrower... this remained in the script, though because Carpenter preferred the ambiguity of the ending he went with. That said, I do think Childs is the thing and there's a good video by Rob Ager explaining why.



He has another good one where he figures out what happened with the blood bank. There's a lot of things you're not shown in the film, who turns who when and such, so it's content that's potent for theorizing on Youtube and plenty of people do it, Ager is just one of my favorites for this.

Haunting, disgusting, cold and pessimistic, this film is the perfect apocalyptic horror.

Rating: 10/10
 
Recently for the first time watched his They Live and damn it's a great movie. One thing that kinda took me back was the scene where main character was fighting black guy. It took so long I was like what the fuck for how long they're gonna fight haha.
 
I wasn't sure if there should be any suspense about the list and what order it's in I was more making this to discuss each film which is why I'm taking my time and why I started with the film I care the most about. I might not do another entry until way late tonight because I won't be home till then and I don't like the idea of trying to do one of these on my phone. I actually haven't 100% decided what number two is but there's a few films that have already been mentioned by you guys that are in contention.
 
I wasn't sure if there should be any suspense about the list and what order it's in I was more making this to discuss each film which is why I'm taking my time and why I started with the film I care the most about. I might not do another entry until way late tonight because I won't be home till then and I don't like the idea of trying to do one of these on my phone. I actually haven't 100% decided what number two is but there's a few films that have already been mentioned by you guys that are in contention.

#2 should either be They Live or Big Trouble in Little China, IMO.
 
I personally love the whole Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness) with the last one being my favorite by just the tiniest amount. Also Vampires are incredible.
 
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I personally love the whole Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing, Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness) with the last one being my favorite by just the tiniest amount. Also Vampires are incredible.
It's a great trilogy.
I didn't hate the remake of the remake of The Thing. I thought it was decent.
Technically a prequel but they gave it the same name and redid a lot of the big beats for some reason. The real problem with it was they covered all the practical effects with CGI at the last minute. The decision upset the effects crew so much they went to Kickstarter to make a film that actually shows what they're capable of and it actually got funded it's a movie called harbinger down and it's pretty fun.
#2 should either be They Live or Big Trouble in Little China, IMO.
There is a pretty good chance it's one of those two. But again it's going to take me awhile to do it.
 
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The Thing
Big Trouble Little China
Escape From New York
Halloween 3
They Live
Prince Of Darkness
Christine
Halloween
Vampires
The Fog
Memoirs of an Invisible Man
Dark Star
 
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2. They Live

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Look, I can tell you how important the messaging in these films is but I'd be lying if I said it's why I loved them. This is both sillier than The Thing and more of a message movie at the same time. To be fair the message is presented in a satirical manner but the silly aspect goes beyond that, it's starring a pro wrestler who wears shades to look cool and spouts off one liners. Though, those aspects feel pretty apropos in a film about the possible dangers of Reaganomics as the Reagan era was rife with action films starring beef cakes who have no business acting spouting one liners and trying to look cool. But again we cross a problem, I loved this film before I even GOT IT.

It's hard to talk about this film without talking about Carpenter's problems with consumerism, Reagan, the treatment of the homeless and all of that... but I grew up on it and growing up none of that stuff meant much to me. It's something we're missing nowadays to a certain extent, films with this much satirical bite that are also an absolute blast to watch even if the ideas aren't sinking in for you. From epic alley brawls to gun fights and explosions galore this is a fun, nasty, pessimistic little film. Rowdy Roddy Piper is pretty entertaining as the lead, I'd like to say I understand why his film career didn't take off, but then I'm reminded Steven Seagal has a film career.

Similar to The Thing in the sense of aliens being all around us and we can't tell. Here they don't want to grotesquely take us over, they just want us to live in a sleep-like state while they get rich. The action/sci-fi of today is pretty much made for pansies compared to a film like this. In the version of this that would be made today it'd be PG-13 and end with the hero killing some controlling alien or some shit that kills all the other aliens, maybe a sky laser, instead it ends with a hero by no name (Nada in the credits) awakening the world to what's going on while flipping the bird to those who killed him, which it does feel like quite the fuck you from Carpenter to a lot of people. The world now knows the truth, what happens next? Who knows. Carpenter loved ambiguous endings and I do, too!

While we're at it, let's cite Rob Ager again with one of his videos on the film...



