John Carpenter

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DarkImbecile
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John Carpenter

#1 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:03 pm

John Carpenter (1948-)

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"There are two different stories in horror: internal and external. In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don't understand. Internal is the human heart."

Filmography

Features:
Dark Star (1974)
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
Halloween (1978)
The Fog (1980)
Escape from New York (1981)
The Thing (1982)
Christine (1983)
Starman (1984)
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Prince of Darkness (1987)
They Live (1988)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Village of the Damned (1995)
Escape from L.A. (1996)
Vampires (1998)
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
The Ward (2010)

Shorts
"Revenge of the Colossal Beasts" (1962)
"Terror from Space" (1963)
"Captain Voyeur" (1969)
"Warrior and the Demon" (1969)
"Sorcerer from Outer Space" (1969)
"Gorgo Versus Godzilla" (1969)
"Gorgon, the Space Monster" (1969)

Television
Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
Elvis (1979)
"Hair" and "The Gas Station" [segments from Body Bags] (1993)
Masters of Horror - S01E08 - "John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns" (2005)
Masters of Horror - S02E05 - "Pro-Life" (2006)

Music
Lost Themes (2015)
Lost Themes Remixed (2015)
Lost Themes II (2016)
Classic Themes Redux [EP] (2016)
Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998 (2017)

Books
The Films of John Carpenter by John Kenneth Muir (2000)
John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness by Gilles Boulenger (2001)
The Cinema of John Carpenter: The Technique of Terror by Ian Conrich & David Woods (2004)
John Carpenter by Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell (2011)
On Set with John Carpenter by Kim Gottlieb-Walker (2014)

Web Resources
Cinephilia and Beyond's collection of links and resources on Carpenter and his films
"American Movie Classic: John Carpenter" by Kent Jones, Film Comment (1999)
2007 interview with MovieMaker Magazine
2008 interview with Den of Geek
"Morning in America" by Benjamin Strong, Moving Image Source (2008)
2014 interview with Simon Abrams, Vulture
2015 interview with Dave Portner, Interview Magazine
2015 interview with Jim Hemphill, Filmmaker
2016 interview with Adam Woodward, Little White Lies
2017 interview with Lanre Bakare, The Guardian

Forum Discussion
Dark Star (John Carpenter) Remastered DVD
Halloween Franchise (1978-?)
The Thing
Big Trouble In Little China
19-20 Vampires & Ghosts of Mars

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#2 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Wed Sep 03, 2008 1:46 pm

There's been a few nice write-ups on Carpenter for the 4-film retrospective at the BAMcinématek, September 1-4, 2008:

The Museum of Moving Image article.

The Village Voice's write-up.

and

A brief interview interview with Carpenter in Time Out NY

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#3 Post by knives » Mon Sep 08, 2008 12:28 am

I always thought the Fog was made for teevee for some reason. Guess not. Wouldn't be great if Kurt and him got together again for something other then money.

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#4 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Mon Sep 08, 2008 12:35 am

Wasn't Escape From L.A. released by Paramount, rather than Universal?

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#5 Post by MTRodaba2468 » Sun Apr 19, 2009 2:48 am

flyonthewall2983 wrote:Wasn't Escape From L.A. released by Paramount, rather than Universal?
You're right, it was.

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Re: John Carpenter

#6 Post by MoonlitKnight » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:19 pm

His early stuff is good ("Dark Star" is particularly underrated), but I'm really not a fan of any of his post-"Starman" work.

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Re: John Carpenter

#7 Post by Floyd » Tue Apr 28, 2009 12:12 am

I recently watched The Fog for the first time and strangely found myself becoming giddy like a schoolgirl during it. What a superb use of not only sound (tremendous sound effects used throughout for objects and areas) but tracking shots and such great camera movement and use of space. He also throws a lot of color in there similar to Bava. I'd imagine Bava must be a strong influence. Such a great entertaining and interesting film to watch.

