The title “Master of Horror” is thrown around quite a bit. Often it’s warranted but sometimes not so much. In the case of filmmaker John Carpenter, however, you cannot heap enough accolades upon him.
Although he is one of the forerunners of the modern slasher sub-genre of horror, Carpenter’s credits go far beyond that. He is not only a true master of horror, but an incredibly diverse and talented filmmaker.
In honor of Scream Factory’s November 19th Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release of Assault on Precinct 13, we thought we’d sort through his impressive body of work and give you our Top 10 John Carpenter Films.
From celebrating Halloween in Haddonfield to escaping from New York and experiencing big trouble in China, Carpenter’s films are as diverse as they are entertaining. With honorable mentions to his first movie, Dark Star; the enchanting Starman; and anthology film Body Bags (which got its own Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD release earlier this month on the 12th), let’s take a look at some of his finest moments.
John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998)
Not necessarily one of the more iconic John Carpenter films but an enjoyable effort nonetheless. Adapted from the John Steakley novel Vampire$, this movie stars James Woods as Jack Crow, a professional vampire hunter. When Crow runs into uber-vamp Jan Valek, all Hell breaks loose. Vampires is more of a Western film disguised as a horror movie, but it performs wonderfully to appease both genres. Also starring Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee and Thomas Ian Griffith as Valek, Vampires is a cool good versus evil story loaded with killer practical effects.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Carpenter would frequently use the same actor repeatedly, and Big Trouble in Little China was the fourth collaboration between the director and star Kurt Russell. This martial arts/comedy film finds Jack Burton (Russell) fighting for his life trying to help his friend in the underworld of Chinatown. Big Trouble in Little China was rushed into production in order to hit theaters before Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child, which was a similar film. China beat Child by five months but would only gross about $11 million to Child’s nearly $80 million. It was also released just 16 days before the box office juggernaut Aliens, which didn’t help matters either. Fortunately, Big Trouble in Little China would go on to become a cult favorite with big success on home video.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Marking his first work with long-time collaborator Debra Hill, Carpenter considers Assault on Precinct 13 his first real film as he was shooting on a schedule. Carpenter not only wrote and directed the film, but he scored and even edited it. High on violence and action, Assault on Precinct 13 tells the story of the defense of a police station against a gang of ruthless toughs and ne’er-do-wells. Like Big Trouble in Little China, it was another Carpenter film to struggle originally at the box office, only to grow a cult following later on. Many consider it to be one of the greatest siege films of the 1970’s and beyond.
The Fog (1980)
Carpenter reunited with Jamie Lee Curtis, Adrienne Barbeau, Nancy Loomis and Charles Cyphers in creating The Fog, an eerie and stylistic tale of a California fishing town which becomes terrorized by a fog containing the ghosts of deceased sailors. Carpenter builds tension masterfully throughout this film, culminating in a fantastic climax. The Fog performed marvelously at the box office, bringing in over $20 million on a $1 million budget. However, upon seeing the original cut of the film, the director was so dissatisfied that he went back and shot a large amount of new footage to improve The Fog. Nearly one third of the movie we now have was the material Carpenter went back and reshot. Good call!
When two horror heavyweights get together, what do you get? In the case of the blending of John Carpenter and Stephen King, we got Christine, the story of a murderous haunted hot rod. With King’s story and Carpenter’s vision, Christine became a memorable horror film and one of the better adaptations of King’s work, which doesn’t always translate to the screen all that smoothly. It is a chilling idea… the thought of a vengeful car. And Carpenter did a great job bringing that across to the viewers. The power of a Plymouth Fury and what it can do to the delicate human frame and how terrorizing it can be to be chased down by such a machine.
They Live (1988)
Based on the book Eight O’Clock in the Morning by Ray Nelson, this film was like an Orwellian version of the sci-fi television show “V.” Starring Rowdy Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster, They Live not only gave us a great story with references to the power of marketing and commercialism, but it also gave us one of the greatest lines of dialogue of the 80’s, when Piper’s character, Nada, said “…I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I am all out of bubblegum.” That’s the Hot Rod for ya!
Prince of Darkness (1987)
Prince of Darkness is the second film in a trio Carpenter called his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” the first being The Thing and the third being In the Mouth of Madness. They all featured bleak endings for the characters and were dark, sinister tales. Prince of Darkness featured Carpenter regulars Donald Pleasence, Peter Jason and Victor Wong as well as an Alice Cooper appearance. Cooper also wrote a song entitled “Prince of Darkness” for the soundtrack. Which leaves one to ask, how is it possible that Alice Cooper didn’t already have a song entitled “Prince of Darkness” on his credits by 1987? Parts of the film were inspired by fictitious professor Bernard Quartermass, created by writer Nigel Kneale for BBC Television.
Escape From New York (1981)
“The name’s Plissken”. In Escape From New York Carpenter created the man who may very well be the coolest goddamn hero ever to hit the silver screen, Snake Plissken. It was Carpenter’s second film with Kurt Russell, as the two previously teamed up for a television movie entitled Elvis wherein Russell played Presley (and was nominated for an Emmy Award for his performance) two years earlier. Of course, in Escape From New York Manhattan has become a maximum security prison, and as luck would have it, the prisoners of Manhattan have captured the President after a crash of Air Force One and are holding him somewhere inside their prison home. It’s up to Snake Plissken to find him. Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween, co-wrote the film with Carpenter. Escape From New York was another box office success for Carpenter, bringing in over $25 million just at the domestic box office. Not a bad haul for 1981.
The Thing (1982)
Is there any better film collaboration than John Carpenter and Kurt Russell creating Escape From New York and The Thing? And amazingly, the two movies came out less than one year apart with Escape being released in July of 1981 and The Thing arriving in June of ’82. Unfortunately for The Thing, another more positive film about an alien life form was released in theaters two weeks earlier – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which was dominating the box office on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film of all time (a title it would hold for 10 years until relinquishing it to Jurassic Park). The Thing was incredibly underappreciated during its theatrical run. Thankfully it would later garner all the love it deserved. It’s claustrophobic. It’s filled with paranoia and real fear. Based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s, novel Who Goes There? (adapted first in 1951 as The Thing from Another World), The Thing certainly goes down as one of the most beloved horror/sci-fi films of all time.
And, of course, Halloween. Not only did John Carpenter create one of the most successful independent horror films of all time, he helped to set the groundwork for the slasher sub-genre of horror that would become so prevalent in the 80’s and beyond. Haddonfield, Dr. Loomis, Laurie Strode and Michael Myers – all staples of the horror genre and beloved by the subculture – were born in this movie. Halloween, and all its tie-ins to Psycho, launched Carpenter into stardom and got him going on a run of incredible films he created in the late 70’s and early 80’s that are still loved by viewers today. The legend that is John Carpenter began to grow as soon as Michael Myers escaped that mental institution and began his trek back to Haddonfield. And fans of horror cannot thank him enough for bringing us along for the ride.
Assault on Precinct 13 Collector’s Blu-ray/DVD Release Details:
Delivering more terrifying perils and action suspense, John Carpenter’s acclaimed pre-Halloween thriller ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 all-new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack hits home entertainment shelves everywhere on November 19 from Scream Factory. This definitive edition release of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 boasts a bounty of all-new special bonus content, a collectible cover featuring newly rendered retro-style artwork, a reversible wrap with original theatrical key art, and much more!
Assault on Precinct 13 Special Features
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