HUFF: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (2004-2005) Image A Sound B Extras C "Pilot," "Assault and Pepper," "Lipstick on Your Panties," "Control," "Flashpants," "Is She Dead?," "That Fucking Cabin," "Cold Day in Shanghai," "Christmas Is Ruined," "The Good Doctor," "The Sample Closet," "All the King's Horses," "Crazy Nuts & All Fucked Up"
MASTERS OF HORROR: H.P. LOVECRAFT'S DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE (2005) Image A Sound A Extras A+ starring Ezra Godden, Chelah Horsdal teleplay by Dennis Paoli & Stuart Gordon, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft directed by Stuart Gordon MASTERS OF HORROR: CIGARETTE BURNS (2005) Image A Sound A Extras A+ starring Norman Reedus, Udo Kier teleplay by Drew McWeeny & Scott Swan directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw In an effort to step out from the shadow of HBO's remarkable run of original programming, Showtime contributes to the noise pollution with retarded, sub-par retreads like the inexplicably-lauded hour-longs "Weeds", "The L Word", and the puffed-up psychodrama "Huff". I'm a big fan of Hank Azaria, for no good reason, I guess, beyond his long-term involvement with "The Simpsons", but cast herein as the titular shrink (Craig "Huff" Huffstodt) who witnesses a gay patient (Noel Fisher) commit suicide in his office in the pilot episode, Azaria finds more than just his character neutered and ineffectual. The writing is the first problem with "Huff", leaning hard as it does on the Dr. Phil Handbook for Fake Shrinks in its therapy sessions (leave out the dead gay kid, incidentally, and until episode four's guy-who-refuses-to-shit Huff's patients all appear to be beautiful women) and making the bad mistake of thinking that castrating bitch goddess mothers (Blythe Danner, playing Estelle Getty), nymphomaniac wives (Paget Brewster), and precious/precocious kids (Anton Yelchin) will write themselves out of narrative Bermuda Triangles. Its lack of originality and stultifying obviousness isn't what I hate (it's too boring to hate), though: what I hate is the intrusion of the supernatural in the character of a Hungarian panhandler (Jack Lauger) Huff helps in ways so astonishingly altruistic as to suggest religious mania--not to mention an aesthetic that applies edits and score with the feckless aggression of the genuinely clueless. It looks cool, it sounds sage, and it leaves characters stranded in the middle of a whole lot of slick, iMovie-crunched, amateurish bullshit.
**/**** Image A- Sound B+ starring Kurt Russell, Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Cliff Robertson screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill & Kurt Russell directed by John Carpenter
by Bryant Frazer The 1990s were unkind to John Carpenter: The stock market was booming, there was a Democrat in the White House, and the American horror film was at a low ebb. That was the decade when Carpenter--arguably the best B-movie auteur in the world during the 1980s and certainly the most audacious--lost his mojo. Exhausted from the experience of making two genre classics (They Live and Prince of Darkness) back to back, Carpenter took a couple of years off from filmmaking. When he was ready to work again, he considered making The Exorcist III but eventually settled on an ill-fated Chevy Chase vehicle, the $40 million sci-fi adaptation Memoirs of an Invisible Man, that torpedoed his attempted return to big-budget filmmaking. Carpenter tore through three more projects in the next three years--the Showtime horror anthology Body Bags, the Lovecraft riff In the Mouth of Madness, and a Village of the Damned remake--before deciding to pillage his own back catalogue with a sequel to the dystopian Escape from New York.
***½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B+ starring Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Nancy Loomis written and directed by John Carpenter
by Bryant Frazer Written and directed by USC film-school grad John Carpenter, Assault on Precinct 13 is the work of a man with something to prove. Carpenter had finished one film, the shot-on-16mm SF parody Dark Star, co-written with Dan O'Bannon, but he found that nobody in Hollywood took it (or him) seriously. After winning a for-hire writing gig for Columbia Pictures (Carpenter wrote the screenplay that became The Eyes of Laura Mars), he got his hands on a hundred thousand dollars and wrangled some of his friends from USC to help him make the first "real" John Carpenter film. The project, which borrowed its story from Rio Bravo and its mood from Night of the Living Dead, was a siege movie set in an abandoned police station in the fictional Anderson, CA, identified on screen as "a Los Angeles ghetto."