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Re: John Carpenter

#8 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Apr 29, 2009 6:33 am

I agree about The Fog - it is one of those films that I appreciate in the Suspiria vein. The story itself is rather thinly sketched in and obvious but on an aesthetic level everything is there. I love the opening campfire tale by John Houseman and the pan through the streets of the town at night as strange events occur, and I especially like the way that the various groupings of characters are brought together in different ways until they're herded together at the church in the end. My absolute favourite sequence is the one of the Adrienne Barbeau character driving to the lighthouse and walking into it while playing her radio jingles - it is beautiful, compelling and strangely creepy at the same time, even without the ghostly message pay off scene that follows. Her character is the one that I think the audience identifies with the most (or at least the one I did!) and she seems to have an aloof, God's eye point of view of the town through most of the film compared to the busy mayor and her assistant, the guilt ridden priest and the investigative duo who are all participating in the mystery. The only interaction she has with the rest of the townspeople is through the radio (we never see her in the town for example, only in her beach side home outside of the lighthouse). That final sequence (foreshadowed by the death of her weather forecaster boyfriend in his own isolated position) as she guides everyone to the safety of the church and then herself comes under attack after in a sense having been implied to be beyond the reach of the terror affecting the town is a nice climax to the film, and I like the way that the coda involves her back at the microphone giving a first-hand warning to the unwary of their experiences with the fog rather than just reporting strange events second hand.

Another film I would try to make a case for would be Ghosts of Mars - again that is another film where the actual story is less entertaining than the way it is presented. This time rather than the beautiful sequences and compelling characters (they're all stock types in this one) the interest comes mainly from the unorthodox structure of the film of flashbacks within flashbacks and retelling of events that were occuring at the same time as others, with ellipsis and where they occur playing an important and interesting part in deciphering the story - it is one of those Godard style films where you get the ending, the beginning and then the middle!

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Re: John Carpenter

#9 Post by rockysds » Mon Jul 07, 2014 6:06 pm

Sony is releasing Christine on blu-ray themselves in multiple European countries (Scandinavia and Italy spotted so far) in mid-September.

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Re: John Carpenter

#10 Post by misterjunior » Wed Jul 09, 2014 10:59 am

I think one of the reasons I enjoy Carpenter as much as I do is because of the obvious Hawks influence on a lot of his stuff. Of course Assault on Precinct 13 is pretty much a reimagining (some might say "ripoff") of Rio Bravo but throughout his other work there's a carrying on of the Hawksian tradition of male camaraderie.

One of my favorites is In the Mouth of Madness which to me, while not an adaptation of any particular Lovecraft tale, is the movie that best captures the aura and appeal of a good Lovecraft work. I've always been a Sam Neill fan, too, so seeing him having such an obvious ball throughout is a lot of fun. If there are any other fans of this great horror flick out there who have yet to do so I wholeheartedly recommend picking up the region A blu-ray that was released last fall; there isn't much in the way of extras but the transfer and audio are both top-notch.

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Re: John Carpenter

#11 Post by manicsounds » Wed Jul 16, 2014 9:39 pm

rockysds wrote:Sony is releasing Christine on blu-ray themselves in multiple European countries (Scandinavia and Italy spotted so far) in mid-September.
I'm just hoping this won't be one of those Sony Blu-ray "upgrades" which loses some special features from the DVD edition. Most of the recent Sony catalog titles have been like that...

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Re: John Carpenter

#12 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Dec 15, 2014 7:20 pm

BAM just announced a John Carpenter retrospective with an appearance by the director himself. FWIW, I was thinking of checking out Halloween to see what the color was like (in reference to the controversy over the color timing on all of its home video releases), but unfortunately it's not a vintage 35mm print, it's a DCP.

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Re: John Carpenter

#13 Post by L.A. » Mon Aug 03, 2015 8:30 pm


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Re: John Carpenter

#14 Post by Stefan Andersson » Wed Jan 06, 2016 3:57 pm

I´m looking for an online article about The Fog. Lost the link.
The article contained detailed information about the postproduction of the film, added scenes, redubbed dialogue (for example to change the number of the ghosts´ victims). There was a bullet-point list of such details, a bit like the audio commentaries quotations on the Film School Junkies site, but much more detailed.

Thanks in advance for any tips!


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Re: John Carpenter

#16 Post by rockysds » Mon Sep 05, 2016 4:56 am

Second Sight's upcoming release of Assault on Precinct 13 will include Carpenter's student film Captain Voyeur. link.

