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March 14, 2011

Midnight Top Five - The "I Love You, John Carpenter. But...." Edition

It's been like a month since my last Midnight Top Five.  And by "like a month", I mean ACTUALLY A MONTH.  I'm not sure why this turn of events turned up at FMWL, but it came to my attention recently and made me a bit sick.  At first I figured I had to come up with a good excuse to explain its absence, like "But...I was writing a bunch of reviews!" or "But...I got hit in the head with a hammer and now I can't count to five!", BUT...none of them really worked.  It's like Pee Wee Herman said...everyone, including me, has a big BUT.

If there's one thing I hope you've learned about The Mike from reading FMWL...well, it's probably that I watch a lot of movies and totally love them.  If you've learned two things, it's probably that, plus the fact that I love me some BLOB.  But if you've learned three things....and if you have, god bless've learned that I love lots of movies, that I love Blobs, and that I turn to John Carpenter whenever I'm in need of inspiration.
I'll trade my left eye for that Snake Plissken standee!
At this point in FMWL's history, one of the longest posts I've ever written was about John Carpenter's Dark Star.  The longest Midnight Top Five is probably the one discussing Carpenter's original plan to cast Christopher Lee in Halloween.  And a whopping FOUR of Carpenter's films - The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, Big Trouble in Little China, and They Live (BTW, this is still my favorite post EVER!) - have been named Midnight Movie of the Week.  One of my first reviews at FMWL was a Carpenter fave, one of the first inductees into FMWL's Hall of Fame was Carpenter, and there's even a whole category of posts mentioning John Carpenter here at FMWL.

BUT....This Midnight Top Five is not here to praise the man.  Let's face it, I've done that.  Instead, here's The Five John Carpenter Films You Probably Won't See as Midnight Movie of the Week at FMWL!
Someone's Watching Me! (1978)
Someone's Watching Me is certainly not a bad film by any measure, especially considering its made-for-TV background.  The home invasion chiller starring Lauren Hutton is kind of a reverse Rear Window, is quite atmospheric and features solid performances (including the first appearance of Carpenter's future first wife Adrienne Barbeau in one of his films).  The bigger problem with Someone's Watching Me is that it hit screens less than a month after Halloween premiered. 

I don't mean to dismiss the film for not being Halloween, but my love of that film makes it easy to point out the things Halloween is that Someone's Watching Me is not.  While Halloween makes the most of Carpenter's trademark 2.35:1 camerawork, Someone's Watching Me is hampered by a full frame 1.33:1 ratio that a) fits it to a 1978 television screen and b) gives Carpenter nearly half as much frame to work with.  Like I said, the results aren't bad....but there's something about it that doesn't feel like a Carpenter film in comparison to my favorite horror film.
Also of note, this movie features what might be a Bigfoot decide if that's him, I can't figure it out.

