Among the horror community, there are certain names that can go unnoticed. New directors and cult indies that simply do not get enough limelight. And there are others in which one ought to know regularly. If there was a quiz, you should know the names of Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Tobe Hooper as the most easily recognizable of horror directors. Wes Craven gave us (among so much more) Freddy Krueger. Cronenberg gave us Videodrome (among his other visceral work). Romero created an entirely new monster subgenre, zombies. Hitchcock paved the way for most of everyone on this list, starting, I think, with Shadow of a Doubt (1943), but most people probably know him best for Psycho. James Whale, another original pavemaker, gave us Frankenstein. del Toro brought horror into the depths of imagination. Sam Raimi locked us away in the cabin in The Evil Dead. And Tobe Hooper chased us into the sunset with a chainsaw. All these names of known for certain achievements. And in all transparency, even while you’re reading this article, there are probably differing movies you remember or associate with each director best. One director, obviously unnamed in my little list here, if we dug deeper in the cesspool of horror fandom, we’d probably wallow in some pretty nasty disagreement on which of his movies he is best known for. Personally, as a fan of his work, our still yet unnamed director (can you guess?), I’d be amiss not to do a “favorites list” on this the day of his birth. To keep things not too lengthy, this will be limited to my top five favorites (which will NOT be easy) ending on THE movie I think he is best known by. So, hold on to your butts, from least to best, the following are my five favorite movies by none other than John Carpenter.
5. The Fog (1980)
If we’re talking personal favorites, The Fog would certainly go to the top of the pile. But if we’re talking which of Carpenter’s movies he is best known for, well…I have my doubts, even within the horror community, of those who associate Carpenter with The Fog. For starters, The Fog isn’t as over-the-top as some of his later projects. It is simple. Banal. And contained. Yet, in that simplicity, there is a wonderfully fantastic film built on classic gothic themes. A weather-beaten old fisherman tells an ancient tale of betrayal and death to fascinated children as they huddle together by their campfire. An eerie fog envelops Antonio Bay, and from the mist emerge dripping demonic phantoms of a century old shipwreck…seeking revenge.
4. Escape From New York (1981)
Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. However, much like The Fog, I’m unconvinced how well known Escape from New York is a John Carpenter flick. I think most would be able to tell you Kurt Russell is in it, but other than that…? Regardless, Escape From New York is definitely on my top five list for Carpenter pictures. Here, Carpenter introduces us to some rather complex characters without having to spend too much time on them. Instead, Carpenter focuses on the action as he bravely takes us into the future, a not so far fetched future where crime is out of control and New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. When the President’s plane crashes in old Gotham, the powers that be recruit tough as nails Snake Plissken, a one-eyed former war hero now turned outlaw, into bringing the President, and his cargo (nuke codes), out of this land of confusion.
3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Without a doubt, not only do moviegoers in the horror community know and can easily associate Big Trouble in Little China with John Carpenter, but so can those who do not frequent horror movies, and that’s mostly because Big Trouble in Little China is not technically a horror movie. I think it could be labeled mostly as sci-fi fantasy and comedy action. And as ole Jack Burton says, this flick is one of the most quotable of all of Carpenter’s work. The film is an unexpected classic following a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver named Jack Burton whose life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his friend’s fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.
2. Halloween (1978)
His one movie that sparked a franchise, I’d be really shocked to discover anyone who didn’t know this flick was one of John Carpenter’s. And I swear to all that is holy, if I ever asked someone, “Hey, have you seen Halloween?” And they told me, “Oh, you mean that Rob Zombie movie?” I’d slap them silly. Halloween is a classic to be sure. The score alone is probably more recognizable than the directorial name. And a movie that typically makes it onto everyone’s Halloween holiday movie lineups, a movie that started on a cold Halloween night in 1963 when six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, during the night before being transferred for a court hearing, a now 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns home to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he searches for his sister.
1. The Thing (1982)
Was there really any surprise The Thing is my number one pick here? Yes, there could be some debate on whether The Thing is an easily associated film of Carpenter’s. And there are two sides to this coin. While I do admit, I have some serious doubts people outside of horror fandom would even recognize the movie title let alone the director, but within the horror fandom world, The Thing has become an inescapable cult classic of behemoth proportions. I do not think I’ve seen another movie that has gardened such a fanbase as The Thing. And for good reason, too. The Thing, besides The Fog, has one of the most simple sets imaginable, the kicker really being how isolated the characters are and how audiences can feel that itch of madness, being cooped up too long, stir crazy, etc. etc. The paranoia drips from the screen. And much like Escape from New York, we’re given rich complex characters without the need of some unnecessary backstory for any of them, even Kurt Russel’s characters MacReady is really only known by his actions. Nearly 35 years later, the practical effects in this movie are still considered high quality. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will. The story is grounded and easy to follow. After the destruction of a Norwegian chopper that buzzes their base, the members of the US team fly to the Norwegian base hoping to find survivors, only to discover them all dead or missing. What they do find among the carnage are the remains of a strange creature burned and haphazardly buried in the ice. The Americans take their find back to their base and deduce that it is not human, not entirely, but an alien life form. Soon, it becomes apparent that the alien lifeform is not dead, and to make matters worse, it can take over and assimilate other life forms, including humans, spreading much like a virus does. Anyone at the base could be inhabited by the Thing, tensions soon escalate.