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Re: John Carpenter

#17 Post by colinr0380 » Fri May 26, 2017 5:05 pm

Revisiting Prince of Darkness last night, I still find it a great, rollicking watch! Carpenter has always been great at claustrophobic 'siege' pictures but it sometimes seems that only Assault on Precinct 13 gets acknowledged for this element (and that seems mostly because it is where Carpenter's debt to classic westerns like Rio Bravo is most obvious). But its everywhere: the final attack on Adrienne Barbeau's character on and around the lighthouse in The Fog; the stalking of the babysitter's in Halloween; the Arctic station in The Thing, the prison cities in the Escape From... films, and so on. Its all about characters getting hemmed in, at first without recognising the danger they are in and then desperately trying to fight it off, often with little success (They Live is the more 'existential' version of that I guess!)

I think Prince of Darkness plays with this in a great way too. That whole location of the church (despite the main corridor location with the rooms off it being a set) gets explored thoroughly, to the extent that its easy to believe that you could knock a wall down and crawl through to the next room! It builds up (as in all of Carpenter's films really) a sense of a real environment, where you could easily look out of a window and up the alleyway between the buildings for an avenue of escape. If only the windows were not covered in worms and the top of the alley blocked by vagrants!

I love films where people get trapped in small areas (its why I like the original Night of the Living Dead so much too), and this is where Carpenter's skill really shines through. The film is really well edited throughout: the drawn out opening titles intercut with the first few scenes is magnificent in the way that it builds up a sense of dread whilst getting a lot of the character introductions out of the way quickly too, but I particularly like that at the turning point of the film when the threat becomes overt, Kelly is being impregnated/transformed and all the possessed characters turn up to attack those who remain that Carpenter splinters the group apart into different rooms (Pleasance's priest in the store room with the large mirror that will become important at the climax; Dennis Dun's wisecracking student trapped in the bedroom closet by all the possessed girls(!); and the rest in the break room), partially to have action to intercut between but also to have people who can comment on different moments of action, or be in the right place to witness events.

The storyline of people being possessed by a tank of 'pure evil' and all of the religious-metaphysical ramblings are a bit silly (though I love it and especially that it is all taken so seriously! I should also note that I'm not a huge fan of the knowing, winking comic tone of Big Trouble In Little China just previous to this, and Prince of Darkness is much more my cup of tea!), but the handling of the material is masterful. Its the film that I think should be studied for its seeming effortless way of drawing the audience into locations and tying it into character identification. Such as the way that we see Pleasance's priest get the box, then open it to reveal the mysterious key, then use it to open the mysterious cellar, but never fully go with him down there on that first visit. The film fully explores what is down there later on with the team of students instead. That could be just seen as a standard film technique to draw out the tension as much as possible (which is true!), but it also sort of distances us more from Pleasance's character (and Victor Wong's), even if we later hear their lofty theological debates, and puts the audience more in the shoes of the more innocent young people being badly hurt by ancient evil. They're just pawns, and the evil in the canister (which has agency over when it opens its lock from the inside to escape) knows it, as does the film itself.

By the way I love that moment of the vagrant killing Wyndham (probably named after the author of The Day of the Triffids. Not too big a leap of logic since Carpenter went on to remake Village of the Damned years later! And that he was already homaging British sci-fi horror with his pseudonymous credit as "Martin Quatermass"!) where we get a shot of the pair of scissors held high above their head in a close up almost unmoving as the background speeds past behind it. Its a really eerie image and probably the most obvious homage to Argento in any of Carpenter's films!

We get to become surprisingly familiar with our group of characters, because they've all got little distinctive character moments to individualise them just enough. Even the least characterised character who gets taken over first has the running joke of the other characters asking where Susan is: "You know, Susan...the radiologist...with glasses?" (which is amusing because in possessed form she has immediately lost the glasses!), that keeps her in mind! Or the way that the two Asian characters are not particularly friendly just because they are of the same ethnicity! Or the older teacher figure being thrown into the mix. Or the black guy who is obviously religious and therefore takes his possession particularly badly (almost as if he is still fighting it), to the extent of committing suicide - but he doesn't stay dead long!

(Oh and Dennis Dun's character is the MVP of the whole film, adding a lot of much needed levity and incredulity to the proceedings!)

