Showing posts with label john carpenter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label john carpenter. Show all posts

Sep 24, 2020

FOUR FROM HITCHCOCK

Throughout his career, Alfred Hitchcock directed 55 feature films, along with numerous shorts and documentaries. That’s not a bad haul, nor a bad legacy to leave behind to the world. Having said that, even the most ardent film fan couldn’t possibly name you half of his films in total. In fact, if you look at his filmography starting from the beginning, it would take you seventeen films before arriving at 1935’s The 39 Steps, really the first film, chronologically, that still enjoys discussion to this day. I’m not picking on Hitchcock, though – this is more just a reminder of the reality. Not a single director has a flawless track record when it comes to output (and if the names Christopher Nolan or Quentin Tarantino just flashed in your mind as a challenge to that, I’m laughing at you). But by now, Hitchcock has reached legendary status, and not just from the strong crop of films he left behind: there’s his larger than life persona as a morbid spokesman for his work; there’s his reputation for being a hard-nosed director unwilling to compromise his vision; and there’s also his penchant for victimizing his cast for reasons both professional and personal. 

Because of his infamy, he’s achieved mythic status, and as such, we assume everything he touched shocked audiences, changed cinema, and left an indelible mark. Not quite. If you asked that same film fan from before to name ten Hitchcock films, undoubtedly these four titles would be among them: Rear WindowVertigo, Psycho, and The Birds. They are sacrosanct, legendary, backbones of their respective genres, and sterling examples of a director fully in control of his talents and resources. 

Photographer L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (James Stewart) is in the midst of recuperating from a broken ankle and is confined to a wheelchair in his apartment. Sheer boredom leads him to watching his neighbors across his apartment complex’s shared courtyard, keeping up to date on the various comings, goings, and personal dramas unfolding in everyone’s tiny homes. It’s through this passive observing that L.B. begins to suspect that one particular neighbor across the way may have murdered his wife. With the assistance of his “girlfriend” Lisa (Grace Kelly), who L.B. uses as a mobile quasi-avatar, they investigate to see if L.B. really does live across the courtyard from a murderer.

Like the other films in this set, Rear Window would inadvertently create an oft visited trope in genre cinema going forward, either through presentation or in conception – in this case, the idea of the voyeur, and of large open windows serving as movie screens that depict the actions of those inside their own bubble, generally unaware of their being watched…or sometimes being complicit in their “performances.” John Carpenter would riff on this concept with a clever reversal in his 1980 television movie Someone’sWatching Me! with Lauren Hutton and soon to be wife/ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau. Australian filmmaker Richard Franklin, who would eventually helm the extremely undervalued Psycho II, would make a road-set homage with Road Games with Stacy Keach alongside a post-Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Psycho’s Janet Leigh). Finally, following his accident that left him paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, Christopher Reeve would produce and star in a Rear Window remake in the late ‘90s for ABC, with Daryl Hannah taking on the Grace Kelly role of the adventurous troublemaker. It was…fine. Also like the other films in this set, Rear Window is one of many Hitchcock films that sees a pretty blonde girl (Hitch’s fave) really going above and beyond to make an impotent or uninterested man commit to her beyond mere petty flirtations and casual trysts. With L.B. prone and imprisoned in his wheelchair, he’s powerless to stop Lisa as she decides to take full control of the situation and break into the suspected murderer’s apartment in order to validate L.B.’s beliefs – and this after the film opens with Lisa basically nagging L.B. to marry her, which he declines with reasoning that makes the very concept sound entirely objectionable despite the fact that he’s twenty years older, has the physique of a snapped rubber band, and he’d be incredibly lucky to have her.

A near-death experience leaves former police detective John Ferguson (a returning Stewart) with acrophobia, a debilitating fear of heights, and very retired. An old acquittance, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), hires him out of the blue to follow his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), who believes that she’s the reincarnation of another deceased woman named Carlotta. Being we’re in Hitchcock territory, after Ferguson begins his reconnaissance, it doesn’t take long for him to discover, whether or not Elster’s beliefs have any merit, that he’s definitely not on a routine job. And he couldn’t possibly have anticipated how obsessed with Madeleine he would become.

At 130 minutes, Vertigo is one of Hitchcock’s longer features, and most of that running time is filled with heavy exposition and twisting/turning developments that, at times, feel almost more appropriate for a James Bond caper mixed with brooding noir. Hitchcock once again reigns over his use of cinematography to deeply unsettle his audience, using camera tricks and extreme points of view to take away our balance and feeling of stability. The opening scene has Stewart’s Ferguson hanging for dear life from the top of a very tall building as the gutter he’s grasping slowly tears off the wall, and as a nearby officer reaches down to help him, the poor schlub slips and plummets to his death – in just one sequence, both Ferguson and the audience confront the ultimate fear: not just impending death, but our front-row view of our only salvation being whisked away.


Poor Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals a bunch of cash in hopes of buying the domestic freedom of her secret beau, Sam (John Gavin), and blows town. After stopping at a desolate roadside motel, she leaves the worst Yelp review in Bates Motel history, causing perfectionist Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) to respond in…let’s call it an exaggerated manner.

Look, no one needs the plot breakdown of Psycho; considering it’s widely considered Hitchcock’s crowning achievement as a director (these things are subject to opinion, of course, but…it is), Psycho is a masterclass in filmmaking in just about every way – from expert casting (Martin Balsam!) to maximizing low budget filmmaking (the crew was almost entirely comprised of Alfred Hitchcock Presents personnel) to wrenching tension out of every scene through the use of slow-moving cinematography and off-putting angles. Psycho should be taught in film classes exclusively for its use of the camera. There’s the slow opening push into Marion and Sam’s hotel room window (which, while possibly borrowed from 1955’s Dementia aka Daughter of Horror, is still expertly crafted), and obviously there’s also that whole shower-scene thing, but my favorite shot comes as the camera slowly pushes in on Norman standing by the side of the swamp and listening in the dark as Sam calls out for him back at the motel. It’s chilling and perfectly engineered. Honestly, I could go on and on about the 1960 classic that inspired four sequels, a (failed) television show, a remake, another successful television show, the next generation of filmmakers (Brian De Palma, John Carpenter, Richard Franklin, Brad Anderson), and a perpetual mark on the genre, not to mention the permanent ruination of the sense of security one feels while taking a shower in a motel room…but we all know this already. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Robert Bloch, Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano improve the well written source material in every way. Stefano’s screenplay changes Norman Bates from a monstrous killer to a sympathetic figure, and Hitchcock had the forward-thinking idea of casting someone with charming, boy-next-door features instead of someone who more closely matched the unsightly, stocky, balding, and frustrated virgin present in the novel. Even the shower scene is a complete rebuilding, in which Marion Crane’s demise is limited to a few sentences: “Mary started to scream, and then the curtains parted further and a hand appeared, holding a butcher's knife. It was the knife that, a moment later, cut off her scream. And her head.”

