Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

John Carpenter – Part 2

John Carpenter_Movie Banner 2Carpenter followed up the success of Halloween with The Fog (1980), a ghostly revenge tale (co-written by Hill) inspired by horror comics such as Tales from the Crypt. Completing The Fog was an unusually difficult process for Carpenter. After viewing a rough cut of the film, he was dissatisfied with the result. For the only time in his filmmaking career, he had to devise a way to salvage a nearly finished film that did not meet his standards. In order to make the movie more coherent and frightening, Carpenter shot additional footage that included a number of new scenes. Approximately one-third of the finished film is the newer footage.

Escape from New York_Kurt RussellCarpenter immediately followed The Fog with the science-fiction adventure Escape from New York (1981). An American cyberpunk action film, starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance and Harry Dean Stanton, it is set in the near future in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States, who has been captured after the crash of Air Force One.

His next film, The Thing (1982), is notable for its high production values, including innovative special effects by Rob Bottin, special visual effects by matte artist Albert Whitlock, a score by Ennio Morricone and a cast including Carpenter regular Kurt Russell and respected character actors such as Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart and Keith David. The Thing was made with a budget of $15,000,000, Carpenter’s largest up to that point, and grossed about $20,000,000.

Kurt Russell_John Carpenter_Escape from New YorkCarpenter’s film used the same source material as the 1951 Howard Hawks film, The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella, Who Goes There?, upon which both films were based. As The Thing did not perform well on a commercial level, Carpenter has stated that E.T.’s release could have been largely responsible for the film’s disappointment. The movie has found new life in the home video and cable markets, and it is now widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made.

Shortly after completing post-production on The Thing, Universal offered him the chance to direct Firestarter, based on the novel by Stephen King, but when The Thing was a box-office disappointment, Universal replaced Carpenter with Mark L Lester. Ironically, Carpenter’s next film, Christine, was the 1983 adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The story revolves around a high-school nerd named Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) who buys a junked 1958 Plymouth Fury which turns out to have supernatural powers. As Cunningham restores and rebuilds the car, he becomes unnaturally obsessed with it, with deadly consequences. Christine did respectable business upon its release and was received well by critics; however, Carpenter has been quoted as saying he directed the film because it was the only thing offered to him at the time.

John Carpenter_The ThingStarman (1984) was critically praised but was only a moderate commercial success. The film received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Starman. Following the box office failure of his big-budget action–comedy Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Carpenter struggled to get films financed. He returned to making lower budget films such as Prince of Darkness (1987), a film influenced by the BBC series Quatermass. Although some of the films from this time, such as They Live (1988) did pick up a cult audience, he never again realized his mass-market potential.

John Carpenter_portraitCarpenter was also offered The Exorcist III in 1989, and met with writer William Peter Blatty (who also authored the novel on which it was based, Legion) over the course of a week. However, the two clashed on the film’s climax and Carpenter passed on the project.

His 1990’s career is characterized by a number of notable misfires: Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Village of the Damned (1995) and Escape from L.A. (1996) are examples of films that were critical and box office failures. Also notable from this decade are In the Mouth of Madness (1994), yet another Lovecraftian homage, which did not do well either at the box-office or with critics and Vampires (1998), which  starred James Woods as the leader of a band of vampire hunters in league with the Catholic Church.

2001 saw the release of Ghosts of Mars. 2005 saw remakes of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog, the latter being produced by Carpenter himself, though in an interview he defined his involvement as, “I come in and say hello to everybody. Go home.” In 2007 Rob Zombie produced and directed Halloween, re-imagining of Carpenter’s 1978 film that spawned a sequel two years later.

Carpenter returned to the director’s chair in 2005 for an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series as one of the thirteen filmmakers involved in the first season. His episode, Cigarette Burns, aired to generally positive reviews, and positive reactions from Carpenter fans. He has since contributed another original episode for the show’s second season entitled Pro-Life, about a young girl who is raped and impregnated by a demon and wants to have an abortion, but whose efforts are halted by her religious fanatic, gun-toting father and her three brothers.

John Carpenter_Movie Banner 3The Ward (2009), starring Amber Heard, was his first movie since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. Carpenter narrated the video game F.E.A.R.3. On 10 October 2010 Carpenter received the Lifetime Award from the Freak Show Horror Film Festival.

In 2011 at the Fright Night Film Festival Carpenter revealed that he is currently working on what he described as a “gothic western” movie and hopes to get it off the ground soon. He went on to say that he is unsure of the film’s fate as it is harder to sell westerns these days… although the success of Tarantino’s Django Unchained may help…

5 responses

  1. Pingback: Escape From New York – Remake News | socialpsychol

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