Posts Tagged ‘John Carpenter’

An everyday truck driver Jack Burton gets caught up in a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown and must rescue his pal’s fiancée.

Made the same year as a flurry of fantasy adventure films, including the The Golden Child, Flight of the Navigator, Howard the Duck and Labyrinth to name a few, Gary Goldman’s & David Z. Weinstein’s Big Trouble in Little China screenplay is rich and director John Carpenter unknowingly creates a rounded personification of an 80’s adventure film.

The leads are perfectly cast, a young Kim Cattrall’s delivers a defining comedy performance and Kurt Russell is perfect as the All-American beer drinking reluctant hero. A make-up enhanced James Hong is outstanding as mystical evil Lo Pan, the rest of the supporting cast are an array of familiar faces. 

Although the special effects are of their time, many of the makeup effects hold up well. Veteran cinematographer Dean Cundey’s shows all the gritty sweat of this pure piece of entertainment fun. There’s fantastically dressed sets, great costumes and neon lighting. Director Carpenter delivers outlandish set pieces, some great action scenes, magic and sword fights. It’s full of comedy moments, one-liners and dark, creepy supernatural Chinese spirits as Jack goes about rescuing the girl(s).

Big Trouble in Little China packs a lot punch for a film that didn’t do big box office bucks but it certainly found an audience on VHS. It’s a top fantasy adventure that’s production values add to Big Trouble’s charm, Carpenter’s quirky atmospheric touch ensured it could be revisited time and time again.

It could have been a remake of The Thing (1982) a remake of The Thing from Another World (1951).  Universal saw sense and have made a prequel from the makers who brought the effective Dawn of the Dead remake – and as a bonus it doesn’t mess about with the timeline. It is set in the 1980’s. Phew.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most underrated horrors ever and remake for that matter. Thankfully in recent years it’s gained and even larger following spawning video games and figures. I’ve always loved it – darn you McTiernan ripping off the opening shot in Predator.

More importantly its prompted this 2011 film and considering it’s not a remake its oddly also named ‘The Thing’. So here are my husky thoughts on The Thing, the one with Mary Winstead, the star of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Die Hard 4.0 and The Thing – the one with Kurt “Snake” Plissken Russell just so you can tell the difference…
The Thing (2011)
It is 1982, after a signal is investigated in Antartica a team accidentally find a body and ship. A team of researchers are dispatched to assist and they soon find they’ve discovered something alien and deadly.

From the opening cinematographer Michel Abramowicz delivers an opening of a sweeping snow-landscape as a yellow tractor ploughs across the ice and snow with the familiar beats of the originals score. Bearded Norwegian talk in their native dialogue and you feel you’re in good hands from the outset.
Although there are two females roles Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Kate gives it that Alien- esque dynamic with a prominent male cast but over all the look and feel is that of The Thing and it feels like a true prequel.
The recreation of the sets and the 80’s music add to the fan-boy fun and Marco Beltrami score excellently reworks Ennio Morricone original track which packs it’s own punches and chills.

It’s a dark film with lots of shadows possibly more so that it’s predecessor what adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s also bloodier, and gorier with an equally fantastic autopsy scene.
There’s no getting away from comparing Directors Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s Thing to the original classic. That said, for new comers watching it cold it works as a stand alone film – as a prequel to the masses its a joy.
The team are equipped bio researchers which adds extra dynamic and pace to the story, like the viewer some of the characters have equal knowledge of what The Thing creature is doing early on like its audience who have already seen Carpenters classic. However, that fact the characters are up to speed on Alien creatures purpose it takes some of the everyday down to earth person handling a situation, learning more as they go along away.

There’s some effective tension and there’s a great set piece on a helicopter. Due credit to writer Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore, the Norwegian dialogue adds to the realism and attention to detail. As distrust builds the story becomes even more engrossing. There’s too
much CGI nevertheless there are some nice touches involving arm braces and tooth fillings thrown into the mix and Heijningen Jr. Handles the mix of splitting heads contorted bodies and faces perfectly while creating a great sci-fi horror ride.

