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Ranking John Carpenter’s Movies From Worst to Best (#13 -9)

October 23, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
The Fog

The John Carpenter Movie Countdown: #13-#9


Before I get into the entries for week 3, I want to make everyone aware that there’s a new book about the movies of John Carpenter. The book, by Troy Howarth, is called Assault on the System: The Nonconformist Cinema of John Carpenter and it examines all of the movies Carpenter has directed to date, and the movies he had a hand in making as a writer, composer, producer, etc. The book also has multiple interviews in it, including one with Carpenter himself, Carpenter’s wife Sandy King, actor Keith Gordon (he starred in Christine), and there are essays by various critics and whatnot. There are two versions of the book, one with color pictures and one with black and white pictures (as you would expect, the version with the color pictures is more expensive than the black and white one). I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s something that I definitely plan on getting (Christmas is coming up). As far as I’m concerned there aren’t enough books examining Carpenter’s movies.

The book is published by WK Books and is available here and here.

How many of you reading this want to read this book?

And so, without any further what have you, let’s continue the countdown. What appears in spots 13 through 9?

The John Carpenter Movie Countdown: #13-#9


13- The Fog: There are plenty of people out there who think that The Fog is one of the scariest movies ever made. I’m not one of them. In fact, I didn’t really care for The Fog the first time I saw it. I thought it was interesting and had plenty of atmosphere, but why did people think it was scary? What the hell is so scary about fog outside of having to drive in it and not being able to see? Why isn’t the movie about that? I had to watch it a few times before the story started to get to me. It’s about a bunch of ghosts that appear in a fog one hundred years after a nasty shipwreck off the coast of the town of Antonio Bay, California in order to exact revenge on the town. The “ghosts coming from the fog” imagery starts to get more unsettling with each viewing. And, for me at least, the pacing of the movie started to make sense. I thought the movie was slow when I first saw it. It isn’t slow anymore. The Fog now creeps me out.

I would like to see the “original” version of the movie. Carpenter didn’t like his original cut and thought it wasn’t scary enough, so he reshot portions of the movie to amp up the tension (I think Carpenter has said that he reshot like 10-15% of the movie, it wasn’t a lot, but the stuff that he did add “made it better”). I’m surprised that version of the movie hasn’t been a bonus feature on a Blu-ray yet. It could be that that version of the movie is lost/no longer exists, but it would still be cool to see, just to compare the two versions.


12-Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns: This episode appeared in the first season of Masters of Horror (it was the eighth episode). It’s about a troubled and broke guy who owns a movie theatre (Kirby, as played by Norman Reedus) who is then hired by a weird beard rich guy (naturally played by Udo Kier) to find a print of an infamous movie that supposedly caused its audience to go insane. Kirby’s search for the print leads him down some very dark places (I don’t want to say any more about the plot because things do get kind of depraved. It does kind of resemble Joel Schumacher’s 8mm but, due to the supernatural elements in the story, it plays differently and is actually more disturbing. You can tell that Carpenter is having a ball making this episode as it has an energy that other Masters of Horror episodes clearly don’t have (why the hell wasn’t this the second episode, after Don Coscarelli’s awesome Joe Lansdale adaptation Incident On and Off a Mountain Road? Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch House was good but it wasn’t awesome like Incident and Cigarette Burns). And that sequence where the guy stabs his eyes out? I bet even the most jaded gorehound will flinch at that sequence. Cigarette Burns also plays as a sort of riff on Carpenter’s unofficial “Apocalypse Trilogy” along with The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness. If it was up to me, we would stop talking about a “trilogy” and instead we’d talk about an “Apocalypse Quadrilogy” with Cigarette Burns as the fourth one. I think it belongs.


