Ranking the Films of John Carpenter

John Carpenter is a legend. Out of all the big name horror directors that existed when I was a kid, he was the one that legitimately made things that terrified me. He also made films that were mesmerizing and totally expanded my mind and what I thought about filmmaking.

1.  The Thing
2. Escape From New York
3. They Live
4. Starman
5. Big Trouble In Little China
6. Prince of Darkness
7. In the Mouth of Madness
8. Halloween
9. Assault on Precinct 13
10. The Fog
11. Dark Star
12. Christine
13. The Ward
14. Escape From L.A.
15. Vampires
16. Memoirs of An Invisible Man
17. Ghosts of Mars
18. Village of the Damned

Film Review: The Ward (2010)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s The Ward
Release Date: September 13th, 2010 (TIFF)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Music by: Mark Kilian
Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boorem, Jared Harris

Echo Lake Entertainment, A Bigger Boat, ARC Entertainment, XLrator Media, 99 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the first thing you remember?” – Dr. Stringer, “Fire.” – Kristen

*written in 2014.

The Ward was John Carpenter’s first film in nearly a decade when it came out in 2010. I think the decade off did good for Carpenter after the poor efforts of Ghosts of Mars, Vampires, Escape From L.A. and Village of the Damned had me thinking that his days as a good director were over. Sure, all those films had some good takeaways but ultimately, they were nowhere near the level of his great films like The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, the original Halloween, They Live, Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From New York and Starman.

This film was a return to form for Carpenter. It was a straight up ghost story and it captured that real dread that his last several films were missing. He built a good narrative, kept things mysterious and told a solid story. Granted, the end result wasn’t something all that original but the concept of this film worked and I liked it. I can’t go more into the concept without spoiling the plot, so I’ll leave it at that.

This film stars Amber Heard, who I have never had a problem looking at. In fact, I’ve been enamored with her since The Rum Diary and apparently Johnny Depp is too as they are now engaged. The film also stars Jared Harris, who played the awesome Lane Pryce on Mad Men.

The acting was better than decent in comparison to the overabundance of horrible horror films that have come out over the last decade. And truthfully, maybe it is the slew of horrible horror films that have made me appreciate this film and the return of John Carpenter. Regardless of the reason, The Ward is better than the cookie cutter crap that Hollywood has been pushing out.

It is far from a perfect film and it isn’t a classic or even in Carpenter’s upper echelon of work but it is still better than what has become the norm.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Carpenter’s other work, even if his classic stuff has a different feel.

Film Review: Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Release Date: July 12th, 2002
Directed by: Rick Rosenthal
Written by: Larry Brand, Sean Hood
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Danny Lux
Cast: Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Ryan Merriman, Sean Patrick Thomas, Katee Sackhoff, Daisy McCracken, Luke Kirby, Tyra Banks, Jamie Lee Curtis,

Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You failed, Michael. Want to know why? Because I’m not afraid of you. But what about you? Are you afraid of me? Are you afraid to die, Michael?” – Laurie Strode

This chapter in the Halloween franchise is the bottom of the barrel. Well, at least until Rob Zombie came along to make two films in his white trash reboot.

The only positive thing about this picture is the first fifteen minutes that show the final confrontation between Michael Myers and his sister, Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis returned for this small part and really, the build up to this fifteen minute intro should have been a film with this as the finale. Everything after their final confrontation is absolute garbage.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve liked Busta Rhymes going back to his days in Leaders of the New School. I also thought he did a decent job with his small role in John Singleton’s Higher Learning. However, watching him imitate Bruce Lee while using kung fu moves to best Michael Myers is just about the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen and I’ve watched some pretty shitty movies in my day. At least Busta looked like he was trying to make the best out of an atrocious script and a stupidly written character.

The basis of this film, after the decent fifteen minute intro, is about a half dozen college students that go on a reality show to “investigate” the infamous Myers house. However, Michael is there and still alive so college kids start getting shish-kababed with sharp objects galore.

The premise is dumb, the characters are even dumber and the whole idea of how a show like this would work makes no sense whatsoever. It was just an excuse to use cheaper cameras and to showcase a lot of the action with shitty head mounted webcams. It is like half normal movie and half found footage. The choppy editing between the two is a distraction and most of the webcam shots are a jumbled mess.

Fuck this movie. There really isn’t much else to say about it. Watch the first fifteen minutes and then turn it off.

And yes, this turd is getting tossed into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Release Date: August 5th, 1998
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Ottman
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Mom, I am not responsible for you. That’s it, I’ve had enough. I can’t take it anymore mom. He’s dead. Michael Myers is dead.” – John

When this film came out, I didn’t even want to see it. It looked awful, I assumed it was awful and when I did see it on video, a year later, I was left unimpressed. However, my tune has changed somewhat, seeing it almost twenty years later.

