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The Good, The Bad and the Badass: John Carpenter

Oct. 28, 2013by: Chris Bumbray

Last week, we took a look at the career of master director Ridley Scott. This week's subject is another iconic director, and one that's been consistently underrated by critics, both in his heyday and now.

John Carpenter

John Carpenter is often categorized as a horror director. Truth be told, he's only made a few real all-out horror movies, but the ones he's made so are so iconic that he can't help but be associated with the genre. Granted, Carpenter knows horror. After making a small film (DARK STAR) and a superb modern-day western with the Howard Hawks-ian ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, he burst onto the scene in a big way with HALLOWEEN, which set the pace for all slasher movies to follow. Without Carpenter's Michael Myers, there would be no Freddy Krueger or Jason Vorhees, that's for damn sure.


While he could have easily made a career out of nothing but horror films, Carpenter often shook things up by doing what was least expected. He followed HALLOWEEN with ELVIS, a TV biopic that paired him for the first time with Kurt Russell (who would become his favorite leading man). He followed that with another horror film- THE FOG- before returning to PRECINCT 13-style gritty action with ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Throughout the eighties, Carpenter's filmography was jam-packed with classics, from his remake of THE THING, to the high-brow STARMAN, to the fun-filled BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. Since about the mid-nineties, Carpenter's output has grown more inconsistent, but as my friend Chris Papps (you're welcome for the shout-out) is fond of telling me it doesn't matter if he does a ton of bad movies. The man directed HALLOWEEN and THE THING. Indeed.

His Best Film


As far as Carpenter's best goes, while many fans would choose HALLOWEEN, for me his remake of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD takes the cake. A notorious flop in it's day (it had the misfortune of coming out the same summer as E.T), THE THING has gone on to become a classic, to the point that it got a big-budget prequel a few years ago that pretty much lacked everything that made Carpenter's film so special. A deeply unsettling horror movie, THE THING is a masterpiece of the genre. The transformation effects are grotesque, but brilliant, while Carpenter's direction ratchets up the terror for maximum effect even when people aren't getting picked off (such as the scene where each survivor's blood is tested). Carpenter, paired with a subtle electronic score by Ennio Morricone (done very much in the style of Carpenter's own scores), and a great cast of character actors (including his favorites Kurt Russell and Keith David), makes THE THING a masterpiece.

That said, I think I love his latter film, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA even more. Another flop, this one is a fun-filled Hong Kong-style action comedy that satirizes the then-trendy Indiana Jones-style high adventure genre, positioning Kurt Russell (doing a hilarious imitation of John Wayne's drawl) as the most clueless action hero of all time. I adore everything about this film, from the martial arts choreography, to Russell, Kim Catrall, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, James Hong and the rest of the cast, to Carpenter's best-ever musical score. If you somehow haven't seen this one, I can't recommend it highly enough.

His Most Overrated Film

While JC has made some pretty bad movies (GHOST OF MARS being the worst), ESCAPE FROM L.A is one that's always bothered me. Doing a sequel to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK on a larger scale, with Kurt Russell coming back as Snake Plissken should have been a slam dunk. Instead it's a deliberately (I think?) campy B-movie, with CGI effects that were so bad it's amazing the studio financing the film (Paramount) never bothered to change them. It has it's bright spots (Steve Buscemi as Map to the Stars Eddie, but the movie as a whole is awful.

His Most Underrated Film

I'd wager that most of Carpenter's films are underrated. However, even more than something like IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and VAMPIRES, PRINCE OF DARKNESS is an overlooked gem. While star Jameson Parker isn't quite Kurt Russell, this is a truly frightening piece of work, where a group of graduate students are pitted against the anti-God which threatens to cross over into our world, and wreak havoc. From the possessed student who peels off her skin, to Alice Cooper, to the deeply unsettling ending, this one is a gem.

His Most Memorable Scene

As far as Carpenter's best scene goes, this is a no-brainer. The alley-fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David in THEY LIVE is arguably one of the best fights ever filmed. For five minutes plus, Piper and David beat the crap out of each other, and apparently the whole thing was improvised. Watch and be amazed.


His Top 5 Films

1. THE THING
2. HALLOWEEN
3. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
4. THEY LIVE
5. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK

Up Next

Carpenter's been laying low since THE WARD came out a few years ago, but hopefully his absence from the big-screen won't be permanent. He's been attached to a bunch of films, but I have my fingers crossed that him and Kurt Russell will find the time to do one last flick together.