Rating: 10/10
 
3. Escape From New York

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Carpenter at his angriest. This action flick that would inspire Metal Gear Solid is almost like a dark fantasy and the fantastical world is New York City in the near future of the year 1997. Rejoice that Carpenter tended to be off the mark when it came to his visions of our future. Life is cheap in the world of 1997, even the President's life isn't worth more than a tape he's carrying in his briefcase. Snake Plissken is a war hero who turned criminal and is now being tasked with getting the President out of NYC, the biggest prison in the world. The quintessential anti-hero, Snake is only as heroic as the world depicted deserves. In Snake's own words "I don't give a fuck about your war or your President."

I said dark fantasy, the NYC of the film is an alien being compared to the NYC of today, though the way things were going for NYC in the '70s/early '80s this might not have seemed too far off. Just swap a few details and you can see it as a fantasy, the Duke is like a King of this fantasy world, switch the Cab for a horse, the sewer-dwelling crazies turn into monsters (heck they pull people through floors already!), Brain is a magician and Snake even has to win trial by combat! There is no fairy tale ending, though. Like They Live this film ends with a big middle finger, figuratively this time. Snake exits the screen while tearing apart the film's MacGuffin, potentially dooming a world that looks like doom already came and went.

I'd link another Rob Ager but his 44 minute analysis of this film is on his website behind a payment, if you're interested go for it, guy is interesting and deserves some compensation for his hard work but I don't feel like linking it.

Rating: 10/10
 
i think that's the best possible description of both the movie and carpenter's state of mind, angry and like some kind of dark fantasy inside the black heart of new york city

loving your writeups, respect the output
 
So, for clarification before continuing here are the John Carpenter films I have not seen...

Elvis
Someone's Watching Me!
Pro-Life
Captain Voyeur

Someone's Watching Me! is the only one of the four I'm especially interested in, however. I'll get to it someday.
 
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4. Prince of Darkness

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In terms of a film scaring me this ranks up there with The Thing. Now, it's not as good as The Thing, The Thing to me is one of those perfect films it's hard to imagine even came out so good. There are a few places where this one doesn't quite match it, the main one would be the cast, though they're fine and some of them are fun The Thing sort of had perfect casting where every actor felt like they brought their all to their roles no matter how little screen time. The pacing is better in The Thing as well. Considering The Thing didn't get good recognition in its day it's no surprise this film still hasn't found an appropriate level of love, then.

But ignoring those elements that hold up less to scrutiny we have a film that marries religious horror to science in a way I haven't seen many, if any, other films attempt. Also, hey, how many movies have LIQUID Satan in them? Honestly all those shots of that green liquid in that basement terrify me, as do the weird visions of the future people have in their sleep in the film. The film is full of what you could call Carpenter tropes, people trapped in one location, people being taken over, a pessimistic and ambiguous ending and of course a creepy but subtle score. In this film the homeless, lead by Alice Cooper are imprisoning our protagonists in this building, forcing them to deal with their possessed friends. While the homeless were given a sympathetic view in They Live in this due to their propensity for psychological issues such as schizophrenia they make for easy puppets of the Prince of Darkness.

I'm not sure if the film has anything deep to say, with the other films I can see what he's angry about, what he's pessimistic about but I loved them prior to knowing. With this film I currently don't know and love the film. I definitely don't get the vibe that he has as many hang-ups about religion as he does Government and it was interesting to watch science students have to work with religion instead of pretending the two were opposed to each other. I said this ranks up there with The Thing for scaring me but if I'm 100% honest I have more trouble putting this film on by myself in the dead of night than I do the Thing, haha.

Rating: 10/10
 
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5. Halloween

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The quintessential slasher film and probably the most well-liked Carpenter film by general audiences, unlike other films on the list this was loved in its day, I love all Carpenter scores but this is the one a regular Joe could hear the theme for and instantly know what movie it's from. Funny enough, unlike most the rest of the list I wasn't a huge fan of this film growing up. It's subtle and small scale compared to other Carpenter outings and I always liked things big and absurd. It would take my adult, evolved mind to appreciate how well done this film is, how the narrow focus makes for such a slick film.

And I do get why it appeals to such a broad range of people where other films don't, for some people weird alien creatures coming down to Earth is absurd... but some wacko in a mask stabbing people? Sure, that shit could happen. The film has this cool way of making it feel like Michael is around every corner, always there... watching... it's something the films that emulated this formula didn't quite get right. I also felt the killings were very sexual in this, try re-watching the scene where a girl enters a car with fogged up mirrors and gets strangled by Myers, and notice you only see one of Myer's hands, what's the other doing during this scene? Even if these things went over your head I think they work on audiences psychologically regardless, kind of like how Alien was a bunch of graphic rape scenes, not everyone caught on (though where your imaginations went when Lambert is being killed who knows) but it was effective all the same because somewhere in your mind you got it, maybe not consciously and it affected you as a result.

