The Movies of John Carpenter

I went to see one of my favorite movies Friday night at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema -- Escape from New York, one of director John Carpenter's greatest films.  By today's standards it's a simple little flick, and it has so many cheesy moments, but it was Carpenter's biggest budget flick at the time and it's presented with such conviction that it becomes everything that a moviegoer wants to see when watching a story on the big screen.  They don't make 'em like that anymore. 

Carpenter arguably did better work when he was filmmaking on a smaller scale, but Escape from New York proved that he could dream big. It's a shame that he negated much of that with his ill-advised sequel.  Still, his later missteps couldn't erase his early success.

His talents are multi-faceted, evidenced by his work as an actor, composer, and producer, but his legacy of course will be marked by his directorial achievements. On television, he directed Someone's Watching Me, Elvis, Body Bags, and two excellent episodes of Masters of Horror. The silver screen, however, is where he will be most remembered. Here's a chronology of the movies he's made.

Dark Star - A dark science fiction "comedy" that feels like a spoof of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it's humor comes from a gritty realism that only Carpenter can deliver, especially during his early period.

Assault on Precinct 13 - Carpenter used to know how to tell a simple but gripping story. The poster text for this action thriller sums up what audiences could expect: "A cop with a war on his hands. His army of street killers. His only ally...a convicted murderer." The 2005 remake starring Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne couldn't come close to recapturing the emotion of the original.

Halloween - Often imitated, but never truly surpassed, Carpenter's simple yet effective horror movie was one of the pioneers of the slasher genre. Others merely played with the cliches, but Carpenter practically invented them.

The Fog - If you like creepy motion pictures, your best bet for entertainment is to watch one of Carpenter's early flicks. This one still holds up as atmospheric and scary, something the 2005 remake starring Tom Welling, Selma Blair, and Maggie Grace failed to reproduce.

Escape from New York - Still my favorite, the story of the anti-hero Snake Plissken trying to save the President of the United States from a gang of thug in a future where Manhattan island has been turned into a city-sized penetentiary still remains captivating to watch all these years later.

The Thing - Carpenter delivered a remake that was arguably better than the original The Thing from Another World by Howard Hawks that inspired it.  The similarly titled prequel of 2011was underwhelming by comparison.

Christine - How could you go wrong by combining Stephen King with John Carpenter? Here's another example of a simple premise (in this case, an evil possessed car) executed extremely well for audiences looking for that sure of tale.

Starman - Carpenter's most mainstream production, Jeff Bridges plays the role of an alien entity who comes to Earth in the body of a deceased man. The result is more than just a science fiction film, it's a touching love story.

Big Trouble in Little China - Although this martial arts comedy flopped during its initial theatrical run, it has since become a cult classic. 

Prince of Darkness - Carpenter's apocalyptic horror film was underappreciated, but still has some very good moments.

They Live - Aliens secretly live among us (and their true forms can only be seen by wearing special sunglasses)!  My favorite scene is the lengthy street fight between Roddy Piper and Keith David.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man - The big budget special effects overshadow the performances by Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, and Sam Neill.

In the Mouth of Madness - Inspired by the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, this is one of Carpenter's more impressive films created later in his career.

Village of the Damned - This remake didn't do much to improve upon the original -- but those alien kids with the creepy eyes still give me chills.

Escape from L.A. - Forget this was ever made! What was Carpenter thinking? This was a total disaster.

Vampires - Carpenter takes a stab at the genre of the undead with mixed results.

Ghosts of Mars - Human colonists on the Red Planet try to survive when they become possessed by malicious Martians. The cast includes Natasha Henstridge, Ice Cube, Jason Statham, and Pam Grier.

The Ward - An institutionalized woman, played by Amber Heard, is haunted in this disappointing horror movie.

Carpenter is still one of the greats, and I hope he has more interesting projects up his sleeve.