Monday, January 16, 2017

Director Run-Through: John Carpenter



It's time now to do another new post, and today is an extra special post for several reasons: One, this is John Carpenter's birthday so let's all wish him a special Happy Birthday today.



Secondly, this first of our Director Run-Throughs is done for a director who I have seen every single one of his works from. Granted, I don't own them all but I have seen everything in the genre that he's done, and this going to be special in regards to the fact that this one will only cover his horror films. Being a director who has done work in other genres, there's certainly a lot to like elsewhere but being on this blog will only focus on true horror works so, in this case, we'll jump around a bit to cover strictly those films he directed. That's important, they have to direct it and have it be a horror film to be covered in these write-ups.

So, now that that's out of the way let's get going with what will be a special entry as this particular spotlight will be on what's going to happen when we do these in future as far as set-up and outline goes. First off, let's meet our chosen director, John Carpenter, with a special biography:

John Howard Carpenter was born in Carthage, New York, to mother Milton Jean (Carter) and father Howard Ralph Carpenter. His family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, where his father, a professor, was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University. He attended Western Kentucky University and then USC film school in Los Angeles. He began making short films in 1962, and won an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Subject in 1970, for The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970), which he made while at USC. Carpenter formed a band in the mid-1970s called The Coupe de Villes, which included future directors Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle. Since the 1970s, he has had numerous roles in the film industry including writer, actor, composer, producer, and director. After directing Dark Star (1974), he has helmed both classic horror films like Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), and The Thing (1982), and noted sci-fi tales like Escape from New York (1981) and Starman (1984). -credit: IMDb

Okay, so with that let's know take a look at his filmography of horror films:

Halloween (78)

Thoughts will be in the ‘Halloween’ franchise retrospective coming later. Sorry.



The Fog (80)


I’ve always really enjoyed this one, as it comes off rather nicely here in the filmography. There’s a superb influx of Gothic horror tropes introduced here, from the long-dead curse coming back to haunt the present-day generation in a fine retelling of ‘the sins of the father’ storyline that is a hallmark of that style, the creepy slow-build suspense tale that features some rather nice moments leading to the fog rolling into town which is creepy and insanely chilling once the town gets engulfed. The stalking and slashing of the residents get some even more great parts as the race to get everybody to safety from the mysterious intruders, which is where this one does come down a little. The ending is rushed and entirely forced, with the entirety of the survivors looking at the diary and then in the span of five minutes resolving everything after just uncovering it, making for some awkwardness at times. As well, the numerous cast of characters here given so many subplots does this a bit more harm as well with the first half being way too scattered and disorganized with a lot of things going on and makes for a slight stumble getting going, but this is still a high-quality effort. (8.25/10)



The Thing (82)

This is a wonderfully impressive entry with a lot to love about it. The fact that it manages to capture an incredibly suspenseful atmosphere, from the extreme isolation of the situation to a series of brilliant set-pieces at the end to ensure that it'll be impossible to determine who’s who when it comes down to figuring out the identity of the alien in disguise amongst them. Chief among these, and a film highlight in its own sense, is the classic blood-test sequence, which is just marvelously done and never once gives away its secret twist which is highly creative and makes the film all the better when it's followed by the disembodied head gag. It's a running theme throughout the film of intense suspense followed by impressive special effects to punctuate it, all done convincingly and never really allowed to dominate one way over the other in the film. Its action is unparalleled, as the finale is a huge fire-filled battle in the basement and earlier battles are just as impressive as the film utilizes the oft-overlooked technique of making something known to be feared loose in a situation where they can't escape, using the situation to its advantage throughout and never letting it go. Even the gore is impressive, offering tons of splatter to shoot across with reckless abandon and making for a never-ending series of great kills. One of the most impressive films in the genre. (10/10)



Christine


This was quite the underrated and enjoyable effort. A lot of the film’s good parts come from the connection between the two as the guy and the car are developed to a degree that comes off as insanely creepy throughout here. The way they’re treated in the first half, with him slowly but surely acting more and more aloof at the whole possession and turning to it far more than the others makes for quite a nice build-up as it manages to set a rather creepy relationship in motion which is a great feat to get this going. Punctuated along the way with some rather fine chase scenes thrown in of the car chasing after both it’s tormentors or just about anyone it comes across, there’s plenty of strong action scenes throughout which gives this the kind of pacing required to get into the type of story. Likewise, the finale in the garage is an absolute treat as the thrilling attempts to mow down the friends inside makes for plenty of highly enjoyable moments inside the different stalking, and with the slew of great visuals for the various kills it does have a lot to like. The main problem here is the fact that it’s just way too long as there’s only a finite number of ways you can show someone becoming an obsessive wreck over a car before it just becomes tedious and repetitive which is what makes this one a highly enjoyable if slightly flawed effort. (9/10)