And then there's the rather low key central love story of the film that we know is important because we've had scenes showing the guy tentatively working himself up to woo the girl (the moment of seeing her across the classroom or walking off with other characters. Or going off with a hunkier guy so it seems like a lost cause. Then the moment of actually speaking to her only to almost ruin it with a crass comment, but it gets pulled back and eventually they spend the night together), yet these really central characters feel no more or less important than any other member of the ensemble cast once everyone gets to the church location and the research begins, eventually turning into a siege situation. They'll only come to the fore again for the fantastic triumphant yet tragic climax - a climax where we've needed to see the tentative love story build up in the early scenes to really feel the impact of the sacrifice at the end. A sacrifice that the other characters feel was necessary but is painful enough for the one left behind that they'll still dream and on waking still yearningly want to reach back into the mirror, in a stunning moment of the film ending at just the right moment, just before the contact with the mirror where the hand will either go through it, or slap onto the glass surface! It's a beautiful appropriation of Cocteau's Orpheus imagery too and is another one of my favourite endings in film (with The Hitcher and A Brighter Summers Day!). However the situation resolves is not really important, it is that the film ends just before the hand reaches the glass, precisely before the Schrodinger's cat ambiguity gets solved one way or the other by the box being definitively opened!
Last edited by colinr0380 on Mon Jun 05, 2017 1:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: John Carpenter

#18 Post by hearthesilence » Fri May 26, 2017 6:01 pm

colinr0380 wrote:...They'll only come to the fore again for the fantastic triumphant yet tragic climax - a climax where we've needed to see the tentative love story build up in the early scenes to really feel the impact of the sacrifice at the end. A sacrifice that the other characters feel was necessary but is painful enough for the one left behind that they'll still dream and on waking still yearningly want to reach back into the mirror, in a stunning moment of the film ending at just the right moment, just before the contact with the mirror where the hand will either go through it, or slap onto the glass surface! It's a beautiful appropriation of Cocteau's Orpheus imagery too and is another one of my favourite endings in film (with The Hitcher and A Brighter Summers Day!). However the situation resolves is not really important, it is that the film ends just before the hand reaches the glass, precisely before the Schrodinger's cat ambiguity gets solved one way or the other by the box being definitely opened!
Glad you mentioned this, I saw only a little bit of this film on television, way back before I was into films as something more than a passing recreation, and even though I haven't seen it since, my memory of it remains vivid. Through visuals alone, Carpenter really gets the full weight of the tragedy across - the final shot of that particular character after they make the supreme sacrifice is really traumatizing, right down to the look on their face.

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Re: John Carpenter

#19 Post by Morbii » Fri May 26, 2017 7:11 pm

Maybe this isn't the right place for this, but Carpenter in the last few years has also released two albums titled Lost Themes and Lost Themes II.

Those fans of his soundtrack work should love these. They are both fantastic.

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Re: John Carpenter

#20 Post by colinr0380 » Sun May 28, 2017 4:49 am

It's certainly the place for it Morbii, and thanks for reminding me about these albums. Carpenter's scores are often the best aspect of his films, and I wonder whether that plays into why his films are so well structured and edited too, as they're often edited, or at least deeply tied into, the rhythms of the score. Prince of Darkness (along with finale of The Fog with the pounding, inexorable beat matching the fog rolling in and trapping the characters) is perhaps the ultimate example of this with its opening scenes intercut with the credits or sequences such as Walter's discovery of Kelly.
hearthesilence wrote: Glad you mentioned this, I saw only a little bit of this film on television, way back before I was into films as something more than a passing recreation, and even though I haven't seen it since, my memory of it remains vivid. Through visuals alone, Carpenter really gets the full weight of the tragedy across - the final shot of that particular character after they make the supreme sacrifice is really traumatizing, right down to the look on their face.
The original theatrical trailer is amusing in the way that it both spoils everything in the last moments of the film (plus shots like the great scissors one mentioned above, which I guess emphasises how powerful that image was), and kind of misrepresents it by reshooting the final mirror scene into actually touching the mirror and then having a jump scare of the title smashing out of it!

But I guess it is rare that a trailer for a film misrepresents a moment that actually plays better in the final film, so I find it amusing more than annoying.

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Re: John Carpenter

#21 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jun 04, 2017 11:51 am

Whilst re-watching John Carpenter (or Carpenter influenced) films over this last week, I sat down with the Indicator Blu-ray of Ghosts of Mars. I still like the film a lot - there's a lot slightly iffy about it too but that's outweighed by some of the unusual things going on elsewhere, mostly in its fantastic flashback structure involving the interrogation of Natasha Henstridge's apparent sole survivor of the events of the film.