The sound is wonderful with familiar moaning, the tentacles flaying noise and eerie screams galore. These complement the practical and computer effects. There are some discrepancies but none that detract or couldn’t be arguably accounted for.
The acting is more than adequate aided by a solid script. There are some notable performances including Ulrich Thomse’s Doctor Sander and Jonathan Walker as Colin. Winstead really carries the film and does it surprisingly well -as a side note she’s as moody and likable as Kurt’s MacReady.
There’s not a joke in sight, it’s serious. It’s a very fast paced film with enough surprises to keep it fresh while paying homage at the same time. The closing act is bloated but arguably so was The Thing’s 1982. But like its classic counterpart all is forgiven with its great epilogue.
Overall, semi-perfect replication -like  The Thing organism itself.

The Thing (1982)
The Thing [Blu-ray]An atmospheric understated sci-fi at it best. I’ll never understand how Carpenter lost the lustre in some of the other film he made, nevertheless, his Thing is one of his best movies and also once of the best sci-fi movies ever. Despite being based on the same source material (before remakes were popular) the thing has a look and feel of it’s own and is very different from its 50’s counterpart.
The isolated setting, the astounding cinematography and scenery creates intrigue; drawing you in from the very beginning. It’s a perfect horror/sci-fi cocktail of Ennio Morricone’s haunting foreboding score, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston (dog effect) benchmark practical effects (which are unsurpassed) Carpenters claustrophobic set ups and Bill Lancaster screenplay.
It’s rare that every single actor is exceptional and supplied with effective dialogue. All the cast from Kurt Russell to Wilford Brimley as Blair are all captivating, great casting by Anita Dann. The characters have their own issues and as the paranoia sets in relationships are forged and other broken, building to a bold and satisfying conclusion.
This is more than just a cult film with a ‘monster’ hiding in warm places surrounded by snow, it’s a finely tuned science fiction horror masterpiece.

With Halloween closing fast there’s no better time to revisit some Halloween films, in this case the Donald Pleasence (O.B.E) ones, the Sam Loomis narrative.

Halloween Part III: Season of the Witch departs from the Michael ‘Mask’ Myers storyline and is a standalone film. Halloween H20 (Twenty Years later) saw the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode but ignores part 4, 5 and 6. Needless Scream-alike Halloween Resurrection ironically killed the franchise, annihilating what was set up in H20. Then came Rob Zombie’s remakes. All of which I’ll share my thoughts on over some pumpkin pie in the future.

For now here’s a few ponderings on the films that cemented amoungst other great roles Donald Pleasence’s place horror history, introducing him to a new generation while in the process making William Shatner masks famous, turning them into the stuff of nightmares.

Halloween (1978)

A psychotic child institutionalised after committing several murders now as an adult escapes and goes on a mindless killing rampage. Can his doctor stop him?
John Carpenter’s 1978 [retrospectively] textbook horror slasher film is perhaps the most a perfect horror film, arguably Jaws (1975) will always have a plastic shark. What makes this different to many other babysitter stalker films is the production value, Carpenters direction and score that reeks of dread. Perfect leads include, heavy weight Donald Pleasence as Doctor Loomis and ever reliable Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode) as they try to out wit an escaped psychotic murderer.

Halloween is a well produced basic, yet essential horror that contains very little nudity or blood for this type of genre. What maybe a little tame for gore hungry audiences of today still remains a defining archetype horror film, as without the masked Michael Myers there wouldn’t be many of the horror’s there are out now.

A must see for any horror fan.

Halloween II (1981)

Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital after the killing spree of Michael Myers. While Dr. Loomis hunts the streets for Myers the killer has already begin another murderous rampage at Haddonfield Hospital.

To the writer/producer team John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s credit it picks up where the first left off giving it a nice air of continuity. Halloween 2 is a basic killing spree sequel that builds on the suspenseful original with a revelation of who Strode really is but more so adds a lot of bloody deaths. That said, there’s little story and literally goes from one death to the next.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays the shell shocked ex-babysitter in distress perfectly although there is little room for her character to develop due to the scripts time scale. Donald Pleasence is as loopy and obsessed with Michael as ever and is the weight in this limited event. Dick Warlock plays Michael Myers and does a good job especially when taking a bullet or two. Although all the extras are Michael fodder they do enough to keep you interested.

Veteran Dean Cundey’s cinematography is the star of the show. Despite some choppy editing, possibly caused by Carpenters re-shoots and drawn out closing, Rick Rosenthal direction is more than satisfactory encompassing some suspense in the dark and ominous lit hospital.

