Top Ten Tuesdays – Top 10 John Carpenter Movies

In this new series of posts I’m going to list ten of my favourite films by some of my most loved directors and actors. While I may not have seen everything that they have done, I’ll catch up to them eventually. For some of the posts, I’ll be adding films I’m not as keen on to ensure a list of ten so be on the look out for your favourites. The ordering of most of these posts will not be strict and in most cases there will not be too much difference between my number 1 pick and my number 5 pick.

John Carpenter is my favourite director. A master of many a genre, he’s the director who’s films appear most regularly in my favourite films of all time, and while it’s clear to most movie fans that his best work was in the 70s and 80s, he has enjoyed a career spanning six decades. Incredibly influential, you only have to look at the number of remakes of his franchises which have been plaguing our screens for years, yet failing spectacularly to recapture the quality of his original vision.

10. Starman.

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Carpenter’s only full blown love story (sorry, Christine fans) is a well-acted heartwarming story about an alien coming to earth in the guise of a widow’s dead husband, while devious military and government types try to claim him for their own. As with most Carpenter films, this has an excellent score and main theme (although not written by Carpenter himself). Criminally, this is the only Carpenter film to receive an Oscar nomination – Jeff Bridges for best Actor.

9. The Ward. 

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I’m a fairly vocal defender of the more recent Carpenter films – this and Ghosts Of Mars had their issues, but they are still wildly entertaining movies, with The Ward offering a bit more in terms of plot. While in many ways this doesn’t feel like a Carpenter film it is chock full of jump-scares and good performances. It’s taut, crafted and executed strongly, and while the twist is hardly surprising, it is great nevertheless to see the great man on the director’s chair again.

8.  In The Mouth Of Madness. 

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Like many of Carpenter’s films, this was overlooked by fans at critics at the time, and even now it isn’t well-known – we’re still waiting for a Region 2 DVD or Blu Ray release. It is a cult favourite though, and remains one of the finest, most accurate film depictions of Lovecraftian horror. It’s one of Carpenter’s most thickly layered films and each viewing uncovers new themes.

7. Escape From New York. 

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If Snake Plissken isn’t the single most cool character in movie history then I’ve clearly been watching the wrong movies. When this is eventually remade, you just know it;s going to be a shambles – no-one else but Russell and Carpenter could take a story like this, filled with characters like Plissken and not only make it work, but make it one of the quintessential action movies of the decade. With stellar action and effects, a blending of genres, an apocalyptic wit, and once again a superb score, this is Carpenter to the core.

6. The Fog

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Unfairly seen as Halloween’s vastly inferior little brother, this should more accurately be described as Halloween as told to you by your creepy, drunk uncle. It’s the perfect campfire ghost story, with murderous vengeful pirates laying siege to a picturesque coastal town on the anniversary of their tragedy. Although the ending may be a cop-out, everything before hand is remarkably atmospheric, spooky, and the perfect movie for a dark evening alone.

5. Prince Of Darkness

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I’d class this as Carpenter’s most underrated film, one with more scares than any of his other films, and arguably his most difficult film to describe or explain. Ostensibly, like most Carpenter movies it’s a siege movie, with a bunch of characters trapped with some powerful external force picking them off one by one. To make things more interesting, not only is there a horde of baddies outside the building which our heroes are trapped in, but the main evil is coming from within that very same building, and our heroes may have unleashed it. Throw in some time-travelling, parallel universe, God versus Satan, zombie, Alice Cooper mumbo jumbo, and we have a dense, terrifying film well worth watching.

4. Big Trouble In Little China

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For a kid growing up in the 80s, this was the most awesome movie ever. It had over the top action and violence, guns, martial arts, Gods, monsters, mystery, comedy, and yet none of it was too graphic or scary so it was suitable to watch with our parents. Filled with epic one-liners and moments, this genre-bender is as timeless as it is 80s, and is a film you can’t imagine being made today.

3. Halloween

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The biggie, and the one that started it all, kicking off Carpenter’s career in earnest and launching one of the most revered horror franchises. As the name suggests, there is no better film for Halloween, not only is it set during the period, depicting a suburbia which many of us will be familiar with, it pits a group of shell-shocked kids against a seemingly unstoppable killer. It churns out scare after scare like a fairground attraction, making you jump and squeal in equal measure, but more than that it features excellent direction and some wonderful performances. And again, there’s an exquisite score.