None of the three 'Mars movies' of 2000-2001 (this, Brian De Palma's Mission To Mars and Red Planet) really work for me as a whole, but each have interesting elements. Mission To Mars feels the weakest because its trying to be serious whilst seemingly being unaware of how parodically goofy its being (other people have this problem with many of De Palma's other films, but I never really felt it as a detriment so keenly myself until this one, and a decade and a half later I'm trying to work out exactly why this film was my 'breaking point'!) I think with all these films I was wanting something in more of a serious colonisation vein in the vein of Kim Stanley Robinson's works (or something like The Martian fifteen years later!), so wasn't particularly thrilled by the less 'hard sci-fi' tone of these films. Red Planet is perhaps the closest to being serious and middle of the road and perhaps succeeds the best because it does play everything straight (but that makes it a bit more forgettable too!). And Ghosts of Mars feels terrible as a film with anything to say about Mars or colonisation in particular (though there is that point made about going back to try and destroy the unleashed ghosts of the Martians because "its our planet now" and that "its about dominion", which feels strangely anticipatory of later real world regime change incursions into the Middle East. But its just as much about the western film trope of our 'civilised' heroes battling against the 'savages' for their land), and that's because its another siege picture centred around a jail and an antiheroic 'bad guy hero' type who has to team up for survival with more flawed figures of law and order.

It was interesting to read in the booklet that originally this was apparently going to be another Snake Plissken 'Escape from...' film, but the failure of Escape from L.A. put paid to that. But Ice Cube as Desolation Williams here, and the film as a whole, is much more hampered by coming so closely on the heels of Pitch Black with Vin Diesel as another 'antiheroic killer in custody having to team up with flawed figures of law and order'. And unfortunately Pitch Black felt altogether more serious and exciting in handling its material with its winged razor tooth beasts compared to the rather silly looking band of growling Goths with their primitive piercings here (it could really be entirely interpreted as a fever dream of the anxieties that a heavy metal musician has towards goth types!). Both Pitch Black and Ghosts of Mars have that same almost futile structure too, of the band of survivors running for some kind of safety whilst steadily being whittled down. But it feels more upsetting to lose the characters in Pitch Black compared to most of the deaths in Ghosts of Mars coming in a bunch at the end almost as ironic gory punchlines to their characters (or with characters just disappearing as they get possessed, never to be seen or heard from again). I'm not sure that the approach Ghosts of Mars takes is wrong per se (there is something to be said for viewing the carnage with a wry sense of distanciation), but it suffers in comparison. Even in terms of set design, which never really feels 'convincing' in Ghosts of Mars.

Yet I kind of like that lack of believability too. I've always loved the shots of the model train here over the credits, and the location shots of the various cities surrounded by the barren landscape around it (especially those shots of the twinkling lights of the bookending 'first city of Mars', the unfortunately named Chryse, that promises a future battle of much larger proportions than this film can really provide! This bookending element and the flashback structure, does keep lending the film the sense of being a prequel to something rather than a standalone film in its own right). Some shots look like matte paintings and hold up really well. Unfortunately the CGI hasn't really done the same, particularly the rather limp atomic bomb explosion climax.

And the fight scenes are rather limp, though I feel that plays into the sense of futility of the knowledge of there being only being one survivor left at the climax. But there is also a lot of redundant back and forthing that just seems pointless as anything more than a way to kill characters who have fulfilled their function off. Something like the whittling down of the various supporting members of the cast in the run for the bridge in Escape From New York was an earlier version of this type of sequence, but was much more impactful there (with only the camera and the audience mourning the loss of the character, as Plissken and the President have run on without a backwards look). Especially as it was a one way trip, not just an unsuccessful trip to the station only to end up back in the prison all over again. Though in some ways I find even that 'redundancy of action' in the film intriguing. Its even there at the very end, where a bunch of characters escape but the heroine stops the train because they need to go back and 'finish the ghosts off' in some ways (which itself causes the horror to spread even wider, into the capital city itself. Perhaps it is a premonition about interventionism and ghosts of the dead coming home to roost!), but is perhaps more because there are too many people still alive for the film to be allowed to end yet!

