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Ranking John Carpenter’s Movies From Worst to Best (#23 – 19)

October 9, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Village of the Damned

The John Carpenter Movie Countdown: #23-#19


John Carpenter is one of the world’s greatest living directors, with a stellar body of work that spans over four decades. Starting in 1974 with the sci-fi comedy Dark Star all the way to his underrated ghost flick The Ward, he has worked in multiple genres, helped solidify a specific horror genre (the slasher movie with Halloween), and has created multiple cult movies that are still relevant to pop culture to this day (Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, the Snake Plissken movies, the list goes on). Carpenter is also responsible, as a musician and composer, for some of the greatest movie themes of all time (check out my Top 5 John Carpenter Movie Themes list here). The man can do it all when it comes to movies.

But what are his best movies? What are his less than stellar movies? In this multi-part mega list, I will rank all 23 movies Carpenter has directed, including the two episodes of Masters of Horror he did (as I remember it, the MoH episodes were viewed by the directors asked to participate as hour long movies so I’m including them as part of this mega list). This project should take five weeks, with the first four weeks devoted to “the next five” movies on the list. The fifth and final week will feature the top 3 movies.

And so, without any further what have you, let’s get this list started. What appears in spots 23 through 19?

The John Carpenter Movie Countdown: #23-#19


23- Masters of Horror: Pro-Life: This Masters of Horror episode had such great potential. A religiously insane father (Ron Perlman) infiltrates an abortion clinic with his sons to try to prevent his daughter from having an abortion. What Perlman’s Dwayne Burcell doesn’t know, though, is that his daughter is carrying a demon baby inside of her. The first ten minutes or so of this are pretty good, setting up the premise of the episode and getting things going. Then it all goes downhill from there. The direction is lifeless, the pacing is slow, and the performances are too restrained. In short, this episode is boring as hell (that happened a lot in the second season of MoH). On top of that, it doesn’t really do anything with the political implications of the story. If Carpenter had taken a stance, in the story, pro-life or pro-choice, it might have given the story some juice. Instead, it takes a “pro monster” stance, which sounds cool and good but just causes the episode to fizzle out. And that’s a damn shame, it really is.


22-Village of the Damned: Doing a remake of the 1960 classic British horror flick, right from the start, seems like a thankless job because how the hell are you going to improve on the original? I mean, yeah, you can put together a top notch cast and use all of the modern moviemaking technology at your disposal to help create a bit more spectacle than the original, but are you really going to do any better than Wolf Rilla did back in 1960? John Carpenter gave it a shot and did the best he could and, at best, he made a watchable movie. Christopher Reeve, Kristie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Pare, and Luke Skywalker hisself Mark Hamill all do good work (Mark Hamill as the priest is a great idea that the movie doesn’t do enough with), and the killer kids are spooky and weird, but it all just seems so pointless. Again, it’s very watchable and has some nice performances in it, but you can tell that Carpenter wasn’t all that into it. Carpenter’s phone booth cameo is pretty neat, though.


21-Body Bags: This TV anthology horror flick that Carpenter co-directed with fellow modern horror legend Tobe Hooper is a romp and a half. All three stories are terrific, with Carpenter helming the opener, a great sort of slasher story called The Gas Station featuring Lewis Skolnick hisself Robert Carradine as a crazy killer, and Hair, with Stacy Keach as a guy losing his hair who gets a hair replacement treatment that he eventually regrets big time (Hooper’s segment, “The Eye,” with Mark Hamill as baseball player that loses an eye, gets an eye transplant, and then starts going crazy when he finds out that the transplanted eye belonged to a serial killer, is pretty good, too). On top of that, Carpenter acts in a wraparound story as a sort of “Crypt Keeper” type host, and you can tell that he’s having an absolute ball hamming it up in front of the camera (it’s so much fun watching him goof off under so much dead body makeup). It stinks that Showtime didn’t turn this movie into a series, as I’m sure that it would have rocked and attracted plenty of top shelf horror talent (Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, and Roger Corman appear on screen in the movie. How hard would it have been to get them to direct an episode or produce one? And think of the other people who could have participated. Body Bags could have been Masters of Horror before Masters of Horror). Tons of fun all around.


20-Prince of Darkness: When I first saw Prince of Darkness, I caught it in the middle of the movie and thought, because of the presence of both Dennis Dun and James Wong, that it was a sequel to Big Trouble in Little China. I could tell, just by looking at it, that the movie was made by John Carpenter, but without ready access to the internets at the time (it was the early 1990’s and the internets didn’t exist) I didn’t know that what I was watching was something called Prince of Darkness. And why the hell was the guy from Simon & Simon in this? When I first saw Prince of Darkness straight through, I didn’t really care for it. I didn’t really understand what the hell was going on with its exploration of ultimate evil, and I thought it was slower than it needed to be. I mean, yeah, seeing Donald Pleasance, Jameson Parker, Egg Shen, Wang, and Alice Cooper all in the same movie was cool, but so what? Why isn’t this horror movie scaring me? It took two more viewings for the movie to really get under my skin and creep me the hell out. The Anti-God? Holy shit. Atmosphere, music, an overall sense of dread. Great stuff. This is the middle movie in Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” that also includes The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness.


19- Elvis: This TV movie seems like an odd entry in Carpenter’s filmography, mostly because it’s a biography drama and Carpenter is better known for genre movies. However, when you realize that Carpenter is a big Elvis fan from back in the day and, in general, a rock and roll guy, directing a movie about Elvis Pressley makes perfect sense. And this is a solid three hour drama that, yes, plays like most biographical movies that go over a subject’s life, but it moves fairly quickly and hits all of the important Elvis moments up until 1970. I have read Carpenter interviews where he says that he’s unhappy with the finished product because he didn’t get a chance to score the movie or edit it to his satisfaction, which is a shame but not that surprising. It’s cool to see Carpenter work outside of genre material and “do something different.” Elvis is the first collaboration between Carpenter and star Kurt Russell. They would go on to make Escape from New York, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, and Escape from L.A. after Elvis.


Next week: # 18-#14!

Crazy People! Space! Voyeur! Special Effects! Romance!


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