Prince of Darkness


This here is one of the more enjoyable and undervalued efforts in this particular genre. The extended set-up here in the beginning allows for a pretty involved storyline to come through quite naturally with the historical significance given through the dialogue which is where this really gets it's power from. The main factor in enjoyment comes from the exceptionally tense and well-crafted series of sequences in the later half that show the possessed attempting to free the captured canister in a slew of siege attacks and encounters that work two distinct storylines, not knowing which among them are possessed thus leading to fighting each other and the swarm of people outside trying to get in. That leads to a ton of fun action throughout and the final battle in the basement where the team battle to stop it from fully crossing over into the world that really makes for quite a thrilling time. Added together with some great kills and a sense of class about it for such a cheesy storyline, there's a lot to like here but it still has a few faults. The constant need to use a series of distorted, dreary visions that serve no purpose is a big one here, as the only clue we get to it's purpose is given at the end which means the rest of the time doesn't spend a lot of time really utilizing any sort of explanation for what's going on. That’s really all that’s wrong here. (8.25/10)



In the Mouth of Madness


This was an incredibly fun and enjoyable entry. One of the biggest pluses is that there's a completely unnerving and off-the-charts creepy atmosphere here, utilizing a ton of successful tactics which is really effective here. The mystery over the books and the effect they have on readers is great, making excellent use of a great concept and keeping the mystery alive through some really great scenes. That creepiness here aids the action really well with even more fun once it gets to the town, as nearly everything from the repeated gag of the bicycle rider to the haunted hotel's paintings, the attacks by the kids in the alleyway chasing them off and the general air around town is creepy since they play-off both short-term and for the long haul as well makes them even better as the repeat showings still get the jump. There's also the way the film manages to keep the whole air of creepiness without ever showing the creatures, which this one could've done so for several different scenes, yet all we see are glimpses of humanoid, fish-like things, yet even that is debatable because the glimpses are done so fast that there's not even a completely accurate view as there wasn't too much wrong here. Among the minor flaws is the extremely confusing manner of the ending as there's hardly anything that makes sense. The rationale is sketchy and doesn’t hold up much, feeling rushed as nothing is told or explained and that makes what happens really hard to understand. It may hold back it’s gore, but this is a fun, fantastic entry. (9/10)



Village of the Damned (95)


This has always been a troubling remake which has some decent moments here. One of the best efforts about it comes from the absolutely chilling effect here with the titular children, who are quite possibly among the most chilling and terrifying kids seen in the genre. The pale, pale features, light blond hair, emotionless faces, monotone voice and insane ability to continually be with each other in numerous groups for each of the different encounters manages to make an effective time here even before getting to their powers with their physical appearance generating quite a large amount of scares enough. The powers that come into play here are utterly effective as well with the effect of the spinning eyes and flashing lights which centers around the idea of them being aliens or some other life-force that happened upon the scene and are given quite a wide berth from some really great action scenes. There’s some minor flaws on display, namely from the first half where there's just way too much mystery going on that doesn't get resolved at all. It’s problems with the story, about how the women become pregnant and the wave that washed over them which goes unexplained for the most part as nothing was shown to have happened to them in order to cause this nor did anyone say anything about how it happened.As well, there’s the bland way they tend to go about enforcing their will on people, as they just flash their eyes and that's about it, but it doesn't really provide much in the visual sense. Otherwise, this was quite fun and highly enjoyable. (7.25/10)