So why defend this film at all? John Carpenter has made many more successful siege pictures with more likable casts of characters (see Prince of Darkness above). Its all about that fascinating flashback structure really in which our main character Lieutenant Ballard is being questioned about what happened during her mission to pick up a suspected killer, and known criminal, from an out of the way backwater outpost (I also wonder if this flashback structure was inspired by the pilot episode of the original Star Trek series, The Cage?). Ballard launches into a 'just the facts' recounting of everything that happened and the rest of a film is a visualisation of her testimony. Although its more than that, as we get events that other characters witnessed getting recounted by Ballard, and we see the narrative reset a little and then branch off in a different direction for a scene or two before it synchs back up with Ballard's own recollection. Then there are other characters who have their own flashbacks within that flashback such as Desolation finding all of the people he is accused of killing already dead and the cash he stole just lying around! Or most significantly Joanna Cassidy's great Whitlock character, who unleashed the ghosts at an even more distant mining town, escaped ahead of the ghostly winds in a hot air balloon(!) and landed at this station just before the horror reached there. So the one with all of the answers is already at a further remove from us, all their knowledge (and therefore potential hope for reversing what has happened) lost with just snippets of an explanation existing only in someone else's recollection of what they were told. Whitlock feels to be kind of an equivalent character to the priest who dies at the beginning of Prince of Darkness, and I think this is an interesting turn Carpenter made from his earlier films where you have Donald Pleasance's character in Halloween or the priest in The Fog segregated off in their own section of the film, tormented by their guilt and trying to warn and/or confront the evil - its still futile even there (they never stop anything, even if they briefly seem triumphant) but they're (in the) present and engaging at least. Later on (I think once Kurt Russell turns up in leading roles in Escape From New York and The Thing), Carpenter's dealing with situations that are at least one remove from the initial outbreak, which adds its own sense of futility and inability to change the cycle of events, just survive them. If that! As well as antiheroes who don't really give a damn about the bigger picture, just their specific goals! (That's even true of Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and is one of the problems I find with that film, where that same sense of futility and lack of possible happy resolution to the main character's situation isn't quite as satisfying to see in an action comedy as it is in a horror film)

Then there's the final lie in the last scene. Is Ballard an unreliable narrator throughout? I guess she's mostly told the truth and this is just an (interesting) narrative device, but an even better film could maybe have played around a bit more around what might have actually happened and what might not have (it could have potentially been the melding of the western trope with the film noir trope that we've all been looking for!)

There is even a subjective drug trip sequence, which also turns out to be the salvation for the heroine after she gets possessed by one of the ghosts. The drug 'clears' her consciousness to such an extent that it expluses the alien consciousness too! Its perhaps one of the most audacious uses of drugs in modern film, as both an addiction but also a way of dealing with your demons through a kind of self loss! (The antithesis to a cold turkey scene?) Maybe in the action that follows the end of this film only those on recreational drugs will have any defence against an alternative, controlling mindset! (Or perhaps it was just a way of doing a nifty dream sequence and getting the heroine in a position to have a one-on-one fight with one of the monsters before getting back inside the compound! :wink: )

There's lots of fascinating stuff here, less in terms of the story but in the little moments (such as the Mars society being matriachal, which is thankfully relatively downplayed but ever present in the film, especially in the way that it seems that aside from Desolation Williams that the female characters are always the ones with the most agency here. And that makes Desolation into even more of an outsider figure, as he hasn't been 'tamed' by anything as yet) and the overall construction of the film itself. Just as impressive as the flashback structure is the very strange use of editing, from wipes to uses of multiple dissolves within a single shot (that seem to stand out as even more bizarre but interesting in a digital world where even straight lapse dissolves on the whole have seemed to have disappeared, taking the sense of meaning their layers of imagery fading into each other conveyed with them) that make everything in this recounting of events feel rather fuzzy and dream-like.

Oh and despite Ghosts of Mars coming off worse in comparison to the contemporaneous Pitch Black, Natasha Henstridge's main character here could almost be a prototype for Mila Jovovich's Alice character in the Resident Evil films to come a year or two afterwards. Even this story could fit into the Paul W.S. Anderson universe - a woman fights her way through waves of enemies, ends up victorious but alone in an even bigger situation that she has to work up the nerves of steel to fight against all over again at the end. The Resident Evil films took these kind of action tropes to such a point that it never really ends, and in some ways gets worse and worse on a bigger scale than ever before, and the heroine is in danger of losing her humanity in the process. On that note though I do think one of the arguably major flaws of Ghosts of Mars is that everything boils down to blasting away at possessed people with ever increasing amounts of weaponry, despite the very obvious cycle of the ghosts just leaving the dead body and jumping straight into another human host! Guns only make things worse, and the most worrying thing about the 'happy' ending is that none of the characters have recognised that. Or if they have they don't care. So guns and violent death in general in the face of far greater and intangible threats just keeps on perpetuating the cycle of violence!