0. They Live (1988)
I’d be amiss not to include at least one honorable mention. Originally, I really wanted to include Carpenter’s They Live, starring late great Roddy Piper, on this list of top films. Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to spend all morning writing about which of Carpenter’s movies are the best or most recognizable as being his, I’d be here all day if I did that. I gave myself a five movie limit and stuck with it. That said, I think They Live, at least within the horror community, is a really recognizable Carpenter flick, and probably one of his most (sadly) relevant films to date. The action is def. cheesy, and the concept is bizarre, but the message is a real punch to the gut, one that I’m sure many a film student as spent dissecting and discussing.
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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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Lets take a ride on the wagon wheel to Minnie’s Haberdashery. And before we pick up any strangers along the way, let me forewarn you, though I plan on keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, don’t get mad if I let a few things slip from here to there. Okay? Okay. You’ve been warned. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is as you may have guessed, if you’re a fan of this particular type of movie, and this type being very much a Quentin Tarantino movie, is his eighth film, with Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds before that. With this new adventure behind the pen of Mr. Tarantino, we’re brought into the western/frontier world of a very recent post-Civil War America. After watching his last film, Django, I suspected Mr. Tarantino would be making a return to frontier/western film-esk America. If you’ve seen that film, then you may agree, with the story and the characters, he seemed to have a lot of fun with his screenplay and directorial duties. This new film runs nearly 3 hours, and the pace is one of the more interesting or “telling” aspects, pointing to an otherworldly reference, mentioned in other reviews by more talented reviewers than myself. Our eyes first witness a white landscape with a very large snow capped mountain. From there, we then get to spend, about an hour or so, inside the wagon with one John Ruth (Kurt Russel), Maj. Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), Sheriff Chris Mannix (with a running jag how no one believes he’s really the sheriff of this town everyone’s trying to get to), and imprisoned outlaw, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) before finally arriving at the Haberdashery. The conversations are what you may have come to expect from a Tarantino film, filled with plenty of adult language, the use of the N-word, and exposition. If you can stomach all this, well…as the saying goes, you’re in for one hell of a ride.
But don’t come expecting high octane action. You’re not going to get that. Instead, you’ll get a colorful mix of exposition told without the need of repetitive flashbacks. In a somewhat risky move, especially with today’s attention-deficit-disorder generation, Mr. Tarantino allows the characters to interact as naturally as conversation. Conversation, imagine that! And while some of the interaction seemed awkward and forced, we have to be somewhat honest here, isn’t most conversation forced and awkward? Or am I such a recluse that natural conversation seems wholly unnatural? Hmm… MOVING ON! After spending a lengthy, what I found to be quite comfortable, amount of time in the wagon, shooting the breeze and sharing stories of past bounties, nicknames, Lincoln letters, and Civil War exploits, we finally arrive at the crux and final stage of our play…oops, I mean movie. That’s right. We get the wagon. And we get the Haberdashery. No exotic local, no trip around the world, not even a walk downtown. Nope. And why? Django at least trotted across the rural south. And Basterds carved swastikas throughout Germany and France. Well, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is not a wide-birth story, its a story about suspension as well as vengeance. Its a classic “who-done-it” with the added benefit of being a western paranoia story. And one of the best ways to invoke the dread of paranoia is to isolate the cast…and the audience. And there’s another reason too…
My “otherworldly” reference before was a nod at what a few other reviewers have claimed regarding this eighth film by Mr. Quentin Tarantino. And I’ll flat out say it here, people are claiming that THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a homage to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, THE THING. When I heard this floating around the web, it pretty much sealed the deal. I was going to watch this movie. And I’m so glad I did because they were absolutely right. Besides the obvious markers, the opening sequence with the white landscape and snow capped mountain, isolated “cabin” with a male dominate cast, the only woman technically being Daisy Domergue, and I’m not sure if she is really counts as a lady, there are other THE THING identifiers. The biggest and best is the musical score. As advertised in certain cycles, Ennio Morricone gave his all in the fantastic musical score for THE HATEFUL EIGHT, even including unused music from, you may have guessed, THE THING. And its very very noticeable and awesomely chilling, invoking the very essence of paranoia, and filling the audience with the same dread and distrust the characters are struggling with.