We're 5 films deep and we haven't hit a happy, non-ambiguous ending yet!

Rating: 10/10
 
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6. In the Mouth of Madness

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The Thing was influenced by Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness... this film is influenced by the myth of Lovecraft himself. Consider the Necronomicon, a guide for summoning spirits and such referenced in Lovecraft's works and to this day there are people who believe it actually exists. I personally had a cop of this...


I owned this when I was young, not sure I could still find it... never read a single page because it terrified me. I thought this shit was real. So, we get to In the Mouth of Madness, a film about a horror novelist whose works are so powerful people begin believing it's real and the question becomes does belief make reality? In the case of this film it's actually not clear which way it works. Sam Neil plays an insurance fraud investigator tasked with finding Sutter Cane, the most popular horror novelist alive ("You can forget Stephen King" one character quips) and getting the final manuscript of his new book... In the Mouth of Madness. Neil plays a character who's never read Cane's work and doesn't get all the hubbub but begins reading it as part of the case. He finds that when you cut out and mix together the book covers you get a map to a fictional town from the books.

He believes this is a little stunt the publishers are pulling, follow the map and win some prize. So, he takes the road trip to try and find a town that doesn't exist with acknowledgments that there are towns so old and forgotten they aren't on maps. As the film goes on our hero is torn on what reality is and what he believes as we're torn on how this all works... does Cane create what we see? I surmise were he not so popular, were people not so dead set on believing his works it couldn't become reality. These demons require the power of our beliefs to enter our world and reshape it.

Carpenter's works are rarely big budget, this is one of the few that I think could benefit from a bigger budget. Creating a whole town of horrors is hard to do and while the job he did was admirable you can kind of imagine what he could have done with more budget. Though he likes to be subtle, even when the material isn't subtle, so maybe it's exactly as he wanted. It's one of his more ambitious films with some interesting visuals and creative scares. Usually there's a sort of logic you can apply to a Carpenter film but here it's harder to do.

Oh... and another famous John Carpenter ending for this one as well. Though I enjoy some of the films that released after this it's hard to deny this would have been a perfect way to end your career. Some of the projects that came after this sullied his name in the public eye, I still enjoyed most of it and hey some might even make this list but you get why someone like Quentin Tarantino talks about wanting to quit before he starts to suck.

Oh, and I'd love to read those Sutter Cane books.

Rating: 10/10
 
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in the mouth of madness is masterful, probably carpenter's most internal and deluded work which is strange considering the apparent influence of lovecraft as a polar opposite force who frequently wrote about hyper dimensional aliens and the like, terrors from unknown worlds adherent to strange physical laws and corrupted systems

 
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7. The Fog

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The atmosphere is thick in this one. A small town is haunted by a thick fog that comes in overnight and brings with it ghost pirates... which sounds silly but the execution is what matters. They don't make horror films like this much any more, that look and feel this cool with scores this cool. For a good example of what I mean try sitting through this film's remake sometime... ugh. The '80s could have stretched on longer than they did, everything was perfect, CGI wasn't an improvement, it was a detriment, digital isn't an improvement... shoot this shit on film. I sound like an old man here, there are some films that use CGI well that I've enjoyed, can't say for sure they couldn't have been better with practicals, though.

This one is a pretty simple morality tale ghost story that is elevated by that Carpenter flavor. I don't have a lot to say about it, despite loving it, hah.

Rating: 9/10



8. Big Trouble in Little China

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Listen to my audible groan when I hear this is being remade starring The Rock. It's not that the remake can't be good, but what my mind conjures upon hearing about this isn't pretty. There's a certain
80's silliness to the film that just doesn't work or exist today. Back then you would go into your video store and be like "WTF is this?" and end up renting something absolutely insane you never thought you'd see. Nowadays it isn't like that, they've got the formula nailed for pleasing a crowd and making off-beat weird films like this isn't in the cards.

This is more light-hearted and fun for Carpenter and feels like a love letter to weird Asian flicks I wouldn't know existed until I was an adult... not to mention the main influence for Mortal Kombat (is it any wonder Carpenter became a gamer with all the video games he influenced?). Back in the '80s good family fun meant your kids might not be able to sleep that night because they're imagining Lo Pan floating through their walls or weird creatures hiding in holes or whatever the Hell else... the '80s was totally boss.