**½/**** Image A- Sound C- Extras B starring Robert Carradine, Stacy Keach, Mark Hamill, Twiggy written by Billy Brown & Dan Angel directed by John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper
by Bryant Frazer In 1989, HBO debuted a horror anthology show, "Tales from the Crypt", based on stories from the disreputable EC comic books of the early 1950s. Jump-started by a stable of Hollywood big shots like Richard Donner, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis, the show was a hit, and the wisecracking "Crypt Keeper" who introduced each episode quickly became a pop-culture icon. HBO's rival Showtime, known primarily for its softcore anthology "Red Shoe Diaries", was presumably aiming to duplicate that success when it backed Body Bags, an anthology project led by co-executive producers John Carpenter and his wife, Sandy King. Despite that genre pedigree, the series never got off the ground, but a pilot was completed: three half-hour segments with a goofy framing story involving Carpenter himself doing a deadpan Betelgeuse impression among the stiffs in a city morgue. The finished omnibus aired on Showtime as a one-off in the summer of '93.
Extras B+ starring
Donald Pleasence, Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, Jameson Parker screenplay
by John Carpenter (as Martin Quatermass) directed
by John Carpenter
Bryant Frazer The first of two low-budget films that John
Carpenter wrote pseudonymously and directed in and around downtown Los
in the late-1980s, John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness
is one of the
creepiest movies ever made. Underrated at the time by critics who
"cheesy" (Vincent Canby)1 and said
(Richard Harrington), Prince of Darkness was
clearly made fast and on
the cheap, and it's roughly-crafted by Carpenter standards. Still, it's a
of mood. Filling out a mystery-of-the-ancient-artifact yarn with a
mythology, Prince of Darkness lives in a sweet
spot between religious
thriller and Satanic potboiler where science is the way, the truth, and
life, for better or worse.
HOWLING **½/**** Image B
Extras A starring
Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone screenplay
by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless directed
by Joe Dante
Carpenter's The Fog ***/**** BD - Image C+ Sound A Extras A DVD - Image A-
Extras A starring Adrienne Barbeau,
Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh screenplay
by John Carpenter and Debra Hill directed
by John Carpenter
click any image to
Walter Chaw The theory is that gangs of artists working at
around the same time in the same place, in complementary milieux,
can lead to something like artistic Darwinism, a certain macho
brinkmanship that pushes genres towards a kind of organic evolution.
Within a very few years, artists like John Carpenter, John Landis,
Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, Rob Bottin, Rick Baker, Sam Raimi, Brian
DePalma, Bob Clark, Dan O'Bannon, Sean S. Cunningham, Wes Craven, Tobe
Hooper, Stan Winston, Larry Cohen, and on and on and so on, were
working in and reinvigorating the horror genre--many under the tutelage
of Roger Corman, still others the initial products of formal film
school training, almost all the consequence of a particular movie
geekism that would lead inevitably to the first rumblings of jokiness
and self-referentiality-as-homage that reached its simultaneous
pinnacle and nadir with Craven's Scream. In the
late 1970s into the early 1980s, however, that cleverness wasn't so
much the hateful, patronizing post-modernism of the last decade's
horror films as what feels like a genuine affection for the genre--an
appreciation of the legacy of the Universal, Corman, and Hammer horror
****/**** Image B- Sound A Extras A
starring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles
screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill
directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw As tempting as it is to write the umpteenth dissertation on the importance and brilliance of John Carpenter's Halloween, it's almost enough to say that there is very possibly no other seminal Seventies film--not The Godfather, not Star Wars, perhaps not even Jaws--that has had a greater influence on popular culture. It's a movie about a fishbowl that exists now only in a fishbowl, a picture so examined that its sadistic ability to maintain an atmosphere of horrified anticipation is consumed by the intellectualization of its hedonism=death equation. A screening with fresh eyes reveals a picture and a filmmaker owing incalculable debts to Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks.