Source: JoBlo.com

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2:36AM on 10/28/2013
Usually, filmmakers who make genre films and "B-pictures" aren't regarded with respect, but John Carpenter has established himself as a multi-talent to be reckoned with. I particularly like that he composes the music for a good number of his films. That Halloween theme is a work of genius.
Usually, filmmakers who make genre films and "B-pictures" aren't regarded with respect, but John Carpenter has established himself as a multi-talent to be reckoned with. I particularly like that he composes the music for a good number of his films. That Halloween theme is a work of genius.
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4:21AM on 10/28/2013
John Carpenter is badass indeed. Love his Halloween movie and yes The Thing is his best work todate. Christine is also an effective thriller. I'm okay/so-so with Prince of Darkness. Personally I think In The Mouth of Madness is his most underrated work as it'd make you go crazy by the time the movie ends. Aside from that, Assault on Precinct 13 is still good B movie fun.
John Carpenter is badass indeed. Love his Halloween movie and yes The Thing is his best work todate. Christine is also an effective thriller. I'm okay/so-so with Prince of Darkness. Personally I think In The Mouth of Madness is his most underrated work as it'd make you go crazy by the time the movie ends. Aside from that, Assault on Precinct 13 is still good B movie fun.
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5:14AM on 10/28/2013
His most underrated is In The Mouth of Madness. I remember when it was released in theaters, it bombed, critics bashed it, and the audience ignored it. I always felt like I was the only one who love it, and I personally think it was one of Carpenter's very best.
His most underrated is In The Mouth of Madness. I remember when it was released in theaters, it bombed, critics bashed it, and the audience ignored it. I always felt like I was the only one who love it, and I personally think it was one of Carpenter's very best.
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11:12AM on 10/28/2013
In the Mouth of Madness doesnt get the credit it deserves. Great film.
In the Mouth of Madness doesnt get the credit it deserves. Great film.
9:33AM on 10/28/2013
I was pretty sure it was a success at the box office, probably his only solid hit in the 90's and he got decent reviews for it too, i agree that its overlooked copmpared to the rest of his filmography nowadays but at the time it was successful.
I was pretty sure it was a success at the box office, probably his only solid hit in the 90's and he got decent reviews for it too, i agree that its overlooked copmpared to the rest of his filmography nowadays but at the time it was successful.
5:53AM on 10/28/2013
I was still quite young when I first watched it on video tape and didn't quite get it. However, I bought a discount DVD a couple of years ago and amazed how good and brilliant it was.
I was still quite young when I first watched it on video tape and didn't quite get it. However, I bought a discount DVD a couple of years ago and amazed how good and brilliant it was.
6:46AM on 10/28/2013
Carpenter's most underrated movie is 'Someone's Watching Me!'. It didn't even get a mention in the article, that's how underrated it is.
Carpenter's most underrated movie is 'Someone's Watching Me!'. It didn't even get a mention in the article, that's how underrated it is.
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7:27AM on 10/28/2013

Most Underrated is

without a doubt Starman. That's the film that proved to me that John Carpenter can make movies outside of the horror or action genre.
without a doubt Starman. That's the film that proved to me that John Carpenter can make movies outside of the horror or action genre.
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7:36AM on 10/28/2013

Love his work.

Going to see Halloween on Friday night in a local cinema that is showing it.

I think his most underrated is vampires, to me anyway. Love that film!!
Going to see Halloween on Friday night in a local cinema that is showing it.

I think his most underrated is vampires, to me anyway. Love that film!!
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8:39AM on 10/28/2013
The thing about Carpenter is that he has great films but even when he makes god awful ones they are fun to watch and entertaining. I mean, Snake Plissken playing B ball to save his life is one of the stupidest things ever, but it so entertaining to watch. A lot of bad movies are just terrible and boring and forgettable, but you'll always remember a Carpenter flick. Bad, good or great.
The thing about Carpenter is that he has great films but even when he makes god awful ones they are fun to watch and entertaining. I mean, Snake Plissken playing B ball to save his life is one of the stupidest things ever, but it so entertaining to watch. A lot of bad movies are just terrible and boring and forgettable, but you'll always remember a Carpenter flick. Bad, good or great.
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8:56AM on 10/28/2013