Elvis (1979)
I don't have much to say about John Carpenter's Elvis - try pondering that ten times fast! - because...well, I haven't seen it yet.  I KNOW.  I spent like a decade plus craving it, I tried to buy the VHS when a local store was closing (only to shockingly find they were competent and knew it was worth more than I was offering), I preordered it like months before it came out on DVD.  And then it arrived and I was like "YES! MY CARPENTER COLLECTION IS COMPLETE!!!" (even though I don't have Body Bags on DVD yet).....and then I never watched it.  Yet.
That said, I doubt a two and a half hour TV biopic - even if it does star my boy Kurt Russell and is directed by Carpenter - is a prime Midnight Movie of the Week candidate.  Maybe someday - hopefully soon - I'll watch it and find out for myself.  Until then, it's on this list.
Village of the Damned (1995)
If you were to ask me - and thankfully, you don't have to - I'd say that every theatrical feature Carpenter directed between 1974 and 1988 was awesome.  But in 1995, when I was a teenage farmboy Mike who had not yet acquired his The, I thought Village of the Damned looked like basically the best "scary" movie ever.  I think someone tried to tell me it was a remake - though I don't even remember knowing that word existed back then - but I was undeterred in repeating "Whoa, that looks awesome!"  What they say is true - teenage farmboys without a The say the darndest things.
In fact, Village of the Damned is really quite bad.  Carpenter's attempt to remake one of his favorites - a fine 1960 film starring the fantastic George Sanders - is a muddled, Americanized film that brings together bad acting from a lot of folks who had seen better days like Kirstie Alley, Michael Pare, and even...yes...Mark Hamill.  Heck, the film's best performance probably comes from Carpenter regular George "Buck" Flower as a janitor who meets a grizzly demise.  I can't confirm rumors that studio interference caused some of the film's problems, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.  Whatever, happened, this film that looked so "awesome" and "scary" lives on as Carpenter's least memorable film.
Escape from L.A. (1996)
I so badly want to sit here and defend Escape from L.A.  To me, it's the closest Carpenter's films of the 1990s came to matching his early success, and its cast of colorful characters - which puts Russell on screen with no less than Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Cliff Robertson, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, AND Bruce Freakin' Campbell! - certainly makes for a bit of fun.  I can see what Carpenter was doing with his sequel to Escape from New York, which amps up the cheese of the first film and basically seems to say that even anarchist societies take some work to destroy.  But there's something about Escape from L.A. that's just not right.
I don't want to blame Snake Plissken, though I certainly feel the 15 years between New York and L.A. were bad to him.  The bigger problem seems to be how political Carpenter makes the film, as he seems to put the face of Che Guevara onto his villain who wants a revolution.  In contrast with Isaac Hayes' The Duke of New York, who wants to rule for the sake of ruling, there's a huge difference between the two films.  In my eyes, L.A.'s Cuervo Jones (played by Georges Corraface) is the Jar-Jar Binks to The Duke of New York's Chewbacca.  (In the meantime, Snake Plissken is Yoda, Han Solo, and Darth Vader all rolled into one....only cooler.)
Ghosts of Mars (2001)
I also kind of like Ghosts of Mars, too.  But here's the thing that bugs me about's basically a remake of Assault on Precinct 13 that's set on Mars...and why would I need it when Assault on Precinct 13 is so cool?
 I know what you're saying.  But...The Mike...Ghosts of Mars is about a virus that makes people mindless demons that kill.  And you know what I say? SO ARE GANGS.  Seriously, I know far too many people who think they're in gangs....and every one of them is mindless and stupid.  (Yeah, The Warriors were cool, they're the exception, I agree with you there.)  Point is, both Assault on Precinct 13 and Ghosts of Mars have an interracial team of cop and criminal leading an interracial team of cops and criminals against a mindless killing force while separated from any help and having to use the sparse resources around them to survive.  IT'S THE SAME MOVIE, only it wastes Jason Statham.  I can't promote that.
Fear not, Mr. Carpenter.  I still love ya.  You're the best living filmmaker I know, and there's no way I'm putting you in Midnight jail over these films.  Just remember one thing - your villains used to be awesome and heartless and unique, and now they're ripoffs of Marilyn Manson and  Che Guevara and a bunch of pale kids from the '60s.  You can get that back.  I believe in you.


R.D. Penning said...

How dare you?!!! Escape from LA was awesome!!! I also like Village of the Damned, but probably because of the creepy kids more so than anything else. The rest of the list sucked horribly though!!! Ghosts of Mars is one of my least favorite films of all time!

Emily said...

Village of the Damned is my absolute LEAST favorite Carpenter film- I can't stand it, and it makes me sad :( I still can't pinpoint exactly what it is I dislike about the movie so much except for my distaste for Christopher Reeve which I also can't explain (I'm sure he was a nice guy and not a bad actor and I hate to speak ill of him, but it's true). Elvis was surprising entertaining in my opinion, which I was REALLY surprised by because I thought I was going to be bored out of my mind while watching it. I think Kurt Russell makes anything watchable though, so that might have something to do with it.