Loosely based on the 1952 short story by Daphne Du Maurier, Hitchcock’s adaption depicts a world being overtaken by angry hordes of birds, atypically flocking together in every species to wage an unexplained revenge against mankind – presumably for being the earth-raping assholes we always are. One of many folks caught in the swarm are Melanie (Tippi Hedren), who’s attempting to charm her way into the life of Mitch (Rod Taylor), who lives in an isolated coastal home. The attacks from the bloodthirsty birds increasingly mount until they find themselves trapped in Rod’s house and fending off the birds that manage to find their way in. Who will survive, and what will be pecked from them?

Truth be told, and in spite of its (deserved) reputation, The Birds is a mixed bag. As a youngin’ obsessed with JAWS and all the animals-run-amok films that it introduced me to, I used to consider The Birds my favorite Hitchcock film, but later viewings re-introduced me to a kind of silly film that’s actually at its best when the birds aren’t on screen (school playground scene notwithstanding, because that’s the kind of thing Hitchcock did so well). However, once the opticals of marauding flocks are overlain into the sky and birds both real and dummy are being thrown into Tippi Hedren’s face, it all seems pretty nonsensical. It’s also hard to mentally dismiss how much Hitchcock mistreated Hedren on set, which was the stuff of Hollywood legend for years before HBO’s The Girl made it mainstream knowledge in the earliest beginnings of the #MeToo movement.

Alfred Hitchcock is part of cinema history, taught in universities and film schools, still the subject of modern documentaries like the Psycho-deconstructing 78/52, and conjured in the modern descriptor “Hitchcockian.” The four films above are the top reasons why. Even if Hitchcock had directed four or four hundred films throughout his life, the merits alone of Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds would’ve been more than enough to secure his legacy. 

Aug 15, 2020

LAST SHIFT (2014)


The more learned viewer will definitely notice right off the bat that Last Shift is borrowing from John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13, but this time instead of a small band of cops and clerks taking on roving attacking gangs, it's just one rookie cop taking on the demons/ghosts/bloody secret history of the decommissioned police station of which she's in charge for its final shift. And it's not just thematically that director Anthony DiBlasi (Dread) is looking to Carpenter for inspiration, but also for the old-school approach.

Like Assault on Precinct 13, there are very few visual effects employed to scare the viewer; except for the minor use of green screen, nearly every gag is done with editing and camera tricks, and all of them work. There is no CGI on hand to offend the eye. And the cast is limited to just a handful of people, with most of Last Shift being a one-woman show (Juliana Harkavy).


Last Shift feels comprised of other horror films, some celebrated and some not (and that's not a condemnation). Along with Assault, there are shades of Silent Hill, The Shining, and Jacob's Ladder, mixed with real-life horror aspects, especially Charles Manson and his so-called family. Though a digital shoot, a '70s-era level of grain has been applied, preserving that old school approach toward which Last Shift is striving. What that ultimately achieves is something old and something new - old techniques married to new sensibilities - and it's created an effective horror offering that manages to out-scare most major horror theatrical releases all the way back to 2013's The Conjuring.

Most importantly? Last Shift is seriously scary, falling back on another '70s concept beyond Carpenter and that specific era of cinema: the fear of encroaching satanism. The boogeyman and his followers featured in the flick are not Charles Manson and his Family, and are never called such (his name is John Michael Paymon, the surname being that of a demon most recently immortalized by another seriously scary flick, 2017's Hereditary), but at the same time, they are. The hallmarks are there: the long-haired, crazy-eyed, charismatic leader; the hippie chicks who follow him around; and his very disturbing agenda.


DiBlasi's efforts in the horror genre have so far been worth at least a single watch, with each subsequent film being superior to the previous. Last Shift is his best effort to date. If this trend continues, his name will be one to watch with each new project he announces.

One of the best-kept secrets of 2015, Last Shift’s intimate location and strong performance by the lead heroine really helps to put you in the middle of the horror she's experiencing. Whether or not you'll find it creepy obviously depends on your sensibilities as a horror fan, but one thing that's certain is Last Shift is going to try its damnedest. Once the horror starts, it doesn't let up until its vicious finale, and for that alone, Last Shift is worth praising.


May 27, 2020

ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)


Escape from L.A. is the punchline in John Carpenter’s career, and there’s all sorts of reasons for this, which we'll get into in a second. It's not just the only sequel he’s ever directed, but it's a sequel to one of his most celebrated (and you know how sequels go...). Escape from New York, made in 1981 during the beginning of Carpenter’s directorial career, was a scrappy, low-budget, grindhouse-lite action/sc-fi romp that seemed like the first time Carpenter made a film that showed his true voice and passion as a filmmaker. Sure, by then, Halloween had come along and, after a few false negative first impressions, finally caught on with audiences and critics, making his career one to follow. That Carpenter hasn’t made a film that feels like Halloween since then shows that his worldview was a bit more audacious. His interest in earlier western filmmakers like Howard Hawks and John Ford, and those particular films which saw a small motley band of gunfighters working together in isolated environments to fend off siege-like attacks from a larger, deadlier threat has been a major part in a dozen of his films. In a way, Escape from New York is his thesis statement as a director, as it contains all his technical hallmarks, boasts all the different storytelling facets through which he would express himself during his entire career, and finally, stars his longtime actor collaborator, Kurt Russell.