Overall it builds on the unstoppable killing machine film concept and while not perfect it’s a good sequel to a series that arguably should have finished there.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

10 years after the events of the first & second Halloween Michael Myers escapes and returns to Haddonfield to hunt down his niece.

There’s a lot going on in this instalment that goes back to the roots of Halloween ignoring part three. Part 4 is grander, a police station is wiped out and locals turn vigilante. Teenage shenanigan’s go on that are more synonymous with slasher films that weren’t really present in part 2.

Despite being the fourth in a series and putting aside what the critics say Halloween Return of Michael Myers is a very strong entry.

It’s strength is not only Donald Pleasence’s great performance, take a look at the early gas station scene but it’s the likability of both Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris’ characters. Thanks to Alan B. McElroy’s writing every character is fleshed out more than usual for the time and genre.

Harris is a good child actress and gives Jamie an air of realism. Whereas Cornell gives depth to Rachel’s moral issues and concerns. The supporting cast are all more than adequate including Beau Starr as Sheriff Ben Meeker. George P. Wilbur’s take on the Shape/Michael is debatably the best portrayal of killer in the series.

Credit should go to director Dwight H. Little and legendary producer Akkad for capturing the feel and the look of the first two instalments. Little makes good use of the lighting and music building some great tension, notably the rocking chair, rooftop scene and truck escape. The surprise ending fittingly echoes the first and 4 has the right mix of horror, action and suspense without the cringe worthy cheese that come with most copycat slasher pictures of the time. An underrated guilty pleasure.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Michael survives the shootings of Sheriff Meeker and his men and returns on October 31st with a vengeance.

In the tradition of Halloween II, Halloween 5 picks up where 4 left off then quickly moves forward a year. Danielle Harris plays Jamie niece of Michael once again and this time she is traumatised by previous events. Again Harris puts on a good acting show especially for a child actor as she seems genuinely haunted and harassed by Michael and her visions.

Due to the writers Bitterman, Jacobs and Othenin-Girard’s prerogative Ellie Cornell returns briefly as Rachel and is sadly missed for the majority of the film, which is a shame given that she set out good foundations for her character in 4. Donald Pleasence once again is Loomis and gives the film some credibility and weight. He’s obsessed to a point of madness putting pressure on the young child which is disturbing in itself. Don Shanks this time is Michael/The Shape and has an imposing presence, the car scene when he wears a different mask is particularly unnerving. He’s both subtle and brutal.

Five departs from the slasher flick formula adding a cult, supernatural and telekinetic physic connection that includes a mysterious man in black. Obligatory shower scene, teenage girls, cars and boyfriends cheapens it towards Friday the 13th territory. Although the story is uneven director Dominique Othenin-Girard and cinematographer Robert Draper give the film its own unique look with much of it shot in the daylight. It adds an air of uneasiness but lacks the ominous atmosphere of the 1; 2 and 4 until very late in the latter half.

The pacing of Revenge is off as the film is very muddled with a weak narrative linked by a series of false scares, misidentification and a few bloody killings. There’s an issue with the character of Tina (Wendy Kaplan) who for a short time inherits the role of Jamie’s protector. Kaplan lacks the credibility of Curtis or Cornell and the script doesn’t help her performance either as she aimlessly if forced to go from one scene to the next.

Even Alan Howarth’s score or the interesting spring a trap closing can’t make up for the padded middle segment. Sadly all the tension and suspense is crammed into the finale and retreads ideas from the forth, notably a Police Station assault. If Tina, the psychic link and the Man in Black had not been included the film may have perhaps turned out better leaving Loomis, Myers and Jamie being the focal point. This may have treaded old ground but it may have made Revenge more palatable.

It has some appealing moments mainly between Pleasence and Shanks or Harris and Pleasence but the scenes are few and far between.

Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

After Jamie Lloyd daughter of Laurie Strode gives birth, Michael Myers sets out to find his niece’s baby.

From the elaborate opening of an older Jamie giving birth and her frantic escape, Curse’s focus shifts from the menacing unstoppable killer slightly in place of a wider underground cult theme, hinted at in the previous instalment.