I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass

And I'm all out of bubblegum. Just watched a great behind-the-scenes special on Halloween and the shoestring budget they filmed it on. Even though he only had 300K and 21 days to film, he put his money where it mattered: great cameras, great processing and great scoring - was also the first usage of the steady-cam in a horror film. As far as the Top 5, I love them all, but my personal favorite is The Fog.
And I'm all out of bubblegum. Just watched a great behind-the-scenes special on Halloween and the shoestring budget they filmed it on. Even though he only had 300K and 21 days to film, he put his money where it mattered: great cameras, great processing and great scoring - was also the first usage of the steady-cam in a horror film. As far as the Top 5, I love them all, but my personal favorite is The Fog.
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9:05AM on 10/28/2013

escape from L. A.

The problem with this film is that it was somehow ruined by the closing of Buena Vista SFX department, alfway through post prod. So people were, understandably more concerned by finding a job than doing a good one...
The problem with this film is that it was somehow ruined by the closing of Buena Vista SFX department, alfway through post prod. So people were, understandably more concerned by finding a job than doing a good one...
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9:36AM on 10/28/2013

My favorite director ever

The thing (no pun intended) that really makes him special is how you feel his trademark style in every film he makes, from the music, to the cutting, to his standard crew and stock players, every Carpenter film feels like a Carpenter film, making me forgive alot of the lesser ones because of that. Good choice for best; The Thing is his masterpiece but Big Trouble in Little China is no doubt my favorite.
The thing (no pun intended) that really makes him special is how you feel his trademark style in every film he makes, from the music, to the cutting, to his standard crew and stock players, every Carpenter film feels like a Carpenter film, making me forgive alot of the lesser ones because of that. Good choice for best; The Thing is his masterpiece but Big Trouble in Little China is no doubt my favorite.
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11:35AM on 10/28/2013
Very underrated director.makes best films with low budget by making very clever use of special/practical effects.more than his horror films,i love his Sci-fi films esp. They Live.wonderful social commentary.Darkstar,Big trouble in little china,Escape from Newyork are among my favourite films
Very underrated director.makes best films with low budget by making very clever use of special/practical effects.more than his horror films,i love his Sci-fi films esp. They Live.wonderful social commentary.Darkstar,Big trouble in little china,Escape from Newyork are among my favourite films
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11:35AM on 10/28/2013
Very underrated director.makes best films with low budget by making very clever use of special/practical effects.more than his horror films,i love his Sci-fi films esp. They Live.wonderful social commentary.Darkstar,Big trouble in little china,Escape from Newyork are among my favourite films
Very underrated director.makes best films with low budget by making very clever use of special/practical effects.more than his horror films,i love his Sci-fi films esp. They Live.wonderful social commentary.Darkstar,Big trouble in little china,Escape from Newyork are among my favourite films
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3:04PM on 10/28/2013
Glad to see the legendary John Carpenter on this forum.
Glad to see the legendary John Carpenter on this forum.
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+1
8:08PM on 10/28/2013

A legend

His top 5 is some of the most amazing work to ever be put on screen (though I was never a huge fan of Big Trouble). Add to it some other very good to solid projects like In the Mouth of Madness, Assault on Precinct 13, Starman, The Fog, Christine, Dark Star and even Memoirs of an Invisable Man and you'll have one of the best resumes out there.
His top 5 is some of the most amazing work to ever be put on screen (though I was never a huge fan of Big Trouble). Add to it some other very good to solid projects like In the Mouth of Madness, Assault on Precinct 13, Starman, The Fog, Christine, Dark Star and even Memoirs of an Invisable Man and you'll have one of the best resumes out there.
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1:08PM on 10/29/2013
I would love to see him doing a sequel on Jack Burton adventures.
I would love to see him doing a sequel on Jack Burton adventures.
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1:11AM on 10/30/2013

Carpenter is awesome!

My favorite horror director, my top 5:
1) The Thing
2) In the Mouth of Madness
3) Big Trouble in Little China
4) Escape from New York
5) The Fog
My favorite horror director, my top 5:
1) The Thing
2) In the Mouth of Madness
3) Big Trouble in Little China
4) Escape from New York
5) The Fog
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