It isn’t wholly awful and in fact, it has some pretty strong positives.

On the negative end of the spectrum, the opening segment is decent but then the film drags and drags until you finally get to see Michael Myers hunt down his sister. You don’t really get some good Myers action until the last twenty minutes or so of the picture.

Then there is the issues with the Myers action itself. That issue being that half the killing, if not most of it, happens off screen. The majority of the film shows people getting cornered and then it cuts away. A few minutes later, someone stumbles across their dead friend. I assumed this had to be rated PG-13 but nope, it has an R rating but apparently no balls. Strangely, even though it cuts away from real violence and gore, the film is capped off with a decapitation that is actually shown. The way violence is handled in this movie is really friggin’ baffling.

Also, there are just so many bullshit jump scares that it was more irritating than surprising.

The cast in this is also pretty weak. There are really well-known stars in the film but this was before most of them broke out. Michelle Williams would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards and receive lots of other awards nominations but in this, she’s just teenie bopper eye candy. LL Cool J didn’t seem to have much to do and Josh Hartnett didn’t serve much of a purpose other than being the son of Laurie Strode (Curtis) and giving her a reason to finally hunt down Michael Myers herself.

But lets get to the positives.

Jamie Lee Curtis kills it in this. This is her best outing as Laurie Strode and twenty years later, she finally gets that Ellen Ripley moment, where she has had enough, grabs a weapon and hunts the hunter trying to kill her and her child. The final showdown between her and Myers is absolutely fantastic and it is the best final battle out of any Halloween film. She truly was Michael’s match in this and it was damn cool to see. It actually makes up for the boredom I felt for the first two-thirds of the picture.

Also, we get a nice cameo from Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis’ real life mother. She’s even got a car like the one from Psycho.

Halloween H20 may have an incredibly stupid name and fall victim to being a standard 1990s slasher, lacking the gravitas of the films from the previous two decades, but that final act is stellar. The moment where Laurie and Michael come face-to-face for the first time in twenty years is actually chilling. I wish they wouldn’t have wasted that shot by putting it in the trailer.

So I no longer have a severe dislike of this film, I actually like it a lot. Especially the final moment between Laurie and her murderous brother.

Film Review: Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers – The Producer’s Cut (1995)

Release Date: September 29th, 1995
Directed by: Joe Chappelle
Written by: Daniel Farrands
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth, Paul Rabjohns
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitch Ryan

Miramax Films, Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 88 Minutes (theatrical), 95 Minutes (Producer’s Cut)

Review:

“I’ve wanted to believe it. But I’ve felt Michael’s presence, behind these walls, just like all those years ago. Plotting, staring, Staring. Waiting for some signal. I can’t go through this again, not alone. Please, as my colleague, as my friend. Help me.” – Dr. Loomis

For those that don’t know, there are two different versions of the film Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. There was the theatrical cut and then there was a producer’s cut, which was lost and never to be released.

In the late 90s, The Producer’s Cut started to circulate at horror conventions on a crappy bootleg VHS tape. The quality was generally poor on every copy in circulation but the fans who did get to see it, considered it a far superior version of the film.

Recently, it was released commercially as an added bonus to the Halloween Blu-ray box set. After demand increased and people didn’t want to have to buy all the movies again, just to access The Producer’s Cut, it was released on its own. I was able to rent it on Amazon.

So is it truly “a masterpiece” as some have said?

No, not really. It is an enjoyable slasher flick if you are a fan of the genre and especially if you like Michael Myers. The problem with it, is that the gist of the plot that made up the theatrical version is still intact. In fact, this version expands on it further. What I’m specifically referring to is all the stuff surrounding Michael’s origin and the cult that commands him.

Yes, apparently Michael Myers has been controlled by a cult all this time. I’m not really sure how it all works and the film attempted to explain some things but it did a poor job of it.

What makes these films work is the mystery of who Michael Myers is. We know he killed his sister when he was 6 years-old and we know he shows up on Halloween to murder his family members but we didn’t need an over bloated explanation. Knowing how the trick works destroys the magic.

I thought that the approach and story they wanted to tell was ambitious and maybe it could have actually added something good to the mythos. The execution was just bad in either version of the film. Yes, I love the Halloween mythos and you have to try and offer up something new with each picture. I’m not against the cult idea, I just don’t like how it panned out.

It was interesting to see a very young Paul Rudd in this film, his debut, but with the stardom he has now reached, he becomes more of a distraction in this tale. But at least you get to see Ant-Man versus Michael Myers – a dream match no one asked for.