Myers obsessed Tommy Doyle (child survivor from the first film) played by Paul Rudd is fine in a main role. Minus scar makeup aged Pleasence does his best with the material he’s been given and plays the retired doctor Loomis superbly despite his age and weakened voice he still steals every scene. Actress Marianne Hagan’s Kara Strode is slightly wasted, fleeting in and out like her son Danny and many of the other characters. George P. Wilbur (who played Michael in Revenge) returns once again as The Shape with good screen presence and movement.

Anyone unfamiliar with the series may have a difficult time following the unnecessary convoluted story. The screenplay hints at a town moving on but doesn’t build on the theme, nor expand on Michael coming home. It has some interesting character dynamics but its cluttered like its predecessor with many new elements that the audience has to buy into including more characters to accept and warm to.

Alan Howarth and Paul Rabjohns’ music is edgy enough especially when coupled with the original theme. Director Joe Chappelle delivers elaborate deaths and Curse is well filmed with sharp editing, flashing images and slick dialogue but it is far removed from the simplistic, primal original concept.

Apparently it was a troubled shoot and many alternative scenes were shot, this may explain its unevenness. These issues spawned the notorious Producers Cut. Nevertheless, it’s just as inconsistent as this version. Curse suffers like the fifth entry injecting the needless cultist sect sub-plot, mysterious symbols and a physic kid. That said, even taken with a pinch of salt it’s still unsatisfying and you really feel the series has lost its way.

Worth seeing if only for Donald Pleasence’s last performance.

John Carpenter: The Prince of DarknessThe American film director, John Howard Carpenter was born in New York on January 16, 1948. As well as making successful thrillers he is creator of both Science-fiction and Horror film classics.
It was Carpenter who’s Halloween character, Michael Myers spawned a franchise, and anti-hero Snake Plissken became a cult character.

John Carpenter has always been a film-making influential anomaly, a film-maker, writer producer and musician that has both box office indiefilm success and mainstream. Interchanging between them both. He’s managed to make B-films that are far from cheap, they have been high concepts with lofty production values and stories that are also thought provoking. He has stayed on the fringe of Hollywood, to ensure that his stories are portrayed the way he envisages them. While sometimes the aesthetics maybe criticised the compelling stories are always the driving force and why he’s has stood the test of time.
Of course there are many great Carpenter films including, Prince of Darkness (1987) and Escape from New York (1981) to name a few, but below are my thoughts on my personal favourites.
They Live (1988)
They Live [Blu-ray]Humanlike, skeleton looking, extraterrestrial’s have taken over the Earth and walk among us, but are cloaked by a transmitter that makes ‘them’ appear like us. A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allows him to see what is being hidden.
Halloween’s (1978) horror legend writer/director John Carpenter does his best with a limited budget. The film for the most part has an urban realistic look, due to the on location shots, however, at times it appears very cheap and lacks the production values of The Thing (1982) or The Fog (1980). In true Carpenter tradition there’s a heart pumping and relentless score.
Amongst all the 80’s cheese there is a fantastic story based on Ray Nelson’s short story. They Live themes reflects consumerism, class and corruption to name a few. Underneath, Carpenter’s bland screenplay lay a fear that we are not in control and our society is led by ‘them’, echoing Invasion of the Body Snatchers and ‘V’. To join them would be to give I and we would benefit but we’ll pay a greater price. They Live is high concept sci-fi with great ideas, the sunglasses touch is genius, that’s original and allows some great visuals and interesting moments. There’s also the intriguing secret society aspect and space travel.
Suffering from the 80’s macho testerone Roddy Piper is entertaining as the lead but he’s no great actor, lucky there’s the likes of Meg Foster and Keith David to gives the film some weight and there are some good performances from the supporting cast.
Carpenter though a simple story immerses the viewer in the conspiracy and connects us with the heroes search for the truth which has a fantastic, un-Hollywood brave and downbeat ending. In addition, the effects are of the time but are still effective, there are some stand out set-ups, the supermarket, the underground segment and the discovery of the sunglasses. I’m hesitant to use the word, but They Live is cool.
With so many remakes in recent years They Live would benefit from a serious and heavier version. That said, taken at face value it’s a great fun ride, with one-liners, action and aliens.

The Thing (1982)

 
The Thing [Blu-ray]An atmospheric understated sci-fi at it best. I’ll never understand how Carpenter lost the lustre in some of the other film he made, nevertheless, his Thing is one of his best movies and also once of the best sci-fi movies ever. Despite being based on the same source material (before remakes were popular) the thing has a look and feel of it’s own and is very different from its 50’s counterpart.
 