While Escape from L.A. is almost the antithesis to Carpenter as a director, which sees him applying a big studio, bullshit approach to the same story he was able to tell with better results at a tenth of the budget, it’s right on par with his tendency as a storyteller to skewer certain societal aspects, whether it be religion (Prince of Darkness), pop culture (In the Mouth of Madness), or the unholy alliance between politics and the media (They Live). Though Escape from L.A. isn’t interested in tackling such heavy topics, it’s still successful in its goal, which is to skewer the superficiality of Hollywood and the culture of the greater Los Angeles area while telling the kind of story that Carpenter likes to tell: a band of gunfighters up against impossible odds. Whether or not you consider Escape from L.A. a failure (most people do), there’s a certain romanticism of the film that can’t be denied...but that’s only if you take the film as just one small part in a long career of its three main collaborators: co-writer/director Carpenter, co-writer/co-producer/actor Russell, and co-writer/co-producer Debra Hill. All three (mostly) reprise their roles and responsibilities from Escape from New York, only now they’re doing it after having found success in the studio system, alongside its many pitfalls and trappings that can ruin the enthusiasm and idealism of young, budding filmmakers. Following his pre-classic release of The Thing, Carpenter learned the hard way how quickly a career trajectory can change once studios begin to view you as a wild card director who may not deliver a film to an audience that’s ready for it. Escape from New York was the result of three collaborators making a movie with the enthusiasm and idealism of uncorrupted filmmakers. Escape from L.A. was the same story retold with an organically accumulated hostility toward the very industry that took this thing they once loved and made it harder and harder for them to do it. Once Snake “agrees” to his latest search-and-rescue mission and is sent via underwater into the prison known as Los Angeles, one of the first images the audience sees is the appearance of a battered sign for Universal Studios and a great white shark trying to take a bite out of Plissken’s sub. It’s hard not to read between the lines at what Carpenter and co. are saying: ever since JAWS brought about the advent of the big summer tentpole movie, working in the studio system has never been the same.


Of course, if you’re examining Escape from L.A. as nothing more than a standalone movie without reference or knowledge of the people who made it, their relationships to each other, or their various endured hardships over the years, then yes, it’s a cartoonish, underwhelming, at times incoherent title that struggles to maintain that line between high-stakes sadistic action and audience-pleasing studio product. The visual effects are bad, the basketball sequence is worse (in spite of Russell’s purportedly genuine full-court basket shot), and most of the characters seem to be taking over for their counterparts from Escape from New York. (Steve Buscemi succeeds Ernest Borgnine while Valeria Golino succeeds Adrienne Barbeau and Season Hubley.) It should come as no surprise that Kurt Russell’s as good as ever as the eye-patched antihero Snake Plissken, and his Clint Eastwood sneer hasn’t diminished in any way in the fifteen years between entries. The problem is the hero can’t be nearly as interesting if he’s not up against a viable foe, and unfortunately, Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) is the least interesting villain in Carpenter’s body of work, even when recognizing that very few of his villains were human. There’s nothing wrong with the actor’s performance; it’s just that the character is a pale shade of Isaac Hayes’ Duke from Escape from New York, who didn’t need large, explosive scenes to embody his tough-guy swagger. 

If Carpenter has ever been good at one thing, like the best science fiction writers, it’s been foretelling the future of society. They Live presented a future where people were mindlessly controlled by the media while living in squalor, accepting that it was all part of the plan. With Cliff Robertson’s unnamed role of The President, Escape from L.A. easily foretold the arrival of Donald Trump in the highest office. While Carpenter’s version of the President was of a religious fundamentalist building walls to keep out a certain element, Trump is doing nearly the same, only his own narcissism won’t allow him to recognize a force out in the universe that’s greater than himself. That both the fictional and real president each have a daughter to whom the underrepresented populace of the United States were looking for some kind of hope, it’s sadly ironic that only the fictional one had the wherewithal to stand up to her fascist father and reject his fundamentalist leadership. And, that Robertson very subtly quotes infamous nazi leader Joseph Goebbels in the film’s final moments is a stark reminder to the current reality we’re all being forced to share in which the real so-called president goes on national television and defends...nazis.

As time goes on, and Carpenter teases us with film projects that are probably never going to become reality, his fans are forced to accept that he’s more content to be a producer and a rock star these days, and that’s fine. His body of work speaks volumes and he’s already inspired the next generation of filmmakers who aren’t ashamed to admit it. While I’d love to see him and Kurt Russell collaborate on the long-mooted Escape from Earth (seems like a good way to work climate change into the mix, since Planet Earth is pretty well fucked anyway), both of them have already gone on record as saying they’re simply too old to entertain such a notion. Though it’s natural to take a filmmaker’s body of work and war its films against each other, I’ll always be grateful for every film bearing the name of John Carpenter, Director—even the so-called duds like this one.



[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Dec 31, 2019

NEW YEAR'S WATCHING: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (2005)


Remakes of John Carpenter’s films so far haven’t really yielded anything considered a total success in that they were both critically and commercially successful. Even though Rob Zombie’s awful Halloween remake somehow has its defenders, the 2005 remake of The Fog is universally derided, and rightfully so (though both made obscene money at the box office). Meanwhile, the maiden voyage of the Carpenter remake trend was 2005’s Assault on Precinct 13, directed by French filmmaker Jean-François Richet (the similarly underrated Blood Father with Mel Gibson) and boasting a pretty excellent cast of Ethan Hawke, Laurence Fishburne, Gabriel Byrne, Brian Dennehy, Maria Bello, Drea de Matteo, John Leguizamo, and lots more recognizable faces. It came and left theaters quickly, doing moderately well with critics, who apparently were the only ones who saw the thing, which is a shame, because—remake of a beloved cult film or not—it’s pretty damn entertaining.


Like any good remake should do, Assault on Precinct 13 takes the basic concept of the original, maintaining the setting, the characters, and the siege-like component, and throws it all into a blender along with some shake-ups to the story. This time, instead of gang members descending on a decommissioned police precinct, it’s a horde of corrupt cops trying to assassinate gang leader Marion Bishop (Fishburne), who has done his fair share of dirty dealings with those cops and has the power to put them away for good—if he survives New Year’s Eve and testifies against them in court. (Bishop was the name of the hero in the original, played by Austin Stoker; though Fishburne steps into the villain role, it’s without the name “Napoleon Wilson,” which I guess didn’t sound as bad-ass thirty years later.)  Naturally, once the corrupt cops descend on the police station, which lacks any kind of communication lines since the place is no longer “on duty,” and with a blinding New Year’s Eve snowstorm isolating them even further, the precinct’s cops and crooks must band together if they want to survive the night.

