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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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!