The isolated setting, the astounding cinematography and scenery creates intrigue; drawing you in from the very beginning. It’s a perfect horror/sci-fi cocktail of Ennio Morricone’s haunting foreboding score, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston (dog effect) benchmark practical effects (which are unsurpassed) Carpenters claustrophobic set ups and Bill Lancaster screenplay.
It’s rare that every single actor is exceptional and supplied with effective dialogue. All the cast from Kurt Russell to Wilford Brimley as Blair are all captivating, great casting by Anita Dann. The characters have their own issues and as the paranoia sets in relationships are forged and other broken, building to a bold and satisfying conclusion.
This is more than just a cult film with a ‘monster’ hiding in warm places surrounded by snow, it’s a finely tuned science fiction horror masterpiece.
The Fog (1980)
FOG (1980)A fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge on the 100th anniversary of their deaths besieges a small California seaside town. Halloween’s (1978) horror creative duo John Carpenter and Debra Hill reunite with Jamie Lee Curtis (in a smaller role) for this effective ghost tale.
Adrienne Barbeau’s character Stevie Wayne is centre to this horror chiller, even though she spends most of her time held-up in a lighthouse, transmitting her radio show. Carpenter’s The Fog is more about the story than central characters. The cast appear to get equal screen time, including Janet Leigh (Curtis’ mother) of Psycho (1960), Tom Atkins notable The Howling (1981) star and George ‘Buck’ Flower of They Live (1988) to name a few. Veteran actor Hal Holbrook gives a fine performance as the guilt-ridden priest Malone.
Despite the dated smoke machine-like fog the silent ‘zombie’ ghosts, brandishing blades, with their glowing eyes are eerily effective heightened by an accompanying typical Carpenter pulsing score.
There are a few effective kills but like most good horrors some of these happen off screen. It’s mostly shot on location this adds a realistic atmosphere of dread to the proceedings. There are some cheap ‘jump’ scares in there but what’s noteworthy of The Fog is it’s set ups, the spooky opening, the creepy gallon and the paranormal effects on the cars and electricity of the town. The Fog appears to be a series of great idea’s brought together with a single horror tale as its backbone.
It’s not perfect, but The Fog’s absorption makes it entertaining nonetheless. Perfect on a dark night.
Halloween [Blu-ray]John Carpenters 1978 textbook horror slasher film.
What make this different to many other babysitter stalker films is the production value, Carpenters direction and score that reeks of dread. Perfect leads include, heavy weight Donald Pleasence and ever reliable Jamie Lee Curtis as they try to out wit an escaped psychotic murderer.
Halloween is a well produced basic, yet essential horror that contains very little nudity or blood for this type of genre. What maybe a little tame for gore hungry audiences of today, it still remains defining archetype horror film, as without the masked Michael Myers there wouldn’t be many of the horror’s there are on your shelf right now.
A must see for any horror fan.
Big Trouble in Little China [Blu-ray]An everyday Truck driver Jack Burton gets caught up in a centuries-old mystical battle in Chinatown and must rescue his pal’s fiancée.
Made the same year as a flurry of fantasy adventure films, including the The Golden Child, Flight of the Navigator, Howard the Duck and Labyrinth to name a few, Gary Goldman’s & David Z. Weinstein’s Big Trouble in Little China screenplay is rich and director John Carpenter unknowingly creates a rounded personification of an 80’s adventure film.
The leads are perfectly cast, a young Kim Cattrall’s delivers a defining comedy performance and Kurt Russell is perfect as the All-American beer drinking reluctant hero. A make-up enhanced James Hong is outstanding as mystical evil Lo Pan, the rest of the supporting cast is full of familiar faces.
Although the special effects are of their time, some of the makeup effects hold up well. Veteran cinematographer Dean Cundey’s show all gritty, sweat of this pure piece of entertainment fun. There’s fantastically dressed sets, great costumes and neon lighting. Director Carpenter delivers outlandish set pieces, some great action scenes, magic and sword fights. Packed with comedy moments, one-liners and dark, creepy supernatural Chinese spirits.
Big Trouble in Little China packs a lot punch for a film that didn’t do big box office bucks but found an audience on VHS. It’s a fantasy adventure that’s production values add to Big Trouble’s charm.