2. Assault On Precinct 13

I think I first saw this when I was around 14, and even though I knew who John Carpenter was, this was around the time I was beginning to understand what being a director was, and that this guy just happened to have made all these other films I treasured. It’s the perfect ‘modern’ siege movie with a well-worn approach which hasn’t been bettered since. The stark low-budget feel gives an earnest, off-putting realism, and when coupled with the cast of unknowns and the largely faceless enemy there is a sense of this thing being all too possible. As with later Carpenter movies we get an awesome anti-hero, a strong leading lady, and a mashup of other multi-dimensional characters from opposing backgrounds thrown together in a fight for survival. There is also a brilliant sense of hopelessness as the sun begins to go down on this desolate, soon to be rubble part of town. With strong, straight-forward action, gripping tension, and one of the greatest shock moments in cinema history, this is an undoubted classic. And guess what – epic score.

1. The Thing.  

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Well, it couldn’t really be anything else, could it (sorry, They Live fans). Carpenter’s remake is more of a complete overhaul, and remains one of the finest horror films ever made. Most of you reading this should know it, and for anyone who hasn’t especially you young cubs, go watch it now. Some of the most jaw-dropping special effects, wiping the floor with today’s CGI, alongside a stellar all-male cast leads to paranoia, gore, fear, and a timeless ending. It’s a flawless movie in all departments, yet failed miserably at the box office. All the remake/prequel was a fine standalone film, it isn’t a patch on this beast, a film as vital now as it was upon release.

There we go, folks. Let us know in the comments what your favourite John Carpenter films are, and what you think of my selections above!

Top 50 Moments Series – Dialogue – Part 3

It’s back! The series that opens the manhole cover of my mind to let my most fanatical followers get a glimpse of my truest loves, has returned. Please enjoy these exclusives!

Tary too long and you may become ill-scented carbonite
Tary too long and you may become ill-scented carbonite

21. Jaws. (1975, Spielberg): Everyone’s favourite film about sharks eating children, Jaws is undoubtedly timeless. Everyone has their favourite moment, and everyone has their favourite piece of dialogue. For such a momentous film, the dialogue is not something which gets a lot of respect, aside from the famous ‘We’re gonna need a bigger boat’. Much of the dialogue is delivered in such a way that it doesn’t sound scripted, which may be reason enough for why there aren’t many memorable one-liners. My personal favourite then will likely be a favourite of others, and due to its length, I won’t re-post it here; Quint’s Indianapolis speech is flawless – stunningly delivered, powerfully written, and the most chilling moment in the film, all the more so as it doesn’t really have a lot to do with the plot.

22. Assault on Precinct 13. (1976, Carpenter): It took quite some time for this film to get the recognition it deserves. Even after the recent John Carpenter resurgence, thanks to a raft of remakes (including one for this), Carpenter’s second film is still something of a cult gem. Brimming with pulp dialogue, the focus is most definitely on cool, on making a memorable impact with each word. Each character is almost defined entirely by their one-liners meaning that the almost mute father character fades into the background, but opposingly, the voiceless bad guys lack of speech makes them all the more menacing. The main group each have their moments, but the best bits go to one of the greatest anti-heroes of them all – Napoleon Wilson. Even his simple refrain ‘Got a smoke?’ becomes gold, but I’m especially partial to his ‘I was born out of time’ line. For such a tense film, Wells provides some brilliant comedy moment, particularly with his save-ass plan: ‘I got this plan. It’s called “Save Ass”. And the way it works is this – I slip outta one of these windows and I run like a bastard!’

Woops
Woops

23. Big Trouble in Little China. (1986, Carpenter): From one Carpenter classic to another, and from one anti-hero to another. Jack Burton is the 80s Napoleon Wilson, born out of time, always in the wrong place at the wrong time, always ready with a bullet and a quip. This movie has more quips than a stand-up comedian forced to make a deaf, dumb, and blind man laugh or be killed, whatever that means, and the dialogue comes thick, fast, and hammy. It also has a guy with the best/worst sunglasses ever (insert pic) but then again, it also has this (insert freak monster pic). While Wilson was born out of time, Burton was ‘born ready’ and has plenty of inspirational sayings like ‘it’s all in the reflexes’, whatever that means, but it’s when he is panicking that the real gold bubbles to the surface: ‘Tall guy, weird clothes. First you see him, then you don’t.

24. Jurassic Park. (1993, Spielberg): You would think a film about dinosaurs wouldn’t have all that much dialogue in it betwixt all the ROOARRGGHHs and SKKKEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAARRKs and chewing of flesh, but you’d be wrong. Jurassic Park contains several hundred words, and an all-round dialogue filled script, although clearly the focus was on the thunder lizards at release. This was one of the last old-school Spielberg romps and as such we can expect a particular eye for detail and script flourishes. Much of the dialogue does not feel rehearsed, seeming improvised instead, and most of the best moments fall on Jeff Goldblum’s leather clad shoulders. Actually, now that I think about it, this movie would have been so much better if the dinosaurs had had all the lines. Just imagine it from their perspective – Violently ripped from the eternal peace of extinction, a collection of dinosaurs must face off against a horde or white Americans, Santa Claus, and Samuel L Jackson. Classic moments include a husband and wife tag team of raptors attempting to snare a meal of snivelling kids to stave off starvation; a single, sexually tormented T-Rex must resort to eating from a toilet in order to survive; a spittysaurus tries to make friends with an obese man but instead tries to romance him in the back of a jeep. As for dialogue, I find myself shouting ‘Hold onto your butts’ at inappropriate, non-dinosaur related social events.

