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Ranking John Carpenter’s Movies From Worst to Best (#18 – 14)

October 16, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Starman Starman (1984) Directed by John Carpenter Shown from left: Karen Allen, Jeff Bridges

The John Carpenter Movie Countdown: #18-#14


This is week two of the five week countdown of all 23 of John Carpenter’s movies. Just in case you missed the first week, you can check that out here. I don’t really have anything to ad in this intro, so why not just get on with it?

And so, without any further what have you, let’s continue the countdown. What appears in spots 18 through 14?

The John Carpenter Movie Countdown: #18-#14


18- The Ward: The Ward is, to date, Carpenter’s last full feature film as a director. It didn’t get much of a theatrical release when it came out in 2010 (I think it played in a few big cities while hitting Video on Demand), and I’d suspect that most people saw it when it hit home video. Basically, The Ward is a haunted asylum movie, where a troubled young woman played by Amber Heard is attacked by a ghost. That’s a simplification of the plot but, essentially, that’s what the movie is about. The Ward isn’t a big movie, and it’s a bit of a slow burn, but its last third or so is terrific as we find out what the heck is really going on (the ending actually surprised me when I first saw it). I don’t want this to be Carpenter’s last movie as a director, but then I would likely say that about any “final” movie he makes because, as a fan, I always want one more, regardless of what it is. If The Ward ends up being the actual, final movie he makes, I’ll eventually be okay with it. The Ward isn’t groundbreaking or awe inspiring, but it is solid, well made, and entertaining. That’s what always matters.


17-Dark Star: This science fiction comedy is Carpenter’s first feature as a director and is probably Carpenter’s strangest movie. It’s about a spaceship crew that’s been out in deep space for twenty years, blowing up planets for some reason. The spaceship eventually malfunctions, and the crew has to figure out how to save themselves from certain doom. There’s also a sequence where a member of the crew has to fight off an alien that looks like a giant beach ball. The whole thing is absurd, and that’s the ultimate point, I think of the whole movie. It’s also a kind of low budget response to the elegant coldness of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dark Star is goofy and ridiculous, and that’s why it’s so hard to not watch when you do start watching it. It’s fun and you have to see how it all works out. Dan O’Bannon, of Return of the Living Dead and Alien fame, stars in Dark Star and co-wrote the screenplay with Carpenter. I’ve often wondered how much of the movie’s absurdity is a direct result of O’Bannon and how much is Carpenter. I’m going to guess that a majority of the absurdity comes from O’Bannon because Carpenter never did anything like Dark Star again, but who knows? The final “space surfing” sequence is a hoot.


16-Someone’s Watching Me: Someone’s Watching Me! is a TV movie that Carpenter made for Warner Bros. and NBC back in 1978. Carpenter, who also wrote the screenplay, made Someone’s Watching Me! before he made Halloween (he actually started shooting Halloween about two weeks after finishing Someone’s Watching Me!) and, until its DVD release in 2007 it was incredibly hard to find in North America as the movie never got a proper VHS release and I don’t think it played on TV much after its initial airing in late November 1978. Basically, Someone’s Watching Me! is about a woman who is being stalked by a guy in an apartment complex directly across the street from her apartment. The woman, played by Lauren Hutton, eventually has to take matters into her own hands and confront her stalker after the police ignore her. Future frequent Carpenter collaborator and ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau co-stars with Hutton (in fact this is the movie where Carpenter first met Barbeau). While it’s just a TV movie, Someone’s Watching Me! has some nice suspenseful moments and plays a little bigger than your “typical” late 1970’s TV movie but not much bigger. Still, it’s a solid effort by Carpenter (he made the movie in ten days), and just like The Ward, that’s all that really matters here.


15-Memoirs of an Invisible Man: A sort of sci-fi comedy, Memoirs of an Invisible Man is a movie that I watched on HBO a million times back when it first appeared on that premium cable channel (I also saw the half-hour “making of” about a million times, too). Starring Chevy Chase as a douchebag stock analyst who is turned invisible during a freak accident at a lab, Chase’s Nick Halloway is pursued throughout the movie by a government agent played by a brilliantly sadistic Sam Neil. Daryl Hannah is Chase’s love interest. The movie has a nice mix of comedy from Chase and Michael McKeon (McKeon’s descriptions of Chase’s Halloway are hilarious), and some good suspense and action sequences. The invisibility special effects are also still amazing almost three decades later. The movie tanked at the box office, most likely due to audiences not understanding that it isn’t your typical Chevy Chase movie (it plays more like the first Fletch that Chase did, at least in terms of its balance of comedy and drama/action), but it’s found some sort of audience on home video and TV. The movie’s production was also apparently a nightmare for Carpenter as Chase and Hannah were difficult to work with and the green screen special effects were complicated (I think a chunk of Chase’s on set difficulty was due to the uncomfortable contact lenses and other special effects he had to wear. He might not have understood just how difficult the makeup would be when he decided to do the movie but couldn’t get out of doing those sequences because he was the star, it was a project he had been interested in doing for years, and he had to do them). Carpenter’s name doesn’t appear in the title (the movie isn’t John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man, it’s just Memoirs of an Invisible Man) but he does appear in the movie as a helicopter pilot.


14- Starman: Easily Carpenter’s sweetest movie, Starman is a science fiction romance about an alien in human form, played by Jeff Bridges, and a woman played by Karen Allen, going on a road trip to reach the alien’s rendezvous ship so he can leave Earth. The alien’s human form is the same as the woman’s dead husband, and so it’s like she kind of believes she’s with him again throughout. There are government agents after Bridges, but the bulk of the movie, and why it’s worth watching, is the interaction between Bridges and Allen. The movie’s ending is both incredibly sad and, somehow, incredibly uplifting, too. Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for this movie, and Carpenter made it to essentially show Hollywood that he wasn’t a lunatic after the box office and critical failure of The Thing (he made the Stephen King adaptation Christine in between The Thing and Starman). I’m surprised that Carpenter never got to do another movie like Starman. I mean, sure, it wasn’t a monster hit, but it had decent critical acclaim and Bridges got an Oscar nod for it, so why wasn’t he ever in the “major romantic movie” conversation again? Did he deliberately avoid those kinds of movies again because he would rather make the kinds of movies he ended up doing, like Big Trouble in Little China and They Live and all the rest? Starman is wonderful, and it’s definitely something you should seek out.


Next week: #13-#9!

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