Top 10 John Carpenter Films
Director John Carpenter has brought to the screen some of the most magnificent horror, and science fiction/action films over a career spanning almost 40 years. Being close to one of the greatest holidays of the year, we believe it to be more than appropriate to shine our spotlight on the master of horror by highlighting our top ten favorite John Carpenter films. They are, in no particular order:
We’ll go ahead and knock this obvious entry out. Of course Halloween makes the list! Carpenter’s slasher is the classic slice of horror that introduced the world to one of the greatest icons of the genre, Michael Myers. Unlike Rob Zombie’s white trash remake, the original doesn’t give Myers too much of a back story. The audience doesn’t know what motivates Michael to kill, which makes the character all the more frightening. From the instantly recognizable music to the mask hiding Myers’ face, the film is nothing shy of a modern masterpiece of horror.
A mysterious fog envelops Antonio Bay on the 100th anniversary of the fishing community’s charter. Within the ominous cloud is a brutal force that slays all it comes in contact with. Jamie Lee Curtis re-teamed with Carpenter for this slow boil horror hit, which also features Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, and Tom Atkins. The spooky hit is a fantastic ghost tale ,far superior to the craptastic 2005 remake.
A police officer finds himself trapped with civilians and prisoners in Precinct 13 the last day it’s open. A gang of armed murderous thugs are hell bent on reaching the small group within the precinct. Those trapped must do all they can to survive, and escape. Carpenter’s second film proved to be a gritty, explosive thrill ride. Unfortunately, it too was poorly remade in 2005.
Kurt Russell teamed with Carpenter for the first of several collaborations in this thrill a minute flick that not only showcased dark and exciting action, but also introduced the world to one of the greatest anti-heroes of all time, Snake Plissken. Throw in Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasence, Tom Atkins, and a menacing Isaac Hayes, set it in a ravaged New York, and you’ve got a film that puts modern big budget action flicks to shame.
An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Christine is as close to a true love story as you’re likely to get from Carpenter. The suburban set horror flick finds the geeky Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) falling for and restoring a possessed 1958 red and white Plymouth Fury. A true demon on wheels, Christine goes out of her way to violently ensure no one gets between her and Arnie. A fun horror slice of horror, the film would no doubt be a fantastic flick to view at a drive-in.
“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if a paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ ‘Yessir, the check is in the mail.’” Arguably Carpenter’s most fun feature, Big Trouble in Little China showcases Kurt Russell at his zaniest with his portrayal of truck driver Jack Burton. When Burton agrees to pick up the fiancée of his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), he finds himself in a battle of magic and all around craziness in Chinatown. But it’ll take more than demons and a 2000 year old magician (James Hong) to keep good ol’ Jack Burton down in this laugh out loud thrill ride.
One of Carpenter’s most underappreciated works, Prince of Darkness is also one of his best. When a priest (Donald Pleasance) finds a mysterious canister filled with a strange fluid in a church basement, he calls in a professor (Victor Wong) to figure out the origin of the mysterious piece. What comes to light is frightful conclusion that could spell end of humanity. Also, the film has Alice Cooper at his absolute creepiest!
“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all outta bubblegum.” Roddy Piper stars in what is easily the most quotable film in Carpenter’s cannon. When a drifter (Piper) discovers the planet is overrun with aliens disguised as people who control our thoughts with subliminal messaging, he sets out to expose the invaders for who they truly are. Keith David co-stars, and takes part in one of the greatest two man battles ever committed to film. The beautiful and magnificent eyes of Meg Foster only add to the appeal of this incredibly entertaining and poignant flick.
“Do you read Sutter Cane?” Sam Neill stars in what many consider to one of the last truly great films from Carpenter. Neill is John Trent, an insurance investigator who comes to understand the frightening impact horror writer Sutter Cane (played by the always watchable Jürgen Prochnow) has on his readers. Loaded with trippy imagery, slime covered creatures, an intriguing story, and several references to H.P. Lovecraft, the film is always a fun one to revisit.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is without a doubt one of the most frightening white knuckled horror films ever made. Based on the short story, Who Goes There?, by John W. Campbell Jr., the film serves as not only a magnificent monster movie with special effects that leave modern CGI in the cold, but also an outstanding psychological chiller with hints of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. One couldn’t ask for a better cast, which features the likes of Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, and Donald Moffat. And let’s not forget some of the best animal acting you’re likely to ever see. On top of that, there’s the unforgettable and haunting score by the legendary Ennio Morricone. The first of what Carpenter refers to as his Apocalypse Trilogy (the other two chapters being Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness), The Thing is incredible, and perfectly showcases the talents of one of the greatest horror directors of all time.
Also well worth a view are Carpenter’s two contributions to the Masters of Horror series, “Cigarette Burns” and “Pro-Life.”