Vampires


This is easily one of the more enjoyable and overlooked entries in the genre. One of the main elements responsible for this is the rather original and innovative approach it takes in regards to vampires. Not only is this one openly defiant about the proper tools and what doesn't work against them, it makes for quite a good telling here by including the storyline about the search for the special artifact. The concept of that particular object is rather creative and original but it also allows for the film to turn into a road movie that includes all the trappings devoted to hunting and tracking a vampire clan. The main method of accomplishing that, the psychic connection between the un-turned victim and the master is a rather novel touch that produces a lot of fun. That doesn't include the main reasons why this one works so well in hunting down the vampires which really makes them quite impressive by utilizing special tactics and maneuvers that showcase some experience in the field rather than the stereotypical method of having experts continuously fail at their profession simply to drive the movie along. That, with the frantic action on display and highly-enjoyable gore scenes, help this overcome its one true flaw. The final showdown really could've been done more effectively, as the climactic fight lasts all of about a minute and should've been bigger for such a journey like this. Still there's not a whole lot here that really gets this down. (9/10)



Ghosts of Mars


This one has always been a somewhat enjoyable effort that is unfairly overlooked. There’s a lot to like with the mostly relentless and utterly enjoyable pacing here, which manages to come off really nicely with the ability to influence all the rather fine encounters in the compound. As the film continually showcases them getting into frantic confrontations requiring high-energy and fiery gunfights and chases in the middle of the city which has a great sense of spectacle here. The kills are gory and really help to add a rather nice touch to the cheesiness of what's happening since the film turns into quite a nice cheese-fest with the possession and body-hopping that goes alongside the idea of being able to travel to Mars. So, then, a question must be asked: why is this included if it's strictly a horror blog? It's close enough to count, and it's an underrated effort anyway which means it's good to be included here. (8.5/10)



Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns


This was another incredibly surprising entry that had a lot of great things going for it. The main element to like here is that the central mystery about the tape was pretty great with this one really seeming to be worthwhile in generating the wanted reaction it should've had in the viewers. There’s some great work here providing this with some jaw-dropping effects during that video as how it gets added into a film that logically could've inspired such a reaction seeing such images knowing the history as well that also needs to be taken into account for these scenes. Other big action scenes really help here, as the scenes in the basement were quite gruesome and bloody and the finale is an action-packed bloodbath really providing this with a wholly shocking series of mutilations and dismemberments that make for a great time. It gets a bit too talky in the middle with him centered solely on the investigation rather than doing anything else, but it's still quite an enjoyable enough effort proving his worth in the genre. (9/10)



Masters of Horror: Pro-Life


This one was enjoyable and offered a lot to like in the season. For once there’s a pretty worthy plot here that deserved to be on the show, with the tale of a puritanical father wreaking vengeance on an abortion clinic to save his daughter's child. There's tons of potential there and this plays up most of the possibilities. The torture scene in the middle is perfectly gruesome, and it wonderfully keeps the gore off-screen which makes it all the more powerful and the ending is a surprisingly fun cheesefest that makes it a nice watch. The entire concept of the devil's child isn't new, but the way it's added to the other elements gives it a new spin. Again, however, there really isn't any horror here. The fact that the Devil appears in here should've made this a supernatural spookfest, but it's appearance is so ho-hum, almost treated like it was a normal everyday thing to have the Prince of Darkness pop up out of the floor of an abortion clinic and take his demonic off-spring away with him. That really should've been played more for scares, but it isn't and it really doesn't seem all that scary at all. The gore in here is also really unbelievable, mostly being relegated to some CGI bullet hits. That really wasn't impressive, but overall it’s not as bad as the others were. (7.5/10)



The Ward


This turned out to be quite an enjoyable but flawed ghost story. Frankly, the biggest problem is that it’s full of derivative scenes, not just in the terms of scares but also in the actual story itself as the constant need to keep recycling the same plot points does start to wear thin. The scares, though incredibly effective at times and quite unnerving, seem to be brought over from other films of this ilk and force the same exact sudden quick-jump. Finally, the finale does seem a bit rushed and really thrown together at the last minute in an attempt to be clever and original yet completely misses the mark. That said, there's a lot to like here as the facility present is an appropriately gloomy and atmospheric location as it feels perfectly creepy and quite off-kilter enough that a ghost roaming the halls would add a pretty grim feeling to the mix, especially one that's as creepy as this one is which perfectly suits the film. There's a decidedly demented streak with how it doles out the kills which are pretty brutal in concept if slightly skewered in execution, but the fact that it goes to all this trouble to accomplish that is still a massive plus for the film, and really serves well with the fine set-up stalking scenes throughout to make for a rather chilling film in most regards. It is a little flawed, but not enough to be a detriment. (7.75/10)


So, there you go. An official run-down of all of Mr. Carpenter's horror films.