The screenplay was handled by James DeMonaco, who had just written the very successful hostage thriller The Negotiator with Samuel L. Jackson and then-beloved Kevin Spacey. Interestingly, DeMonaco would become a force ten years later in Hollywood alongside Blumhouse by writing and directing the Purge series, which DeMonaco had said from the very beginning was inspired by Carpenter and his penchant for siege and anti-order films. Obviously, the original Assault on Precinct 13 was a very low budget affair bordering on grindhouse cinema, made by an unknown and untested director (who in typical Carpenter style also wrote, edited, and scored the film) and starred a cast of unknown or obscure actors. Meanwhile, 2005’s remake is big, glossy, and made with as much spectacle as director Richet can get away with while remaining faithful to the claustrophobic setting. Carpenter has admitted over the years that the original Assault on Precinct 13 was a loose remake/combination of Rio Bravo and Night of the Living Dead, referring to it nearly as a zombie movie, and the redux maintains that same kind of claustrophobic environment where hope for rescue dwindles by the hour.


Appropriately, Richet and DeMonaco are very aware of Carpenter’s overall career as a horror director, even though he’d wandered away from that genre several times to make action-thrillers (Escape from New York), comedies (Memoirs of an Invisible Man), dramas (Elvis), and, as Carpenter likes to put it, “girly movies” (Starman). Because of this, even though this Assault on Precinct 13 is still well within the action-thriller genre, it unfolds almost like a slasher movie, in that several members of its ensemble cast are picked off one by one in violent ways, with many of them not being characters (or actors) you’d ever expect to see bite the big one.  

Ethan Hawke jumps from genre to genre as well, never hanging his hat too long in any one place, though he seldom played the role of action hero even in his youth. Besides the terrible Getaway and the obscure but decent 24 Hours to LiveAssault on Precinct 13 sees Hawke in a rare full-on popcorn action role and you can tell he’s having fun with material that doesn’t require as much psychological pathos as the parts he ordinarily likes to play. (He was phenomenal in last year’s First Reformed, for example.)  Like the geekiest of directors, Hawke respects and enjoys different kinds of films, and he puts in a laudable amount of effort to make his character of Sgt. Jake Roenick more than just your typical apprehensive hero.  As for Fishburne as the “bad guy,” well, as most actors will tell you, it’s always much more fun to play the villain, and he knows it, and he does it well. Fishburne’s intensity and swagger has always cast an intimidating pallor over many of his roles, even when playing the good guy, so it’s not exactly necessary to suspend disbelief when seeing him in this kind of role. 


Carpenter has been sly over the years when asked for his opinions on remakes of his films, saying that though the remakes were based on his movies, those remakes belong to other filmmakers and it wouldn’t be his place to comment. (Me thinks this was mostly his way of having to avoid publicly calling Rob Zombie’s Halloween a piece of shit considering they were friends, even though he basically did that very same thing later on.) Still, Carpenter had kind things to say about Assault on Precinct 13, saying in an interview, “I thought it was terrific. I thought the cast was sensational. I just loved it.” 

He’s not the only one.

Dec 12, 2019

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)


By now, John Carpenter should have his own sub-genre, what with the amount of films and filmmakers homaging his body of work. It Follows, The Guest, Last Shift, and Cold in July—all warmly received—were made by filmmakers who grew up watching the master of terror’s output, and whose minds were beautifully infected by Carpenter’s siege-like settings, striking images, moody musical compositions, gliding camera work, and keenly aware sense of fun. In the same way Carpenter was inspired by Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock, he has successfully transitioned from protégé to mentor. Though so far many of these homages—if not all—have landed squarely in the horror genre, leave it to celebrated director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter; Mud) to create his own Carpenter homage while still maintaining his own identity. Lots of filmmakers are re-examining the suburban terrors of Halloween, the pulpy grindhouse western battlegrounds of Escape from New York, or the siege-like fights of a few against many a la Assault on Precinct 13. But with Midnight Special, Nichols is more interested in reexamining the love for the wondrous and magical '80s films he grew up watching—chief among them Carpenter’s Starman, perhaps the most underrated of the director’s career. At the earliest beginnings of the project, Nichols stated that he wanted to make a John Carpenter-inspired "chase film," and he's done exactly that--and more.


Midnight Special’s greatest strength is its script, which provides details on what’s going on only as they’re needed. Everything the audience requires to follow the narrative is provided to them, but not in typical ways. There are no characters to shamelessly provide exposition, and there are no on-screen text crawls that catch the audience up on who’s who, what’s what, and why everyone is after Alton Meyer (IT: Chapter One's phenomenally old-souled Jaeden Lieberher). The film peels back layer by layer of its mystery as it plays on, revealing an extremely touching family drama that exists alongside the more thrill-based chase film that one might be expecting. The viewer is dropped into the conflict as the plot is already well underway with no moments of recollection. There are no flashbacks, not even brief mentions. As harried and dangerous as the chase is, you—the audience—are along for the ride. You are riding shotgun with Roy (frequent Nichols collaborator Michael Shannon), dedicated father to Alton Meyer, the most wanted human being (?) in the world. By your side are Lucas (Joel Edgerton), faithful friend, and finally, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), Alton’s mother. This newly formed family unit will be your own as the chase ensues. You rest when they rest, you run when they run. You are never aware of any danger until they walk around the corner and come face to face with it. Pursuing them (or is he?) is Adam Driver’s Peter Sevier of the NSA, a post-millennium take on Charles Martin Smith’s Dr. Sharmin from Starman—another man caught in the middle between the government, and something astonishing and unprecedented.


But it's the interplay between these characters, and the relationships that are either fully established or which begin to establish as the film plays out, that give Midnight Special its power, emotionally, to draw in its audience. There's no one who cannot relate to the family unit, the power of love between parents and their child, or the loyalty of a friend who will risk his life. We feel these things because we inherently know these things, and in the scattered moments when the chaos stops and everyone can take a breath, we realize, with surprise, that there's nothing we wouldn't do to save all of these people if we somehow found ourselves in the same conflict--even if saving them meant saying goodbye. All of this is centered around young Lieberher's Alton, a child actor who thankfully skirts trying to appear knowingly childlike in the way many child actors do to connive their way into a "performance." Alton never comes across a child, though he is (at least on the surface), and he honestly holds his own against his seasoned colleagues. 


Heavy family stuff aside, Nichols wants to have some fun as well and he turns up the geekdom to eleven. His lead character’s surname, Meyer, is likely a nod to Carpenter’s unstoppable boogeyman, while a gruff soldier character who maintains a constant presence during the final act bears the name “Carpenter” on his Army uniform. And Nichols’ go-to composer, David Wingo, turns in a score more dependent on synthesizer than his previous compositions, sounding both Carpenter-ish in their presence but with Wingo’s normal ability for soaring melancholy.

