Tuesday, March 26, 2013

John Carpenter: The Thing

Every Halloween, I end the night with a “comfort food” type of horror film. Films like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Beyond, Suspiria, The Church, Psycho, or Alien may not be considered the best horror films (although most on that list certainly qualify), but they make for a nice, familiar end to the night. Another film I often consider to end the night on is John Carpenter’s brilliant science-fiction/horror hybrid The Thing. Ask me on the right day, and I might even tell you that I like The Thing more than Halloween. While Halloween — as we’ve already discussed in this retrospectiveembodies everything that is great about the horror genre and is pretty much the perfect horror movie, The Thing, however, adds another, more cerebral, layer to both the horror and sci-fi genre. There are moments throughout The Thing that are so perfectly executed — that so expertly showcase the bleak tone and evoke such a perfect tone of dread — that I could be convinced that I’m looking at a more complete and complex (and yes better) film than Halloween.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blog note

Just a quick note about there not being any content on the blog this week: it's finals week, so I have a ton of papers and final exams to grade. I'll pick things back up starting next week. Expect the Carpenter retrospective to roll on starting Monday.

Monday, March 11, 2013

John Carpenter: Escape from New York

Thanks to the success of The Fog, Carpenter was given a six million dollar budget for his next project, the dystopian adventure film Escape from New York. Re-teaming with star Kurt Russell, Carpenter’s film is a mixed-bag of genres — part action/adventure film and part post-apocalyptic movie (which were in abundance around 1981) set in grimy New York City (ah, “grimy New York City,” another sign of the film being released in 1981) — Escape from New York is also a film with mixed results. It’s a film I remember having a great fondness for in high school, but it just doesn’t hold up. The music and performances (it has great ensemble of colorful character actors) and set-pieces are all top-notch, but Carpenter’s reliance on stories that take place within a 24-48 hour timeframe backfires here. He tries cramming too much of his budget into the film’s short runtime, so instead of a coherent adventure story, we’re left with a film where the parts are more impressive than the whole.

Monday, March 4, 2013

John Carpenter: The Fog

Blogger’s Note: When I first started this retrospective, I always had my eye on The Fog, for it is probably the most popular John Carpenter film I had yet to see. Crazy, I know, but the film had always eluded me, so I’m more than thrilled to have finally rectified this particular blind spot.

By the time The Fog had come out in 1980, Carpenter was on a bit of hot streak: he had seen success in Europe with Assault on Precinct 13, and had had major success in both American theaters (Halloween) and television (Elvis). It made sense that his next theatrical film would be a horror movie; after all, Halloween at that time had been the highest grossing independent film, and so it made sense for the auteur to return to the horror genre for no other reason than it seemed like a profitable idea. Indeed The Fog was a hit for Carpenter (the film cost only a million dollars to make and made over 21 million at the box office), but I have to say: it falls short of being in the upper echelon of Carpenter’s filmography. The film is a wonderfully told ghost story filled with atmosphere (thanks to Dean Cundy’s great cinematography) and dread and impressive set-pieces — it has all of those things in spades — and another great Carpenter music score, but there’s something that just isn’t right about the execution of the film’s ending, specifically in how it deals with its antagonists: ghost pirates (or as I prefer to see them as: zombie pirates) out for revenge. There’s so much in The Fog that is tremendously executed and effective that I can see why some would claim it as one of the filmmaker’s best films — calling it a masterpiece of the horror genre in the process — and I don’t dispute that a lot of the elements in The Fog work brilliantly and show the master in fine form, but It certainly falls under the oft-used expression, “a flawed masterpiece.”