John Carpenter's Escape from New York ***½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B+ starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence
screenplay by John Carpenter & Nick Castle
directed by John Carpenter
by Bill Chambers Is there a person alive who can hear the opening theme from John Carpenter's Escape from New York and resist the urge to tap the keys of an invisible synthesizer? Composed by the director himself (who knows how to write memorable bad music, as much an asset as the ability to write good music), the Mike Post-in-spurs riff is a fitting anthem for The Apocalypse, as well as a textbook example of how to draw, nay, ease the audience into a film that will feel the whole time like you're staring through a filter at other films, chiefly those belonging to the western, vigilante, and zombie genres. The gift for acclimatizing an audience to his idiosyncratic vision through a simple, melodic overture is one that Carpenter shares with idol Sergio Leone; another is an affinity for the 'scope aspect ratio, although he steers clear of the extreme close-up (Leone's signature), probably half out of plagiarism-worry and half because he's not a sensualist. Carpenter barely even bothered to exploit cheesecake-ready Adrienne Barbeau the two times he directed her--even if she was his wife back then, that takes indifference. I think that men love John Carpenter movies, especially his early shoot-'em-ups, because Carpenter's action figures are so chaste as to evoke the sexless joy of boyhood roughhousing.
John Carpenter's The Thing ****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B+ starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, T.K. Carter, David Clennon
screenplay by Bill Lancaster, based on the story "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr.
directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw I remember the sick fascination I felt staring at the cardboard standee for John Carpenter's The Thing (hereafter The Thing) in the lobby of the now-flattened two-house cinema where I had gone to see E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial that dewy summer of my ninth year. It was opening weekend for the Carpenter flick, but the line around the building was for the second week of Spielberg's very own My Friend Flicka, and I was one of the millions of children guilty of flocking away from a movie that promised to make you feel like shit in favour of one that promised to make you cry. I would be afraid to see The Thing and the same year's Blade Runner until at least five years down the road when, during a particularly bad flu, I asked my mom to rent them both from a local video store (also gone--the city of my mind is ever more populous now, year-on-year), figuring that in my fever haze I would be insulated from the horrors that had grown around them in my head. Besides, as a wizened vet of 14, I had survived The Fly, Aliens, RoboCop, and Hellbound: Hellraiser II at the Union Square 6 (also gone), so what horrors could these musty relics hold for me?
***½/**** Image A- Sound A- starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith, Richard Jaeckel screenplay by Bruce A. Evans & Raynold Gideon directed by John Carpenter
by Bryant Frazer Strange as it may sound, back in the early-1980s this gentle yet seriously weird fantasy about a woman who drives a socially-challenged clone of her dead husband across the U.S. (so he can rendezvous with his spaceship) was actually considered a safe commercial bet for the embattled director John Carpenter. Carpenter was always an avowed fan of traditional Hollywood entertainments, and he claimed to be attracted to making Starman as a contemporary version of It Happened One Night, Frank Capra's prototypical screwball comedy about an antagonistic couple who learn to love one another on the road. It seemed like an unlikely gearshift for Carpenter, who had recently remade The Thing from Another World as a tense, supremely chilling, and truly horrific metaphor for paranoia. But for the man who had his ass handed to him when that masterpiece had the bad luck to open not only in a moviegoing environment that had turned hostile to horror, but also directly opposite the ripely sentimental box-office juggernaut E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Starman represented something else. It wasn't merely an opportunity for Carpenter to helm a fundamentally good-natured, optimistic science-fiction film--it was possibly a chance to rehabilitate his career.
MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN **/**** Image A- Sound B+ Extras C starring Chevy Chase, Daryl Hannah, Sam Neill, Michael McKean screenplay by Robert Collector & Dana Olsen and William Goldman, based on the book by H.F. Saint directed by John Carpenter
JOHN CARPENTER: THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS FFC rating: 6/10 written by Gilles Boulenger
by Bill Chambers In John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness, a new interview book by Gilles Boulenger, John Carpenter says that you don't see the possessory credit on Memoirs of an Invisible Man (i.e., "John Carpenter's Memoirs of an Invisible Man") because the film is not 100% his, but rather the product of studio interference he knew full well would take place prior to signing on. ("Warner Bros. is in the business of making audience-friendly, non-challenging movies," Carpenter declares.) Boulenger doesn't ask his subject how he stomached accepting the project--funnyman Chevy Chase's darling, which Chase had shepherded through an abortive incarnation to be directed by Ivan Reitman and scripted by William Goldman before Carpenter climbed aboard--despite his misgivings, since he obviously did it for the A-list boost and the last time he did that (Christine) felt tormented about it for years after. ("When there is no connection between the movie and my inner soul, I get lost and I walk through it.") You'll find that's the pattern of Boulenger's Q&A: Carpenter feeds his interrogator provocative morsels, and they go untested because Boulenger has a set-list he wants to get through. (It's the spontaneous follow-up question, the willingness to confront, that tests an interviewer's mettle.) I fear we may have another Laurent Bouzereau on our hands, for Boulenger's favourite query--he uses it over and over again--is also his most reductive: "Do you recall one telling anecdote about the shoot?"
