Tag Archive | John Carpenter

It Follows – In The Footsteps Of Horror Greatness

It seems like it’s been decades since I was this thrilled by a horror movie. And when I sit back and think about it, 30 years is about how long I’ve been waiting for a movie like It Follows. Maybe it’s because the movie has a whole late 70s, early 80s vibe, taking me back to the time when I was young and enthralled by the movies of John Carpenter and George Romero. In fact, there are so many elements of It Follows that remind me of Halloween, yet with an entirely unique story and feel, that I felt like a teen again, experiencing a whole new world of horror at its best.

It-Follows-posterHere’s the story – Jay (played by Maika Monroe, who was just in the horror/thriller The Guest) is a kind of directionless girl living in the suburbs of Detroit. She has a tight group of friends (her sister, Paul who was her first kiss and also kissed her sister when they were younger, and Yara, a girl who spends all her time reading ebooks on a pink clam shell) who just hang out with no real aspirations or parental supervision. We only see Jay’s mother from side angles, and when we do, there’s always booze nearby, so we get the feeling that this generation has been left to themselves.

Jay is dating a guy she met outside the neighborhood. He takes her out one night and they make good use of the back seat of his car.As she’s basking in the afterglow, he chloroforms her, straps her to a wheelchair and has her sit in an abandoned building, waiting for a spirit to begin stalking them. He explains that by having sex, he’s transferred a curse to her. She will be followed by a spirit that can look like anyone until she passes it to someone else. If she gets caught before she does, the spirit will kill her and in turn, kill him.

The rest of the movie is spent with Jay running from the shape shifting spirits. They walk slow, but they also never, ever stop following you. She can drive far to buy some time, but the spirits will always catch up with her. There’s never really a moment of full rest, and you can feel the desperation with each frame. Her friends stick by her, but even they can’t help much because they can’t see what Jay can and no one knows how to stop it.

Now for the look of the movie. All of the cars in It Follows are hulking behemoth’s from the 70’s/80’s. From the decor of the houses, to landline phones and even the way people dress, you’d swear the movie was set in 1979. The only connection to modern times is Yara’s e-reader. Viewers are shown the absolute depression of Detroit, with rows of abandoned, crumbling homes. I feel the director chose to stop technology and fashion right when Detroit was beginning to falter, capturing the final heyday of a city in amber.

The opening sequence of It Follows is the best I’ve seen since Halloween. The score is absolutely chilling. I went out and bought it an hour after I saw the movie. It’s part of a new wave of horror movies using synth soundtracks, just like they did back in the day, to set your nerves on edge.

We all know that horror movies have long conveyed that premarital sex leads to very bad things. I can think of no worse consequence than the curse bestowed on Jay in It Follows.

And yes, I’m going to come right out and say this is an instant classic. For my money, it’s the best horror movie I’ve seen since Carpenter’s The Thing. I get the sneaking suspicion that writer/director David Robert Mitchell is as much a Carpenter fan as I am, because he’s created something that can proudly sit alongside the master’s best works.

They Live!: Re-Examining John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi Epic

After a hectic Horrortober, I have to tell you, I’m tired. But not so tired that I can’t go through the rounds of editing on my new book. This one’s gonna be a doozy.

Sometimes, when the fates see you need a hand, they deliver. Today, I’m featuring a post by Spencer Mitchell about one of my favorite directors, John Carpenter. We waxed poetic about JC on the Monster Men some time back (Episode 37 to be precise. Click here to see it). They Live has always held a special place in my heart, mostly because Rowdy Roddy Piper was my all time favorite wrestler.

Well, here’s Spencer’s take on They Live, giving this old writer a much needed rest. Take it away, brother…


 

The prevailing image of filmmaker John Carpenter remains that of a “master of horror.” The problem with that perception is that it doesn’t acknowledge his depth as a filmmaker. He’s dabbled in multiple genres, and he’s also shown time and time again that he can make compelling films, whether they’re made inexpensively with few performers, or big-budget star vehicles with lots of special effects.

Carpenter first gained recognition when he edited a film that won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short in 1970. The film, entitled The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, told the story of a contemporary young man who fantasizes about being a cowboy during the days of the Wild West. Four years later, his own feature film would debut and introduce him to the public as a sci-fi force to be reckoned with .

In his first major work, Dark Star (1974) and the following film Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Carpenter established his ability to make films effectively (however crudely) with only provisional resources at his disposal. Dark Star was a science fiction comedy (co-written by and starring Carpenter’s classmate Dan O’Bannon), while Assault dealt with the defense of an abandoned police station. Both films were made on meager budgets with unestablished actors, and with Carpenter doing all or most of the musical scoring himself.

Carpenter had his first “breakthrough” hit with Halloween (1978). The name of bloodthirsty “Michael Myers” came from the name of the British film distributor who helped Carpenter release Assault on Precinct 13 in the UK. “Laurie Strode” was the name of an ex-girlfriend. The first big film for Carpenter, it also marked the on-screen debut of actress Jamie Lee Curtis. After the success of Halloween, however, Carpenter began to find himself being pigeonholed into the confines of the horror genre. Despite this, or perhaps to counteract it, he began working on projects such as a television biopic of Elvis Presley with former child star Kurt Russell. They would collaborate several more times on films such as Escape From New York (1981) and Big Trouble in Little China (1983).