Carpenter, being the gruff, cynical, and dry-witted curmudgeon that he is, would be quick to dismiss any suggestions that he's inspired the next generation of filmmakers. Only when he does acknowledge it is when he sidesteps the honor intended in favor of making a joke about royalty checks memoed with "inspiration." But except for Carpenter's own Starman, the cult director and "master of horror" has never made anything so beautiful as Midnight Special, and even he would be awed in its presence.

As children of the '80s continue to matriculate into filmmaking, the past is returning in expected and unexpected ways. Franchises are being resurrected, and homages are sidestepping major studios in favor of creating something very specific, very unusual, and very beloved. Midnight Special joins the growing family of the Carpenter children, but with its very unique Jeff Nichols identity. We've had our Halloween iterations, our various Things, and our multitude of Assaults. And now it's time for something a little different. Though primarily known as a horror director, Carpenter exercised a light touch whenever he was afforded the rare opportunity, so for something as magical and touching as Midnight Special to not only exist for new audiences, but to also recognize and legitimize Carpenter's ability to tell a different kind of story, is another reason to celebrate the newest homage to a living legend's work. 

Oct 19, 2019

HALLOWEEN (2018): ONE YEAR LATER

I wrote this archival piece nearly two years ago, and nearly one year before Halloween (2018) was released upon the world (exactly one year ago today, in fact). More than just a musing on what I thought David Gordon Green might add to the franchise, it was a reflection on growing up alongside the Halloween franchise, how it forged my love for the genre, and how absurdly, ridiculously excited I was, at fourteen years old, for Halloween: H20 (1998) -- the first Halloween sequel to seize on a 20-year anniversary, and to bring Jamie Lee Curtis back to the franchise. At this point, production on the next entry in the franchise, Halloween Kills, which returns all the major participants from Halloween (2018) for another go-round with the Shape, is well underway. While we all anticipate this next sequel, let's go back in time a little for a melancholy dose of watching both Michael Myers as well as the calendar...


As a kid, I was a devout Michael Myers fan. Granted, I was a horror junkie in general, but there was something about that white-masked boogeyman that fueled my imagination and struck fear into my bones like lightning. I can still remember my elementary-school self waiting impatiently in the living room, on Halloween, for my older brother and his friend to complete their dead hockey player costumes by gluing half-pucks to their faces. It took so long, and I was so antsy to get out there and trick-or-treat, that I flipped on the television hoping to find distraction in the cadre of Halloween-appropriate titles sure to be on. While surfing, a burst of screams and frantic chaos in the dark caught my attention. Feeling good about my choice, I’d put down the remote and began to watch.

That was how I first discovered John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Okay, fine, it was only the last ten minutes or so, but as a young horror-loving fiend, what better time to tune in? The film was at its frenzied peak, and the suddenness and ambiguity of the terror helped to heighten the experience. Who was this man in the mask? Who was this old man in the trench coat trying to stop him? Why here, why now? What is this?

I saw it all — Laurie Strode fleeing and shrieking across the street from masked maniac Michael Myers; her frantic pounding against the locked front door; the couch attack, the closet attack, and the final confrontation where Michael was unmasked and Dr. Sam Loomis shot him directly in the jumpsuit.

For a moment, everything was quiet. The shot had knocked Michael offscreen into a back room. Surely he was dead, right?

Loomis ran into that same back room after him. Michael waited in the darkness — still, and very much alive.

At that moment, seeing his unnatural stillness framed by darkness, I was petrified. Beyond petrified. I couldn’t move — something so simple as a scary mask in silhouette, with a bit of inhuman breathing, and I couldn’t fucking move.

Five more gunshots rang out. Michael flew backwards off the balcony and landed with a crash on the  cold hard October ground. Finally, he appeared dead.

But after a quick cut away, his body was gone.

And thus began a forty-year legacy.

After that fateful television viewing of Halloween, I was hooked. One by one I sought every remaining sequel, skipping Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, as I’d go on to learn that it didn’t feature the babysitter murderer known as The Shape. (I’d eventually mature and warm to this entry, which I now watch every Halloween.) This love for the series continued for years. I bought every Halloween available on VHS, including multiple copies of the original. I bought every magazine or book or figure or poster or anything that bared the face of Michael Myers. Had there been a Halloween secret society, I’d’ve been a charter member.

1995 rolled around and I was in the fifth grade. One Friday in September, a childhood chum named Barry and I were swapping weekend plans on the bus ride home.

“My sister’s taking me to see Halloween 6 tonight,” Barry said casually.

My face went full :O and I begged him to take me along.

He did, and soon after, he became a boyhood best friend.

Flash forward a few years. It’s 1998, and I’m in eighth grade. My love for horror continues, and sometimes I’m successful in forcing my friends to go along with it. Scream 2 had proved such a massive box office success that Dimension Films re-released the sequel for encore showings. And so of course I went. It was then, in the popcorn-smelling dimness of the auditorium, that one particular trailer stuck out among all others:


From the audience’s point of view, we glided down long hallways as heavy winds made curtains billow and dry autumn leaves dance across the floor. An ominous voice growled, “he has pursued her relentlessly…”

Meanwhile, the tick-tock piano music in the background sounded so familiar

“He has hunted her…everywhere…”

I knew I’d heard that music somewhere…

“Twenty years later, the face of good and the face of evil will meet…one last time.”

The music was a track called “Laurie’s Theme” from the Halloween soundtrack, and the trailer, which suddenly flashed to Jamie Lee Curtis looking through a window directly into the darkened eyeholes of Michael Myers, would end with the Halloween theme and the title Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later shrieking across the screen.

What I felt at that moment was indescribable — an insane amount of shock and surprise and excitement that I still haven’t felt for a movie to this day. It was euphoria. It was like meeting a superhero, or winning the lottery. A franchise that had seemed all but dead after the abysmal Curse of Michael Myers was suddenly back with a vengeance, and not only that, it was also hailing the return of Laurie Fucking Strode, the ultimate final girl.

In the dark, I could feel my friends look over at me and make their own :O faces. They didn’t care nearly as much for horror and the Halloween franchise as I did, but I could feel their excitement for me. And they were right. At that moment, I didn’t care about anything else. Once I regained my composure, I excitedly ran out of the auditorium and to the nearest payphone. (Yes, a payphone — it was 1998, ok? The only people with cell phones at that time were Mulder and Scully.) There was one person who needed to know – Barry, my horror movie/Halloween partner in crime – and he needed to know NOW. I was overjoyed, over the moon, and not thinking clearly. I felt like a celebrity, as if I had been the first person in the world to experience such groundbreaking news, and it was my privilege and duty to alert the masses.

