Spotlight – John Carpenter

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I thought I’d beef up my 2020 month of Halloween horror with a few spotlights on some of the better known horror directors, and for me I can’t think of horror cinema without mentioning John Carpenter. While I admire that he’s one of the ultimate masters of the macabre, he went above and beyond to bring his personal vision of horror to the screen, taking on any role he could, camera man, extra, you name it, he went there to get it all done and on a shoestring budget until he made a name for himself. I am unable to justify all of his movies and I have struggled with some of his more modern efforts, if not the movie then at least some of the casting.. , but I do stand by the fact he’s one of the best and will always be known as a king of horror.

08 – They Live (1988)

More of a sci fi action flick I felt guilty for attempting to leave this off the list. Following a drifter, Nada (Roddy Piper) who finds a pair of glasses that allows him to see foul faced aliens and their draconian propaganda, Eventually teaming up with Frank (Keith David) their love/hate bond helps them fight each other and the alien invasion with their unique brand of bubblegum free ass kicking. It’s a vibrant action flick with so much character it’s never been matched.

07 – Body Bags (1993)

An unconventional horror anthology co directed by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper, indulging Carpenters comedy side, he stars as a reanimated corpse who spends the night in a morgue playing with the corpses and telling their stories. The 3 following shorts are totally unconnected and fleshed out with tons of talent and other horror directors including Wes Craven, Roger Corman and Sam Raimi. Stacey Keach starts in Hair as a man who’s vain attempt to grow back his hair brings him into contact with an unusual doctor and Mark Hammil gets a new eye from a serial killer which turns his life upside down. The stories are outlandish and quite comical while having a touch of gore and horror thrown in. It’s cheesy but incredibly good sport.

06 – Escape from New York (1981)

Kurt Russell stars as Snake, Snake Plissken with the tenacity as his character Macready in the Thing, if not a little harder and rougher around the edges, he’s coerced into becoming a mercenary tasked with rescuing the President after Air Force one is hijacked and forced to land in New York, but in this dark future, Manhattan is now a prison island and Snake has to battle the gangs who run the streets before his timer runs out. It’s a brutal fight to the very end as Snake befriends a few misfits as the battle against the Duke of New York, played by Isaac Hayes and his organised soldiers. Set against a nouveau urban decay and Carpenters iconic synth sounds.

05 – The Fog (1980)

The enraged spirits of dead sailors terrorise a town under a shroud of fog during the towns big anniversary, however it’s a solo hitchhiker (Jamie Lee Curtis) who stumbles into town who unwillingly heads up a local investigation into why the dead are returning to Antonio Bay and terrorising the locals. Despite the £1 mill budget the film is present in widescreen as it gives a different sense of scale, there’s also very little shot at sea but with Carpenters approach you’re very aware of the overarching dread of this salty revenge tale and can almost smell the brine. Adrienne co stars as a DJ who spends her nights in a lighthouse radio tower and through her keen eye she’s the first to become aware that something isn’t quite right about the fog. It’s a chilling revenge story which uses more than just special effects to create it’s chilling atmosphere.

04 – Halloween (1978)

How do you turn £300 into 70million. Simple you create a game changing movie. Carpenters most successful slasher is easily Halloween, the story of a young boy called Michael Myers who brutally murders his family, locked away for 15 years he escapes on October 30th while being transferred for a court date and returns to his hometown where he seeks out his next victims. The magic of Halloween isn’t just in the creation of this insane and unkillable slashing maniac but Carpenter highlighted a lot of gruesome horror stories he read in newspapers over the years, with ideas of people being attack in the streets but no one answering their calls for help, muggers using disguises to get away with brutal robbings all helped conjure up some of the more chilling scenes in this epic leap for the American Slasher genre. Michael is one of the easiest recognisable bad guys along with his zombie counterpart Jason Vorhees and the two spent the next few decades trying to get in the most violent kills in popular cinema history.

03 – Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Normally crime thrillers are cops vs robbers, but in this cracking film, John Carpenter does his usual role reversal trick and collects a bunch of unlikely heroes together against a huge street gang who have decided to wage war on the police on an unfortunate night. Precinct 13 is actually being closed down, with a couple of officers, a receptionist and a couple of prisoners they are forced to put their differences aside when a violent gang surrounds the station and starts attacking them throughout the night. Carpenter acknowledges that the gang are mostly dehumanised as a homage to Night of the Living Dead (1968) which also features some random unlikely under siege from a hoard of zombies. Both are noted as some of the Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.

02 – Christine (1983)

One of the primary killer car films, based on a book of the same name by Stephen King, Christine is a Toreador Red Plymouth with a jealous streak. Despite the differences in the stories the film manages to conjure an extremely dark persona with the classic car as she possesses and beguiles her new teenage owner, transforming him from geek to chic and helping him dispatch all of the school bullies who tried to make his life hell. The “special” effects are simple but effective, but what really spaces the film out is the quintessential synth soundtrack and use of lights to highlight Christine’s demonic persona. Between the gruesome killing there is a lot of darker styled family drama going on which is often overlooked.

01 – The Thing (1982)

In this cult classic, set in a freezing wasteland we are challenged not only with an alien monster who’s biology is almost beyond comprehension but it’s all set in a place where there’s no where to hide and hardly no way to fight for your own life. Kurt Russell heads up a team who uncover a crashed UFO and the alien driver who is capable of taking on any life form of who it comes into contact with. The results are some of the most advanced over the top gore and violence that cinema had to offer. Imagine years of Hammer Horrors, seeing Horror Express (1972) which is based on the same book, then walking into the Thing, no one really knew what they were letting himself into and it really cemented Kurt Russell as a bad ass, Carpenter as a revolutionary director and Horror had a new gory transmutated face.


Which films would make your list?

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