Over the next few years, Carpenter continued to establish his reputation as an imaginative, genre-defying auteur. Capable of concocting the right blend of the suspenseful, the terrifying and the spine-chilling, his work on The Fog (1980), The Thing (1982) and Starman (1984) helped the horror genre attain box office prominence and respect from critics. Employing the concept of aliens in both The Thing and Starman, he explored more advanced themes of paranoia and control. Both films are not necessarily about what the alien, or “Thing”, symbolizes, but rather the unrelenting acknowledgement that such unknown threats exist, and that we should be afraid of them. The fears explored in these films ultimately led to the production of 1988’s They Live.

they live

The film involves another alien conflict, this time led by a drifter who puts on special sunglasses that allow him to see how government entities are subliminally influencing the thoughts of all citizens. The otherwise-normal looking political leaders are seen by the drifter (via the magic sunglasses) as horrific beings bent on complete control of their citizenry. Unpopular amongst critics upon its release, the film has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. As a viewer, you might recognize uncanny similarities between They Live’s apocalyptic narrative and the problems inherent in our own society today.

Carpenter also accurately depicts the continuing rancor over the issue of climate change. One character in the film rails against the increase of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, saying about the aliens, “They’re turning our atmosphere into their atmosphere.” While advancements in alternative energy have been made recently with the gradual adoption of natural gas powered vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines, global politics continue to prevent the implementation of real change. And as the world tries its best to come to terms with the reality of global warming, many are left feeling alienated themselves – adrift in a society that teaches little else than how to contribute to an endless cycle of spending, wasting, and consuming.

While the unconventional casting choice of professional wrestling villain Roddy Piper in the lead role garnered the film some unique attention when it came out, some fans of the film will also note a connection to the writings of David Ickes, and the multitude of conspiracy theories he posited. Ickes himself commented on how perceptive Carpenter’s vision of the future in the film was in relation to his own conceptualization of actual reality. In an America devastated by economic collapse and disillusioned by the subsequent NSA scandals, a government interested in total mind control doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

In some respects, They Live is also reminiscent of 1976’s Network, which was written as a parody of the television industry but whose scenes now mirror what modern media has devolved into. As for Carpenter, he made his name eliciting powerful (often terrified) reactions from his audiences, continuing to both scare and inspire to this day. And for those that tried to pigeonhole him as nothing more than a purveyor of popcorn horror flicks, may they someday see through the propagandistic, consumerist veil of humanity’s alien overlords.


That’s some good stuff, right? Check out all of the links Spencer provided and get the full story. He can be reached on Twitter at @bspencerblohm.

What are your thoughts on They Live?

 

John Carpenter Warped My Youth

I know that seems a harsh thing to say, but it’s true. Oh, he wasn’t alone with shattering my expectations of the genre I loved most, horror. But damn if he wasn’t the biggest influence on my entire generation.

When I try to list the top 20 horror films of my teen years, J.C. dominates. If I whittle it down to my top 10 of all time, he’s still the master. As a writer, director and musician, he’s the one I think of when I conjure up the images and sounds of the boogeyman and impending doom. The man was at the top of the heap for two decades, which is about a decade and 5 years more than most.

The Monster Men recently dedicated an episode to singing his praises. I can’t believe it took us 30+ episodes to do it, but better late than never. You can watch the video here.

My goal today is to give you a moment to stop and admire the filmography of one of the best in the biz. My first exposure to the legend was, naturally, Halloween. That movie defined the slasher flick, spawning hundreds of imitations. Shot in just a few weeks, it isn’t the least bit dated and is terrifying a new generation. As an added bonus, it gave us Jamie Lee Curtis! Big score. When I was a kid, my friend bought a William Shatner mask and painted it white with house paint so he could be Michael Meyers for Halloween. The dude nearly passed out from the fumes. I think he even puked a couple of times. But the mask was awesome.

Halloween_cover

Carpenter followed that up with The Fog, again with Jamie Lee and the seductive Adrienne Barbeau. Undead pirates seeking revenge on a sleepy little town. What’s not to like? John Carpenter was married to Adrienne for some time, which is why you see her in a few of his films. In fact, if John liked you, you could expect to be in quite a few of his movies. The man is loyal as hell.

Escape From New York is one badass of a flick. Snake Plissken could wipe out Al Queda singlehandedly and solve the debt crisis. “I’m the Duke of New York, A Number One!” For a whole year after that came out, you would hear me or one of my friends daily say, “Call me Snake.”

escape from ny

Now comes one of my all time favorite movies, The Thing. Growing up in my house, the original Thing was sacred, so we went to the movie with some trepidation. Carpenter pulled off the rare feat of creating a remake a thousand times better than the original. Great characters, fantastic monster effects for its time, and of course, Kurt Russell with a kick ass hat and a flame thrower. This and Escape From New York made Russell the epitome of the tough guy that every dude wanted to be in the 80s. The Thing is horror and sci-fi perfection. I actually heard people gagging in the theater when the monster was revealed for the first time. Nice.

The ThingPoster

Next was a string of more hits like Christine (Stephen King’s killer car flick), Starman and Big Trouble in Little China (more Kurt Russell!).

They Live, a movie about aliens that have infiltrated our lives and can only be seen with a special pair of sunglasses, was great because it starred my favorite wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Yes, it’s silly, but it also good fun. And it gave us the immortal line : “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

The Prince of Darkness is a creepy tale about the devil and a desperate race to stop a plague of evil that will consume the world. I just rewatched it recently, and now that I’m older with a firmer grasp of theology, it gave me even more chills.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Assault on Precinct 13, which I attest is actually a zombie movie, and maybe one of the best ever made. Towards the end of his run, Carpenter directed Vampires, a decent adaptation of John Steakley’s avant garde novel. I’ve never been able to look at James Woods the same way.

These aren’t all of John Carpenter’s movies, but they are the best of the best. Thank you J.C. for making me the horror junkie that I am. The big question is, who is going to be the one to fill his shoes? I’m not sure I see anyone on the horizon. Some might say Eli Roth, but I think he has more to prove. What do you think?

And what are some of your favorite John Carpenter movies and moments? If you need time to mull it over, play the soundtrack to Halloween in the background to help speed things up.

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