Seeing that trailer was magical. To be taken completely by surprise still lives on in my mind as one of the happiest moments I’ve ever experienced. And here I am, nearly 20 years later, and the idea behind what I am saying – undying devotion for what is essentially Halloween 7 – sounds completely ludicrous. But that’s the kind of magic I suspect dies off as your childhood does.

By the time I got back to the auditorium, Jada Pinkett was already dead. I was so excited by this revelation that the exploits of Ghostface and the stabbing of Sarah Michelle Gellar barely registered in my mind. Suddenly, Scream 2 didn’t mean shit in the face of Halloween: H20.

For months after that, I waited impatiently for the poster to appear in the theater’s lobby — to confirm that it wasn’t all just a dream, but a reality. And once it arrived, I stared at that poster and marveled at The Shape’s mask, and took in the pure pleasure of knowing it was coming soon…


Consumer-grade internet had just become a thing (we’re talking AOL 3.0), so naturally, for the next several months until Halloween: H20’s release, I would Ask Jeeves and AOL Netfind everything I could about this new sequel. I’d click over and over on distributor Dimension Films’ official website and watch the trailers and look at the photos. Every fold of my brain needed to be saturated with every bit of info I could find. Though I’m now of the age where I depend significantly on an internet lifestyle, I can also remember what life was like before it. Back then, if you wanted to know about the next installments of Phantasm or Halloween, you only had Fangoria Magazine. And all you were allowed to know about their productions was what Fangoria allowed you to know – a quote here, description of a scene there, and topped off with a publicity still that, nine times out of ten, wasn’t indicative of the final film. Back then, I wasn’t in the habit of bookmarking film sites and receiving daily news updates about projects in production. Nowadays, as a grumpy adult with the internet on his phone, I can assure you that finding out about a new Halloween sequel coming soon in the form of an article by an online pipsqueak movie writer isn’t nearly as magical as seeing that same sequel’s trailer in a theater for the first time — the very first sign to you that it existed.

Always the pioneer, I began assembling my own version of Halloween: H20 “special features” on a VHS tape based on material recorded off television; it included a Sci-Fi Channel hour-long making-of special; an MTV thing where the cast and story writer, Kevin Williamson, hosted Dawson’s Creek trivia in between music videos; and multiple appearances of the cast on late-night talk shows. I watched that tape over and over until I could finally see the film for myself.

Opening weekend, I finally did — myself and a whole host of my chums I’d likely strong-armed into going. My eighth-grade self was not disappointed. Seeing Jamie Lee Curtis holding an ax and furiously bellowing her brother’s name gave me chills. By film’s end, I was legitimately shocked and a little heartbroken to see Michael lose his head. I was very happy with it, and my chums seemed to have enjoyed themselves as well. After months of foreplay, the big moment had arrived: the rolling out of Halloween: H20 felt like the successful culmination of a plan I had nothing to fucking to do with, yet I couldn’t have been more pleased with myself. At home I put together a framed Michael Myers memorial, complete with birthdate and death date, because I was a silly nerd/psychopath. Too young to understand the concept of commerce over creativity, I felt assured Halloween: H20 would be Michael Myers’ final hurrah (LOL), and while that made me sad, I felt that it was a perfect finale. (As an “adult,” I look at Halloween: H20 with a more critical eye, as its shortcomings are no longer veiled by childhood romanticism. The mask, which changes frequently, even relying on CGI for one scene, is terrible; the California shooting location lacks that small-town and autumn feel of Haddonfield, Illinois; the stuntman who donned Michael’s mask and jumpsuit was just a hair too pint-sized to be fully intimidating; and except for the lush and orchestral rendition of the Halloween theme, John Ottman’s score, Frankensteined with Marco Beltrami cues from Scream and Mimc, is all wrong. Those misgivings aside, I still think it’s the best Myers-centric sequel since Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.)

What might be the longest intro in the world leads us to the point of all this.

I was born in 1984. By then, the original Halloween was six years old, though I wouldn’t know it existed until the mid-’90s. That’s ten years. When you’re a kid, ten years is forever. Halloween: H20 was the twentieth anniversary of the original film, but to me it was basically Halloween: H4VR. Anything that predated my existence didn’t jive with the timeline of my life. I couldn’t appreciate the full sense of that anniversary because I didn’t exist or wasn’t cognizant for most of it.

Halloween: H20 may as well have been the bicentennial.

Here were are, in 2017, just a couple weeks away from 2018. And with it comes the twentieth anniversary of Halloween: H20, and the fortieth(!) anniversary of the original. A new Halloween film is in production — for the intent of my point, let’s call it Halloween: H40. Like Halloween: H20, this new film will be ignoring all the sequels and getting back to the original’s roots of dread, suspense, and little emphasis on violence. And Jamie Lee Curtis returns as the embattled Laurie Strode.


If you can avoid getting caught in the petty trappings of the internet, Halloween: H40 has a lot going for it. The production is in good hands with Jason Blum, who has kick started the horror genre over the last decade by sacrificing multi-million dollar budgets in exchange for handing off full creative control to the films’ talented writers and directors (a refreshing change of pace from former rights-holding and extremely meddlesome Dimension Films/the Weinstein brothers), with this approach resulting in new classics Insidious, Sinister, and more. (Dude might also be nominated for an Oscar for producing Get Out — you read it here first.) Jamie Lee Curtis is returning, of course, but the casting of Judy Greer as her daughter shows that the production is more interested in talent than vapid Facebook-level recognition value. John Carpenter returns to compose and consult. And it’s being directed by David Gordon Green — an actual filmmaker — who, comedies aside, has a solid body of work, including the very underrated, Night Of The Hunter-ish stalker thriller Undertow.

As of this writing, not a single frame of Halloween: H40 has been shot, but it’s already as terrifying to me as the original was all those Halloween nights ago. Because, to me, Halloween: H20 is only a few years old. I remember everything about the excitement I felt in the months leading up to its release. I remember going to see it, that all my boyhood chums came with me, and what each and every one of them said about it after the credits rolled. I even remember, upon Michael’s first on-screen appearance, my friend Kevin jokingly whispering to me, “It’s him, the guy from the ad!,” quoting from an episode of The Simpsons — something we did constantly.