11-Christine: Carpenter directed this Stephen King adaptation because he “needed a job” after the critical and box office failure of The Thing in the summer of 1982. Christine is a fairly straightforward horror flick about a haunted killer car that was “born bad” (it kills an auto worker as it’s being built on the assembly line at the beginning of the movie) and, over the years, has essentially possessed its owners. Uber nerd Arnie Cunningham (a brilliant Keith Gordon) buys it from a junkyard and, while repairing it/restoring it, becomes an uber psycho asshole that alienates his friends (Dennis, as played by John Stockwell, and Leigh, as played by Alexandra Paul). The car, a red 1958 Plymouth Fury, when it isn’t fucking with Arnie’s mind, goes on a killing spree in town, wiping out all of jagoff bullies that Arnie has to deal with in high school (William Ostrander is the top bully Buddy, and Malcolm Danare is Moochie, one of Buddy’s lackeys). Harry Dean Stanton is a cop that’s investigating all of this shit and the great Robert Prosky is the junkyard owner Arnie sort of befriends as he rebuilds the car. Carpenter manages to make the car scary as it kills people, and there are some terrific action sequences and an amazing “car reforms itself after it’s destroyed by Arnie’s enemies” sequence that is still impressive today. Easily one of Carpenter’s most rewatchable movies.


10-In the Mouth of Madness: The last part of Carpenter’s unofficial “Apocalypse Trilogy” is one incredibly weird mind fuck of a movie. Starring Sam Neill as an insurance investigator who is charged with finding out what the heck happened to well-known horror writer Sutter Cane (Jurgen Prochnow) as Cane has apparently disappeared. Neill’s John Trent ends up heading to the weird beard town known as Hobb’s End, which is where the story really, really gets weird. Neill is terrific as a man who tries valiantly to hang on to his sanity while also trying to figure out what the hell is going on, Julie Carmen does a great job as Linda Styles, Cane’s editor who tags along with Trent into Hobb’s End, and Prochnow is scary as Cane (it’s like he’s a god in this movie). Charlton Heston has a nice supporting role as Cane’s publisher, as do John Glover and David Warner. Carpenter’s stock regular Peter Jason also has a role, and even Bernie Casey shows up for a little bit. The more you watch this movie the creepier and more distressing it gets. I mean, what would you do if this kind of thing happened to you? In the Mouth of Madness also has a kick-ass opening theme that Carpenter did with Jim Lang. Try not to air guitar while listening to it.


9- Ghosts of Mars: This is Carpenter’s last major theatrical release as it came out in late August of 2001. Tons of Carpenter fans hate this movie, and I really don’t know why. It’s chock full of action and hard hitting fight sequences, has cool villains (the Mars natives are terrifying as they’re basically unstoppable), and has one of Carpenter’s best soundtracks (he collaborated with Buckethead and heavy metal gods Anthrax on the soundtrack and it rocks so goddamn hard). The story, about a group of cops on Mars who, while transporting a dangerous criminal, are attacked by humans who have been taken over the ghosts of Mars’ former inhabitants. Natasha Henstridge is the lead cop, and Ice Cube is the criminal. Jason Statham is also a cop (Statham’s Jericho Butler was his first major role in an American movie), and Pam Grier is Henstridge’s boss. You can look at the movie as a kind of summation of Carpenter’s career up until that point, as the story resembles Assault on Precinct 13, Ice Cube’s James “Desolation” Williams is a riff on Snake Plissken, a few Carpenter “regulars” are in the cast (Grier, Peter Jason, Robert Carradine), and the whole thing just has that Carpenter “look” and “feel” to it. I saw it twice on the big screen and loved it more the second time. The movie is just so much fun from start to finish. You’re not meant to take it seriously, although you can and it still works. It’s too bad Ghosts of Mars tanked at the box office as I’m sure its failure helped Carpenter take a break from making movies. I think it’s found a bit of an audience since it came out on home video and TV. We really haven’t had a movie as bonkers and awesome and cool as Ghosts of Mars since 2001. John Carpenter really is the only one who could have made it. Who else wants another one like it?


Next week: #8-#4!

A giant island prison! Reflexes! A big knife! A western in disguise! Land of the free!


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