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DarkImbecile
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Re: John Carpenter

#22 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed May 09, 2018 3:38 pm

colinr0380 wrote:Revisiting Prince of Darkness last night, I still find it a great, rollicking watch! ... The film is really well edited throughout: the drawn out opening titles intercut with the first few scenes is magnificent in the way that it builds up a sense of dread whilst getting a lot of the character introductions out of the way quickly too... Its the film that I think should be studied for its seeming effortless way of drawing the audience into locations and tying it into character identification.
hearthesilence wrote: Through visuals alone, Carpenter really gets the full weight of the tragedy across - the final shot of that particular character after they make the supreme sacrifice is really traumatizing, right down to the look on their face.
I rewatched Prince of Darkness last night for the first time in 10+ years and - while I liked it before - I've come around to it being the quintessential John Carpenter film. Not the best (The Thing) or the most iconic (Halloween), but the one that shows off what he could do with no stars and a limited budget over which he had complete creative control and which still captures the siege and body horror motifs, distinctive score and pacing sensibilities, and ambiguous and dread-inducing endings present throughout his better work.

I was also really struck by the long opening credit sequence, which efficiently establishes the core characters, the ominous score, and the unsettling withholding of detail (as when characters are speaking inaudibly from a distance or - as colin0380 noted - the camera doesn't follow someone entering a creepy looking door in an abandoned building). Had this not been a more independent production, I can't imagine Carpenter getting away with dragging the credits out that long... though he may also not have been able to get away with illicitly using mercury to create one of the film's mirror effects, which he describes in one of the extras on the Scream Factory Bluray, and which probably would have been for the best!

It's funny how tragic that ending feels - especially when combined with the appearance of the character who makes the sacrifice in the final dream transmission - given the bare sketches we get of even the central characters; that this spareness of characterization is fairly standard in Carpenter's films and yet even some of his supporting characters are often extremely memorable speaks to his ability to cast well and leverage the imagery and the tension of the situations to make them feel more fleshed out than they actually are.

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colinr0380
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Re: John Carpenter

#23 Post by colinr0380 » Sat Jun 23, 2018 7:14 pm

Just an aside, but watching Assault On Precinct 13, currently screening on television, it has just reached the scene of the lull after the first attack on the police station has happened. The survivors look out and find that outside everything has been put back to normal and the bodies removed from sight so that everything looks normal. That is a great moment but it also kind of makes sense to relate it forward, not only to the disappearing bodies in Ghosts of Mars (because characters have been taken over and run off), but also to something like the way that Michael Myers inexplicably disappears at the end of Halloween! Mysteriously disappearing characters seems like another Carpenter motif!

Also I had forgotten when making the argument earlier in the thread that a lot of Carpenter's films feature main characters who are already at one remove from the action, and therefore do not really understand what the reasons for being placed under siege were in the first place, that this is a huge part of why the assault on Precinct 13 happens! (So it is not just when Kurt Russell started taking the lead in Carpenter's films) The whole 'inciting incident' of the early section of the film is arguably the least important aspect of all (and there is that strange opening scene showing faceless cops seemingly premeditatedly shooting gang members, which does not seem to specifically factor into the action, and perhaps is more there just to suggest a kind of tit-for-tat callousness where the lives of both gang members and cops are treated as morally equivalent and expendable), though the idea of one of the characters wanting to throw the guy out to the mob reminded me a little of the argument over protecting the child molester figure during the siege situation at the end of Straw Dogs!

There is still some great imagery in there especially in the way that this is kind of Carpenter's homage to Night of the Living Dead (especially in the scenes with gang members climbing through windows or at the end scrabbling at the metal barrier as the characters retreat back to the basement) as much as a riff on Rio Bravo; the great strong female character, able to take a bullet as well as dole out a well placed kick to the crotch; and the way at the end the smoke clears to reveal our three heroic protagonist archetypes - cop, secretary and criminal - ready for whatever they might face next. That final scene of the characters leaving the basement is also really well judged, and strangely moving for all involved.

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