Within the confines and timeline of my life, Halloween: H20 feels like it just happened to me. There’s no possible way it’s been twenty years. Yes, I’ve lost friends and family; I’ve moved multiple times; I’ve gotten numerous jobs; I’ve been lucky enough to have fallen in love a couple times. Those childhood friends who went with me to share in my excitement of Laurie Strode’s return, all of whom I miss dearly, eventually scattered to different parts of the world, and it’s been years since I’ve spoken to any of them. All of that makes a solid case for a two-decade timeline. But there’s just no way. I can’t fathom it. And I don’t want to.

As a film fan, a horror fan, and a Halloween fan who has weathered some serious mediocrity over the years, I’m more excited than anyone for the coming of Halloween: H40.

But as a mere mortal keeping a wary eye on the clock and the calendar, it just might be one of the most terrifying films I ever see.


[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Sep 30, 2019

JOHN CARPENTER'S LEGACY


The list of great filmmakers this world has given us is a long one; however, the list of filmmakers who have gone on to affect pop culture in general – who have contributed previously untapped resources, as well as created icons and sub-genres that are still in use today – well, that list is much smaller. John Carpenter’s most famous films are arguably from the first act of his career (Assault on Precinct 13, up to and including They Live), and these titles usually make the shortlist of Carpenter fan favorites. His influence in cinema goes well beyond the go-to slasher movie clichés created in Halloween (the virginal heroine, the “he’s not dead!” moments of shock, the embittered Dr. Frankenstein forced to chase down his nemesis, the sex-and-you’re-dead mentality). Michael Myers was not the first killer to wear a mask, nor was Halloween the first movie through which we witnessed acts from the killer’s point of view, but the cheapie 1978 slasher’s influence on the horror genre cannot be denied.

But we know all this. Just like we know that The Thing (very under-appreciated at the time) proved how physical, in-camera effects could shape a film and make it legendary, or that his uncanny ability for creating simple but effective music drives many of his films into excellence, or that Snake Plissken is one of the most bad-ass anti-heroes of all time.

However, there are not-so-obvious inspirations out there as well. Carpenter helped to set trends more than he, or the general public, might realize (and should he ever stumble across this article, it’s safe to assume he’d call “bullshit” halfway through and click off, because his bluntness is matched only by his humility). Some theoretical, some factual, and some based on rumor, the below contributions to modern pop-culture exist because of him.

In no particular order:

 “Bad to the Bone”


Probably one of the most recognizable tunes of all time, “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood has been used countless times in film and television to enforce, with his or her first entrance, that one character in particular is a total bad ass. One of the most famous uses of the tune is likely the T-800’s first (er, fully-clothed) appearance in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, while Oliver Stone also used the song in 1988’s Talk Radio as his victimized radio host’s theme song.

But the first time it was ever used was in Carpenter’s 1983 adaptation of Christine – more specifically, when the eponymous car rolls down its Detroit assembly line for the first time…and right before it claims its first victim. Even on the commentary track for the film that Carpenter recorded with actor Keith Gordon, he comments on the use of the song, saying, “I’m pretty sure we were the first to ever use that song in a feature.”

Though use of the song eventually descended into parody (it was used in both Problem Child as well as countless episodes of Married with Children), at one time it was legitimately used to audibly label something or someone as “bad-ass.”

Team Carpenter was the first.

 Alien


Carpenter directed and co-wrote with Dan O’Bannon 1974’s Dark Star, an offbeat and quirky strange space adventure. Originally a student film, an investor provided the filmmakers with additional money, and the short was expanded into a feature. The plot is as follows: a group of increasingly bored astronauts, who interact with an A.I. computer throughout, accidentally unleash an alien onto their spaceship. The alien (played by a bobbing beach ball and seemingly voiced by a Killer Tomato), picks off the crew members one by one. In 1979, O’Bannon (sans Carpenter) would take that basic concept and go on to write the legendary film Alien, in which a group of increasingly bored astronauts, who interact with an A.I. computer, accidentally unleash an alien onto their spaceship, which goes on to pick off the crew members one by one. Though neither Carpenter nor O’Bannon would go on record discussing the bad blood that allegedly ensued between them (although in a later interview with Fangoria, Carpenter would describe the man as “complicated”), the two men, once friends, fell out after Alien's release. Though a character of Carpenter’s own The Fog was named Dan O’Bannon, said character would go on to be violently killed by the murderous William Blake. But Carpenter, having a macabre sense of humor, may not have necessarily named one of his victims after his old friend to make a statement; with The Fog being released not even one year after Alien, it’s entirely possible Carpenter had no idea Alien was even in production until it was too late to excise O’Bannon’s name from his film.

Whether or not O’Bannon was heavily inspired by Dark Star's script when it came time to write the classic Ridley Scott film, at one point he was quoted as having said, “I didn’t steal the concept for Alien from anyone, I stole it from everyone!”

Hrm.

(To take this further, without Alien, there would be no Aliens…and so, would there be a James Cameron? Fight me on it, nerds!)

Jason Voorhees / Friday the 13th / The Entire ’80s Slasher Movement


Those well-versed in horror trends and origins know that Halloween basically gave birth to the slasher movement of the ’80s. Any holiday up for grabs soon had a poster featuring pointy weapons, masked men, and dripping blood. Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day…no holiday was safe. However, one can argue there’s a difference between inspiration and a flat-out re-titled carbon copy. Further, anyone can power up Friday the 13th and snidely deride it as a Halloween ripoff. Well, they would be right to do so – it doesn’t take a genius to see that, really – but it helps to have the filmmakers of that film agree. Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller has never played coy with the fact that director Sean Cunningham one day called him up and said, “Halloween is making a lot of money, let’s rip it off.” And so they did. And Friday the 13th – a series that would go on to out-sequel Halloween – was born. Though Jason Voorhees would not appear until Friday the 13th: Part 2, he obviously would not have existed without Part 1. And that, as proclaimed by its own filmmakers, would not have existed were it not for Halloween.

Jason Statham: Action Hero


Ghosts of Mars began life as Escape from Mars, aka the third chapter of the Escape from New York saga, but following the box office disappointment that was Escape from L.A., studios weren't eager to risk replicating that kind of fallout. After some tweaking, and with Snake Plissken being find/replaced in the script with James "Desolation" Williams, Ghosts of Mars was born.