John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness *½/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras C
starring Sam Neill, Jurgen Prochnow, Julie Carmen, Charlton Heston
screenplay by Michael DeLuca, from stories by H. P. Lovecraft
directed by John Carpenter
by Vincent SuarezJohn Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness opens as John Trent (Sam Neill) is being dragged into an insane asylum, with characters making vague references to a seemingly-widespread epidemic of madness. After Trent covers his padded cell, face, and clothing with black crosses (an image featured in the trailer and which hooked me, proving that while a picture may be worth a thousand words, it may not be worth 95 minutes of one's time), he recounts the events leading to his current state, and the film proceeds in flashback.
John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars */**** DVD - Image B Sound B Extras C- BD - Image B+ Sound A- Extras C- starring Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham Clea Duvall screenplay by Larry Sulkis & John Carpenter directed by John Carpenter
by Walter Chaw An uneasy, hippified version of a cowboys and Indians shoot-'em-up, John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars is an exhausted shade of the once-hip director's oeuvre, baldly stealing from his Assault on Precinct 13 before partially resurrecting later works The Fog, Escape from N.Y./L.A., The Thing, and even They Live in the focus on an interracial pair hooking up to kick alien ass. It sounds like an agreeable enough concoction, especially when one considers the presence of the lovely Natasha Henstridge in a tight sweater perspiring alongside cult personalities Pam Grier, Ice Cube, and Snatch's Jason Statham, but Ghosts of Mars is a rudderless enterprise that doesn't know what it's doing and bores while doing it. The most disturbing thing about this aggressively tame production is the suspicion that the John Carpenter who used to make interesting socio-political genre films has been taken over by one of his own mindless zombie Martians.
originally published September 14, 2010 Before we resume our regularly scheduled programming, a few words on a film evidently especially anticipated by readers of this site/blog. Like most movie fiends around my age of my gender, I'm a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool John Carpenter fan, and I didn't hesitate for a moment to clear a space in my TIFF sked for his first feature film since 2001's Ghosts of Mars. He's been off his game for years--decades, even--and this is the sort of festival fare that makes me feel like I'm opting for peanuts over the vegetable platter, but still: a no-brainer. Alas and alack, that's doubly true of The Ward. Usually when Carpenter fails, it's because he overthinks--not this time. Amber Heard plays a new patient at a psychiatric institute for criminally hot chicks (fellow inmates include Danielle Panabaker and Lyndsy Fonseca), though Carpenter's so asexual you can forget about Sapphic overtones or witty leering. (This movie must have the most un-titillating all-girl shower scene in cinematic history.) The picture courts the MAXIM demo, verisimilitude be damned, because that's how you cast something you expect to go straight to video, and Carpenter's similarly nuance-free direction all but confirms he had no higher aspirations for The Ward. Which is why I'm baffled that the film is officially called John Carpenter's The Ward: he made it abundantly clear in Gilles Boulenger's interview book that he leaves his name off the title if his heart wasn't in it. A return to form it definitely isn't, in other words--but, worse, aside from its cannibalizing of a few Cundeyian Steadicam moves and the ending to Prince of Darkness (and, again, that lack of sensuality), it doesn't feel like a Carpenter flick. There's no mood, no tension, no originality (and all that that implies in a year which saw the release of Shutter Island). It's deeply stupid, without the balm of his inimitable style, or any style. It relies on jump-scares. It broke my fucking heart. 0.5/****