Rating: 9/10
 
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9. Assault on Precinct 13

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Another Carpenter great that Hollywood shouldn't have remade. I mean, it's not like you can't make a good movie by remaking this... but they certainly didn't. The thing is films like this have such simple ideas behind them, you wonder how it could be screwed up? In this case there's a truce among a group of gangs, they're pissed at the cops. One of the leaders of the gangs is killed by a father avenging his daughter and he takes refuge in a police precinct in the process of being shut down with a skeleton crew manning it and on top of that, a prison bus makes an emergency stop. We end up with a film where cops and crooks need to team up against gang members who are seemingly inhuman monsters. Carpenter was good at this stuff, taking something more grounded and real and making it feel otherworldly, these gang members attacking the precinct may as well be zombies, they're as lifeless to the audience as the possessed homeless in Prince of Darkness, as bereft of any humanity as any alien villain he could conjure.

Rating: 9/10

10. Christine

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This is one of my favorite adaptations of a Stephen King novel. While some changes are made it hews closer to the source than these films normally do. But the main thing is, it's got the Carpenter feel... that atmosphere... the memorable score... actors you never saw in anything else bringing their A game somehow in this one film... all those Carpenter traits. It's one of those times I can't say if I prefer the book or movie but I probably lean movie because to me these ARE the characters in the book, right down to even the minor roles like the venomous old man who sells Arnie the car. The humor in this is for people who can laugh at the worst of human nature, my favorite character from that standpoint is probably the guy running the garage/junkyard Arnie keeps the car in... what a piece of shit but man he makes me laugh. And of course my favorite line of the movie uttered by Arnie's overbearing mother "Arnie doesn't know anything anymore!" makes me laugh every time. Once more I get why people aren't into this, the IDEA of it just puts them off... haunted car? Dumb, right? Who cares.

Rating: 9/10
 
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Okay... honorable mentions

11. Vampires - There's something slightly off about the climax of this film, there's a few scenes like it earlier as well where instead of showing us all the carnage it turns into a sort of montage that quickly rolls by us. It's really all that kept this out of the top 10.

12. Escape From L.A. - Look, this doesn't touch the original but it is proof I'd watch Snake escape from any city.

13. Village of the Damned - The problem with this movie is it feels like there's a whole middle act missing, like to me this film is a 1st and 3rd act with no second act, there's no real slow progression of people learning what these kids are, it just jumps to them being of a certain age and everyone knows they're evil little fucks. It's still a fun movie with some fun carnage near the end.

14. Ghosts of Mars - Hey, this film is fun. It's DUMB fun, but it's absolutely fun.

15. Memoirs of an Invisible Man - Haven't seen this since I was a kid... but I liked it back then!



I saw my pal, @MetalAlien listing Halloween III, unfortunately for this list I was sticking to films he directed. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a fantastic film that DOES have the Carpenter feel to it, though, it'd be in my top 10 had I counted it.
 
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All of his films. Him and Stephen King Ruled the 80s with their films.

A lot of people will incorrectly tell you that there are very few good movie adaptations of King's books.

To them, I say:

The Shining (even though King himself hates it)
Carrie
Christine
The Running Man
The Green Mile
Stand by Me
The TV movie 'It' (well I like it)
The Mist
The Dead Zone
Pet Semetary
The Shawshank Redemption
Cujo
Creepshow


So there.
 
A lot of people will incorrectly tell you that there are very few good movie adaptations of King's books.

To them, I say:

The Shining (even though King himself hates it)
Carrie
Christine
The Running Man
The Green Mile
Stand by Me
The TV movie 'It' (well I like it)
The Mist
The Dead Zone
Pet Semetary
The Shawshank Redemption
Cujo
Creepshow


So there.

Don't care much for non-horror King, personally.

I'd go...

1. Carrie
2. Christine
3. The Shining
4. Doctor Sleep
5. Maximum Overdrive
6. The Mist
7. Children of the Corn
8. Pet Sematary ('80s)
9. It (TV Movie)
10. 'Salem's Lot
11. The Running Man
12. Needful Things
13. The Mangler
14. Graveyard Shift
15. Cujo
16. Firestarter
17. Silver Bullet
18. Creepshow
19. Thinner
20. It
21. Creepshow 2
22. Misery
23. Secret Window
24. 1408
25. The Dead Zone

Which isn't the order they'd be in in when it comes to books, like I enjoy most of these but the second you hit Pet Sematary you've already reached movies I think are poor adaptions of their source, even if I like them.
 
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I still have no idea how that movie bombed, beyond the gen pop being stupid as fuck. That movie is the right kind of funny and campy.
Back then every movie was so good if something came at you from a different angle than you were used too you just moved on.