The ending in both versions of the film are different. They are also both pretty bad. At least the theatrical film ended with some action, where The Producer’s Cut ended with (*spoiler alert*) Paul Rudd dressing up like a warlock and putting runes on the floor, which basically just turned Michael Myers off – allowing the good guys to escape. I thought Michael Myers was really just Rain Man and he was counting runes like Dustin Hoffman counted toothpicks.

Additionally, The Producer’s Cut has less gore than the theatrical version. I don’t really care about that either way but the studio wanted an overabundance of violence and that was added to the film after re-shoots. Also, the character of Jamie Lloyd lived longer and had more of a story in The Producer’s Cut.

It was cool to finally see this version of the film but it wasn’t the over-hyped magnificent Michael Myers magnum opus that horror snobs who saw it, bragged about. I was left disappointed by what I was anticipating but pretty satisfied with what the film was overall. And, at least, it is better than any Halloween film that came after it, except for H2O, which is better than I remembered but I’ll review that one next.

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

Release Date: February 1st, 1980
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers

Debra Hill Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.” – Stevie Wayne

I was never a huge fan of The Fog but for some reason, I like this film a lot more now. I did enjoy it when I was younger but it wasn’t something I felt the need to revisit as often as the typical slasher films of the day. This has slasher elements to it but it certainly is not a clone of HalloweenFriday the 13th or anything else similar.

This is a quintessential John Carpenter flick. It also stars just about all of his top dogs except Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasence. You do have Adrienne Barbeau, in what is my favorite role of hers, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis. The cast also boasts Hal Holbrook, who starred with Barbeau two years later in Creepshow. We also get to see Janet Leigh, Curtis’ real mother who is most remembered for Psycho.

The threat in this film is a mysterious fog that rolls into a small coastal California town. The fog carries some swashbuckling zombies that want their gold back. The nautical zombies don’t actually swashbuckle, instead they use their blades like a slasher would.

Barbeau plays a single mother who owns a lighthouse where she broadcasts over the radio. From atop the town, she can see the fog rolling in and tries to give the town a play-by-play on what is happening but ultimately, the ghosts come to haunt her as well.

I like this film a lot and I think it is underrated, even if it did get a crappy remake in 2005.

Unfortunately, the swashbuckling ghost zombies aren’t the most unsettling thing about the picture. Something about the Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis hookup was just bothersome to me. I like both actors but when this was made Curtis was 21 while Atkins was 44. As a 38 year-old man, I can’t even talk to a 25 year-old girl and find anything in common with her, just sayin’.

The Fog is a solid movie. It also has one of the best scores that John Carpenter has ever produced. It uses its fog and lighting effects perfectly and the monsters are damn cool.

Film Review: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Release Date: October 13th, 1989
Directed by: Dominique Othenin-Girard
Written by: Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard, Shem Bitterman
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Wendy Kaplan, Tamara Glynn

Magnum Pictures, Klasky Csupo, Trancas International, Galaxy Releasing, 97 Minutes

Review:

“No, of course you don’t forget. How could you? You never looked into his face, did you? You never saw his eyes. You never saw that- that nothing, no expression, blank. My memory goes back twelve years to the night I offered… I’m gonna show you- show you something. Look. [lifts up his burned hand] Look at this, look at that. I prayed that he would burn in Hell, but in my heart I knew that Hell would not have him.” – Dr. Loomis

After the success of Halloween 4, the fifth installment was quickly pushed out. It follows the events of the fourth film but picks up a year later.

While not quite as good as 4Halloween 5 still captures the same tone and utilizes the strengths of the returning cast members.

I always really liked the opening sequence of this one. It shows how Michael Myers survives the ending of the fourth film, after being blasted to bits and falling down a mine shaft. This film even puts an extra cherry on top by having the town mob throw some dynamite down the well, which wasn’t seen in the finale of the fourth film.

This is also the first film to show Michael maybe express some empathy when he is about to murder his young niece and she asks to see his face and a tear is revealed. It can possibly be assumed that he isn’t really in control of himself, which is something that will be answered in the next film. However, this also sort of cheapens the long held idea that Michael is nothing other than evil personified.

Danielle Harris really ups the ante in this one and cemented herself as a scream queen and not just some one-off screamy kid in a sole slasher film. Donald Pleasence also returns and is at his best. He even gets some good shots in on Michael, after he’s been beaten, battered and slashed by the monster.

Also, this film is the first to show Michael’s tattoo, which would be significant to the plot of the sixth film. It also introduces a mysterious character, at the end, that assists in Michael’s escape from the police station. This also sets up the sixth film. Really, this is the first film that felt like it was actually planning to move forward, even if the sixth installment didn’t come for another six years.

If you like Halloween 4, there really isn’t a reason to dislike Halloween 5. It’s more of the same and might not be as good but it makes up for its small drop in quality with some new and interesting plot developments.