Here is a mere sample of the overture:
From here, there’s not much I can reveal without giving away too much. There is a certain level of dark humor to the movie. I found myself laughing several times…though admittedly, looking around in the movie theater, I was the only one. And there was some gore, which I thought played wonderfully with the whole THE THING nod. All the characters were fantastic, all but for one…and he wasn’t entirely terrible either, just didn’t really need to be in there. Michael Madsen makes an appearance through the second half of the movie. He plays the role of John Gage, a rough but silent “cowboy” archetype. And yes, much like in all the roles Madsen plays in Tarantino pictures, he’s a man of few words. And perhaps that’s fitting for a “western” type movie, but I just didn’t see that great of a performance from him…its hard to describe without ruining it. He acts as he always does, its not bad or all that great, I guess…maybe he wasn’t really used as much as he could have been. He seemed pretty much in the background for most of the movie while all the others were for the most part front in center. I had the vibe Madsen was just there because he’s buds with the director…and its sad, because as we know from previous Tarantino films (Reservoir Dogs), he can play a really sinister “man of few words” guy.
Well…in summary, THE HATEFUL EIGHT is a fantastic show, well worth the price of admission. For fans of THE THING, this movie needs to be on your “must watch” list. The musical score alone with make you giddy. And if that don’t, then a certain scene involving Kurt Russel, when he says, “One of them fellas is not what he says he is…,” will.
My Review: 5/5
When asked what my favorite scary movie is, the geek in me knows there are just too many gory and spooky films to choose from. There are bunches and bunches of awesome horror out there, but,for better or worse, John Carpenters The Thing is one of my all time favorite horror movies. There are few horror movies that I can watch over and over without ever getting bored. Some horror movies are seasonal, such as: Friday the 13th is typically reserved for Friday the 13th’s or anytime during the summer, Halloween is reserved for Halloween, Gremlins is during Christmas, and so on. There is something about The Thing that keeps me coming back. From the opening scene with the space craft crashing into the earths atmosphere, to the seemingly innocent snow dog running from a deranged Norge gunman, and the discovery of the still smoldering Norwegian base camp, the setup reels you in and doesn’t let go. As we watch these scenes progress, we’re given little nibbles of foreshadowing (death, isolation, and an otherworldly discovery in the Arctic tundra) and the ever present somber tone, beautifully captured in the movies main musical score (some of Carpenters best musical scores), all this sets the pace and mood till the final conclusion.
Released during the summer of 1982, Carpenters take on John W Campbell’s novella, “Who goes there?” faced steep competition from other sci-fi releases, including: E.T. and Blade Runner. The Thing held the #8 spot during the summer blockbuster season and garnered some rather harsh criticism for being overtly graphic and agonizingly slow. The Thing presented a message that just was publicly receptive at the time. As George Romero has commented on the film, it was an era when we had little trust for those around us and ourselves; however, The Thing has since grown in popularity (mostly with horror geeks) and through the decades has established an impressive cult following. What Carpenter once called his “biggest regret” has now been named amongest the best in science fiction and one of the scariest movies in horror. This proves again how inconsequential box office rating are compared to how good a horror movie really is. In my eyes, The Thing could have eaten that nerd E.T. and assimilated Rick Deckard; however, apparently The Thing was a creature before its time.
Instead of going through the movie, giving away key plot develops that you could be discovering for yourself, i’ll go through the parts of the movie that impressed me the most. The Thing, as I see it, is one of the best science fiction horror films ever to grace cinema. The only other contender is Dead Space, a game which is fundamentally similar to The Thing, but hasn’t yet been made into a live action movie…not yet at least…and since we’re on the subject, who could pull off a Dead Space film other than John the master of horror Carpenter? (I know its just an internet rumor, but wouldn’t it be amazing for him to direct Dead Space?) Anyhow, this is all beside the point. Lets get back to the subject at hand. As we discussed in the opening of this review, The Thing comes at us with the perfect setup, the small little bits of information, drawing you in, forcing you to beg the question: What the heck is going on here?!? The best part is how isolated the characters are in the story are. Nothing tops old man winter to make one feel all alone!
And isolation is a classic backdrop for any horror story. Separate you’re characters from the world and odd choices will ensue when conflict rises. The Arctic adds the feeling of vulnerability; in contrast, a swampy humid location would typically coop stories about madness. However, The Thing isn’t so much a story about madness; its more about paranoia. Cut off from outside help characters become forced to take matters in their own hands, making isolation (or closed environments) the best way to heighten the feel of terror.
As far as characters go, John Carpenter could not have picked a better actor to play anti-hero MacReady than Kurt Russel. Other than Escape from New York, Big Trouble in little China, and Star Gate, The Thing is one of my favorite movies with Kurt Russel at the helm. His portrayal as the ruffy, drunk camp pilot, with a keen leadership ability during a crises, was spot on and completely believable. The same could be said regarding the rest of the actors, including both Wilford Brimley and Keith David. Each and every character was perfectly portrayed without the cheesy need of explaining who does what. Unfortunately, many horror movies fail with simplicity. You do not need to explain every single detail; let the story explain who the characters are through their actions. Just a little something to consider whenever you write your next screenplay: less is more.