Poops
Poops

25. Leon.  (1994, Besson): Luc Besson is a French guy who looked at Hollywood and thought ‘Hmm, ze films are not bon anymore, ze need some le garlic, le baguette, and le Johavich’ and lo, Leon was born. Besson already had made a decent career back in gay Paris with a string of hits, including the excellent Subway (which tells of Christoper Lambert’s immortal quest to find the perfect sandwich) and the breakthrough smash Nikita. Leon is an almost perfect movie, with career best performances from all the main stars. Gary Oldman is a baddie, Jean Reno is a baddie too, but because he’s nice and cuddly we’ll forgive him for being a cold-blooeded killer, and Natalie Portman is a little girl whose hateful parents are blasted into oblivion. It’s a thinking man’s action movie, which is unfortunate as thinking men do not typically watch action movies. The film has rightly earned a following over the years, and will soon be remade as ‘Cody’ starring Bieber as the lovable rapist/killer Cody, Emma Whatersface as Natalie Portman, and Ben Kingsly as Baddie, the bad man who wants revenge on Bieber for being the little freak that he is. I’ll let young Miss Portman get the final say here, with a child’s apt view of revenge: ‘Forget? After I’ve seen the outline of my brother’s body on the floor, you expect me to forget? I wanna kill those sons of bitches, and blow their fucking heads off!’

26. Commando. (1985, Lester): Growing up in the 80s and 90s was a wonderful time for movie geeks and those who lurk in everyday water-cooler conversations, waiting for the perfect moment to inexplicably drop a one-liner from a movie no-one else involved in the conversation has seen. If you grew up in the 80s you are action an action movie fan, or a woman. And for action movie fans who love to mix up their mundane daily speech routines with some spicy zingers, you need look no further than any Arnie movie. Commando is probably the most genuine cult movie of his repertoire, as most of his other films from that era are no regarded as classics or worse than drunken sex in a toilet with what you assumed to be a superstar but turned out to be a mushed collection of soiled bog roll. Camp characters with names better than Biceps McTouchem and Napoleon Bonerhard, approximately 14 thousand on screens kills, (and a zinger for each), actors and actresses with either past or future soft-core porn careers, guns, knifes, bombs, and the single greatest ‘preparing for war’ moment in movie history, Commando could be a contender for best movie ever. Roll a few of these around your laughing gear – ‘I eat Green Beret’s for breakfast’, ‘He’s dead tired’, ‘I lied’, ‘Let off some steam, Bennett’, ‘Wrong!’, ‘I’m not going to shoot you between the eyes, I’m going to shoot you between the balls’, and my personal favourite – ‘Fuck you, asshole….Fuck YOU, asshole!’

Sullyoops
Sullyoops

27. Beauty And The Beast.  (1991, Trousdale, Wise): I was an ugly child. I am an ugly man. It is no wonder that this is one of my favourite movies ever, as it speaks to the beautiful, tortured romantic inside me, and the hairy, fanged creature on the outside. Actually, that’s not true, I was a cute kid, and I’m currently sexier than Liz Vicious wrestling with Ivana Fukalot in a giant tub of Hoi Sin sauce (which needs to be a scene in the next Bond movie. Or else). I was, and still am to an extent, a socially awkward buffoon who resorted to fantasy, movies, books, games, music, writing, anything that would shatter the reality of me being a hopeless-with-women bloke. Like all kids I liked a good Disney animation, but it wasn’t until I saw Beauty And The Beast that I truly appreciated the art, and uncovered the truth and cliché that sometimes the underdog can find love – you just need to kidnap a woman and/or her father to get it. Unfortunately, ladies, countless rewatches has turned me into a weirdo as I hold Belle up as the most perfect figure of womanhood who ever had life breathed into her, and you just can’t live up to her. Contemplate that before sending me a sexy Private Message. As for lovely dialogue, hows about the one that most frequently slips from my lips as I hide outside toilets – ‘Zut Alors! She has emerged!’

28. Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s dead. (1991, Herek): If you know anything worth knowing (and the fact that you’re reading this tells me that, sadly, you don’t), you’ll know that 1991 messers Cobain,Grohl, and Novelisc made a wee album called Nevermind, which is named by man as single-handedly putting the 80s to bed, and gently placing a pillow over its face. Music was changed forever, almost overnight it now seems. Movies changed too, but at a more leisurely pace, and in 1991 we got one of the last great cheesy rock movies. The touch of Geffin is all over it, reeking of MTV, 80s cool, and a mix of heavy metal, cock, rock, and cheese. I loved this at the time, but it wasn’t until much later when I revisited it again, and realised what a great script it has, filled with unexpectedly strong humour, one-liners, and satirical twists on The American Dream. So, as much as I like to say ‘The dishes are DONE!’ after cleaning up, and shouting about the ‘buttcrack of dawn’ when I get up, and although Kenny gets the best lines, my favourite line, and joke, in the movie is ”No, I’ve never been to Santa Barbara’.

Yeeooops
Yeeooops

29. Night of the Living Dead. (1968, Romero): The original modern indie, made by a bunch of amateurs, friends, and family, and going on to being one of the most well-renowned horror movies ever made. The strength of the dialogue is in its realism – everyone is on guard, everyone is constantly in a panic, nobody trusts anyone, and the words coming out of mouths are exactly what I would expect people to say in such a dire situation. I love that it is so cold and, like this article, contains zero humour. Although there are few typical one-liners aside from the obvious ‘Hey Barbara, I’m gonna get ye!’ you would be hard pushed to find a stronger realistic script in the decade. We have to go to the Sheriff to get my favourite lines, classics such as ‘They’re dead, they’re all messed up’ and ‘Beat ’em or burn ’em, they go up pretty easy’.

30. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. (1984, Spielberg): Until Spielberg and Lucas decide to resurrect Dr Jones in the ill-fated ‘Indiana Jones and the Magical Fridge’ (alternative title – Indiana Jones and the load of shite), Temple Of Doom was the least liked in the series. Naturally, this means it has always been my favourite. Sure Raiders has melting Nazis and Crusade has….I can’t remember, but Doom has Short-Round, cliffhanging fights, rope-bridge stand-offs, booby traps, Donkey Kong inspiring races, lava pits, blood drinking, heart-ripping – everything that every kids movie should have. As someone who loved those type of Haggard/Doyle/Verne/Burroughs movies which always featured sinking sand, giant spiders, and always ended with a volcano erupting, this was the epitome. It was a fantasy, but set in a realistic world. It was just real enough to make me think that some wacky priest could crawl out of my toilet and whisk me away to some underground slave trade, but thanks to short-round made me think that I could probably beat my way through thousands of baddies and get home safe. My most quoted line – especially when I run out of ANYTHING? ‘No more parachutes!’

Gloops
Gloops

Please share your pearls of wise-assdom in the comments!

Big Trouble In Little China

Big Trouble

John Carpenter creates another piece of brilliant cinema with this, a mix of action, horror unt comedy. The tension and violence is still here, as are the mysterious characters and sharp story-telling, but this time it’s aimed at a younger audience. Or at least, he is not trying to be shocking or scare. This was Carpenter’s golden age, when he ensured he would not be seen as a one-hit indie wonder, though the film did not do well at the box-office, a naive and unreceptive western audience not ready for such an eclectic mix.

Kurt Russell (who else?) plays trucker/gambler Jack Burton, a man who just wants to get the job done, get paid and go. His latest job takes him to Chinatown where he meets old friend Wang Chi. They go together to pick up Chi’s fiancée from the airport, but she is kidnapped by gang members. Local reporter Gracie Law gets involved and they look for the girl. Soon they uncover a deadly and magical plot that sees the ancient Lo Pan intending to become all-powerful once he marries a girl with green eyes- Chi’s fiancée. Jack and Chi gather together an army of ninjas and travel into the underground and underworld to rescue the girl and stop Lo Pan. This will not be easy as Lo Pan’s powers are growing, and he seems to be immortal. His three henchmen Thunder, Lightning and Rain also seem to be unstoppable. Soon a massive battle breaks out with monsters, magic, martial arts, ninjas, swords etc in a classic struggle between good and evil.

Although the film’s main draw is the action and sorcery, the script is also exceptional, dripping with cool. Russell gets all the one-liners, delivering them with wit. His character has no idea what is going on, but deals with it, Cattral is good, if slightly OTT as Law, Dun tries to play his character straight, to comic effect, and Hong is outstanding as the evil Lo Pan, indulging in the eccentricity of the story and character. Wong also does well. It is meant to look like it wasn’t made for millions by Hollywood suits, and succeeds in every way. Carpenter is not only a master of tension, but a master of excitement and comedy too.

It unfortunately isn’t often that a John Carpenter film gets the 2 disc treatment, but this one does. Trailers, deleted scenes, interviews, commentary, an extended ending, this has everything that a good DVD should have. Hopefully, after sadly being poorly received upon it’s initial release, the movie should find a new, larger and more appreciative audience thanks to DVD.

As always, fee free to leave a comment on the movie/review: Does Carpenter try to throw too much into the story or does it all work well? Where does this rank in your favourite Carpenter films?