Regardless if you consider this a good or bad thing (it seems that most people enjoy seeing the bald Brit kick ass in one mindless film after another), Carpenter had the foresight to cast Statham in his much-maligned 2001 action/horror flick. Cast as Jericho – a no-nonsense, Natasha-Henstridge-wanting sergeant – Statham kicked ass and took names alongside Ice Cube, blaxploitation legend Pam Grier, and Clea DuVall. Up to this point, Statham had established a small cult following for having appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, & Two Smoking Barrels and his more well-known crime caper Snatch, but it wasn’t until Carpenter intervened that Statham was able to show off his bad-ass chops. And the man hasn’t stopped since. After his face-smashing turns in multiple action series, such as The Expendables, The Transporter, and Crank, his new status as action hero became widely known (and enthusiastically accepted). He's most recently been part of the Fast & Furious franchise, which makes a bajillion dollars at the box office with every release, so perhaps you’ve heard of it.

Duke Nukem


If you’ve seen They Live, and played Duke Nukem, this isn’t much of a stretch. Much like They Live's John Nada (Roddy Piper, RIP), Duke Nukem wanders the desolate and seedy streets of Los Angeles while blowing away the aliens that have come to enslave our planet, not to mention utter the truly iconic catchphrase, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubble gum.” They even sport the same blue-collar make of average intelligence along with those same black sunglasses. While Duke is an amalgamation of pretty much every ’80s action hero (including Snake Plissken), there is no denying Carpenter’s influence on the character. One might even argue the name derives from the Duke (Isaac Hayes) from Escape from New York. Plus Duke fires off the same cornball-but-awesome one-liners that Nada did with little effort.

Ghostface / The Scream Series


Screenwriter Kevin Williamson wrote Scream as a love letter to Halloween, the film which gave rebirth to the slasher genre – a genre that had grown so tired that he (and director Wes Craven) created a self-aware parody about teenagers aware of slasher clichés but who fell victim to them anyway. Numerous references to Halloween are scattered throughout the film: Drew Barrymore describes it as her favorite horror movie; the infamous Halloween theme is very subtly applied in Marco Beltrami’s score during the first act as she cowers behind her television set; Rose McGowan’s Tatum claims that her hysterical friend’s paranoia is starting to sound like “a Wes Carpenter flick;” Jamie Kennedy’s “horror movie rules” monologue that he recites as Halloween is paused on a television behind him; the last act unfolds as the sounds of Halloween play on the television in the background.

Scream was a clever, meta look at Halloween, the clones it inspired, and the rules it created; ironically, Halloween: H20 would come along two years after Scream, which had revitalized the horror genre, and played out with a very Scream-like sensibility. (Carpenter almost directed personally, but declined, due to series producer Moustapha Akkad balking at his director’s fee, which Carpenter had padded with additional monies that he felt was owed to him from the many years of sequels.)

In 1978, Halloween came along, blew everyone’s mind, and created a sub-genre – the slasher film. That sub-genre grew so tired and dull that it literally died at the end of the ’80s, temporarily taking the horror genre along with it. It would take Scream to breathe new life into the sub-genre, itself being an homage to Halloween. In conclusion, Carpenter’s 1978 fright flick breathed new life into the horror genre not once, but twice. Pretty impressive for a $300,000 indie.

Modern Filmmakers & Their Homages


Everyday, it feels like more and more films and filmmakers – from every spectrum – are taking their cues from Carpenter’s career. From the very low brow to the very high, and in the same way Carpenter was inspired by filmmakers Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock, the new generation have since been inspired by the once-inspired. To cover every instance would keep us here forever, but the more notable titles bare a signature Carpenter style, theme, and sound.

Jim Mickle’s Cold in July has taken a page out of Assault in Precinct 13 by making what’s essentially a modern-day western, including the leery alliance dynamic, and which boasts an incredible musical score by Jeff Grace, who seems to be full-on channeling Carpenter’s score for The Fog.

The Irish production Let Us Prey (starring Liam Cunningham of Game of Thrones), probably the most underrated homage of them all, is the rare title that seems to be honoring the latter portion of Carpenter’s career where his storytelling became pulpier and his images grislier; again, the score by Steve Lynch nails that infamous synth-based style with a killer main theme.

The celebrated It Follows mashed together the suburban terror aspect of Halloween with an infectious growing threat that’s amassing an army of zombielike silent killers a la Prince of Darkness, once again bolstered by an electronic score by Disasterpiece.

After Luc Besson became Taken with Liam Neeson, he wrote Lockout, which may be the closest we ever get to Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s long-mooted Escape from Earth: a bitter and sarcastic anti-hero (“Snow,” not “Snake,” played by Guy Pearce) is forced into a rescue mission to locate and retrieve the president’s daughter from a space station prison. (Carpenter himself noticed the similarities between his Escape films and Lockout, as he recently sued Besson and the writers – and won – claiming copyright infringement.)

The Guest, one of the best titles on the list, combines Carpenter’s Halloween with Roland Emmerich’s Universal Soldier to present the story of an unstoppable killing machine with an emotionless demeanor; taking place during Halloween week, and even offering several homages to, of all things, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (along with another synthy store by Steve Moore), The Guest is wickedly funny and boasts a strong Laurie-Strode-like heroine in Maika Monroe’s Anna. (Keeping the Universal Soldier/Carpenter connection going: in my interview with filmmaker John Hyams, he admits to his Carpenter influence on his two Universal Soldier films, Regeneration and Day of Reckoning.)

The critically lauded Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter) made Midnight Special for Warner Bros., which he described as a “John Carpenter chase movie” (because a “chase John Carpenter movie” would just be weird, even though I’d watch the hell out of that).

It’s this final example of John Carpenter’s influence on the world of film that should give us all a bit of consolation. If you’re like me, it’s become somewhat disheartening to read an interview with Carpenter where he muses on potential future projects with a “whatever happens, happens” mentality; with each passing day, it seems like Darkchylde, or The Bloody Benders, or the handful of other projects to which he was tenuously attached may not happen. Carpenter has been enjoying his semi-retirement off and on since 2001, and with his films constantly being announced for remakes and sequels, and with those royalty checks steadily flowing in, he’s not in a terrible hurry to get back to work. (I don’t blame him.) So if 2010’s The Ward is to remain his swan song, we can at least take comfort in the fact that a legion of filmmakers are ready to take up the mantle and keep fighting the good fight. And if John Carpenter really is done as a director, then all I can do is quote James “Desolation” Williams from Ghosts of Mars

See you later, you big motherfucker.