Reading through some of the old reviews, the one thing that had turned most critics off in the 80’s was the very thing that made this movie a legend, the use of traditional special effects. Oh, and don’t worry, i’m not going to go on a rant here regarding CGI and traditional, but let me just say, comparing the original 1982 with the recent prequel, Carpenter’s will always be better because of his employment of hand crafted monsters, instead of computer simulations. For me, traditional effects are able to gross me out more than CGI; and its all because of the real factor, knowing somewhere out there in some back lot studio garage, these painstakingly crafted Things are still there, waiting to be rediscovered and sold in some Hollywood auction. Call me a horror snob all you want, but can you honestly disagree that when the Norris-Thing’s head started spouting spider legs, the sound and image didn’t make you cringe? This memorable scene was an unforgettable moment in horror. Norris has a heart attack, or seems to, and poor doc Copper steps in to save his life, only to lose his…and his arms! The Norris-Thing’s transformation was the second best monster moment in the movie, topped only by the Blair-Thing at the end of the movie.
Despite what others critics have said, the effects do not overpower the story, nor are they over done. The story, etched in paranoia, is still very potent. Well into the second day, folks at the United States National Science Institute Station 4 rapidly become suspicious of each other. The Thing, as they discover, can assimilate any biological life it comes into contact with… “It could be anyone of us…” is a phrase said once or twice around camp. Eyes dart between old friends and anyone acting or doing anything out of the ordinary is called into question. Who is friend and who is foe? Who can I trust? As MacReady told Blair, “Trust is a hard thing to come by these days.”
Not knowing who can be trusted magnificently adds to the feeling of isolation. Who’s got your back if the only person you can trust is yourself? In this respect, Carpenter brought out a lot from Campbell’s original novella, “Who Goes There?” Beside the Norris and Blair-Thing’s, the Bennings-Thing, with its thunderous scream, echoing out into the winter storm, was one of the creepiest moments in The Thing, and an excellent moment of paranoia. The effects were minimal here, there wasn’t much of the monster to see. The scary part was that Bennings was the first –known– member of station 4 to become absorbed by the alien. And as Garry so eloquently pointed out, “Bennings was my friend….I’ve known him for ten years.”
Though this review is without a doubt positive, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movie isn’t without its imperfections. There were a few bumps in the story that threw me off. The biggest one was when MacReady and company discover, or assume, the Things plan to go back into hibernation as it waits for the spring rescue crew to arrive. To this, MacReady plans to “heat things up around here,” which I wasn’t sure if he meant to burn the Thing or to heat up the camp so that it couldn’t go into hibernation…see where i’m going? Their in the antarctic, the fire will eventually extinguish and the Thing will still be able to hibernate. However, if you’ve been following our heroes development through the movie, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that MacReady isn’t really thinking straight, he’s sleep deprived and extremely paranoid. Endings can be the hardest part in a story to pull off without upsetting the audience. Everyone has an opinion. And though MacReady’s plan didn’t quite make sense to me, it was still an excellent and believable ending. They know their going to die, they just want to ensure the Thing dies with them.
The bottom line: The Thing is obviously a favorite. My review is glowing. The Thing is a favorite not only because of my love for the 1980’s or John Carpenter flicks, but because of its sheer intensity as a horror movie in general. Every aspect of this movie screams horror: a movie thriving on classic macabre motifs (isolation and paranoia) to deliver something uniquely chilling, which is: Who can we trust? If you are a true horror fan, of any caliber, you really need to watch this movie. Some folks may argue and say Halloween or Prince of Darkness was Carpenter’s best work; however, it is my humble opinion that The Thing was Carpenter’s best. The only hiccup in the story, for me at least — other folks may spend countless hours trying figure out and make sense of every single thing said, which is pointless — was MacReady’s plan at the end of the movie. However, sometimes these imperfections can actually make the story more believable and besides, isn’t the point of horror for its characters to make dumb decisions that do not always work out in the end and they have to do something different to save the day or fail doing so because of said dumb decision? Sure, The Thing wasn’t a box office success, but who cares? Since the 80’s, The Thing has become enshrined as one of the most important horror-sci-fi films with one of the longest lasting shelf life any film can hope to accomplish, which is to say, timeless. And regardless of what some critics are saying, The Thing was not a remake of the 1951 classic film The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s take was actually more true to the original novella that spawned both movies. However, Carpenter being the classy guy that he is, payed tribute to Christian Nyby’s film with a few added easter eggs.
So, however you can, either buying it, renting it, borrowing it, or streaming it, watch this movie! You will NOT be disappointed.