Tag Archives: John Carpenter

In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Review

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In the Mouth of Madness

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Sam Neill as John Trent
Julie Carmen as Linda Styles
Jürgen Prochnow as Sutter Cane
Charlton Heston as Jackson Harglow
Director: John Carpenter

With the disappearance of hack horror writer Sutter Cane, all Hell is breaking loose…literally! Author Cane, it seems, has a knack for description that really brings his evil creepy-crawlies to life. Insurance investigator John Trent is sent to investigate Cane’s mysterious vanishing act and ends up in the sleepy little East Coast town of Hobb’s End.

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I had been meaning to watch In the Mouth of Madness for quite a while, all I knew about it going in is that Sam Neill was in it, John Carpenter directs it, and it is the conclusion to Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse trilogy (which also consists of The Thing and Prince of Darkness). I didn’t know what the plot would be about and what kind of horror film it would be, but it did not disappoint.

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Compared to some of John Carpenter’s other work, I’d say its one of his most understated entries, and I was entertained throughout. Much of it is a crossover between Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft, with King’s psychological horror combined with Lovecraft’s madness. Incidentally, it is about the disappearance of a popular horror writer named Sutter Cane, in the vein of Stephen King, and it gets pretty meta with that aspect. In the Mouth of Madness is a commentary on the impact and influence of fiction, and blurs the lines between fiction and reality. There is an unsettling feeling with a strong atmosphere, a lot of the movie just feels off. It really does well at conveying a descent into madness and losing touch with reality. At times the movie could be slower paced, but I was intrigued throughout. It ends the movie in a great way too, perhaps one of the more memorable horror movie endings.

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The acting is really good, but it mostly comes down to the lead performance from Sam Neill, who delivers some of his best work here. Neill is playing John Trent, an insurance investigator who often detects con artists and frauds, and as such is an immediate sceptic when initially encountering the central mystery. This makes his descent into madness and loss of touch with reality stronger as he of all people encounters these unbelievable situations.

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As mentioned earlier, John Carpenter directs this and his work is typically fantastic, his signature style is throughout. This might be one of his best crafted films on a technical level. There is an intense atmosphere throughout which really sucks you in. There are some stunning cinematography and shots with an over-the-top visual flair. The visual effects work here, Carpenter as usual makes great use of practical effects, as seen in past movies like The Thing. The editing is great, it helps you feel like you’re going mad, especially in the third act. The score is also very effective at setting the tone and atmosphere for the movie. While it’s not one of the best scores in a Carpenter movie, the title track is great and a standout.

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In the Mouth of Madness is a solid and underrated horror film, led by a typically strong performance from Sam Neill, and with stellar direction from John Carpenter. It seemed to be a disappointment upon its release, but in the years after has been developing a cult following, and for good reason. Definitely worth checking out if you like horror, and essential viewing if you like Carpenter’s other work.

Prince of Darkness (1987) Review

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Prince of Darkness

Time: 101 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1]
Cast:
Donald Pleasence as Priest
Victor Wong as Professor Howard Birack
Jameson Parker as Brian Marsh
Lisa Blount as Catherine Danforth
Director: John Carpenter

While cleaning the basement in his church, a priest (Donald Pleasence) comes across a canister filled with a volatile green substance. With help from Professor Birack (Victor Wong), he realises that the liquid is Satan’s spirit.

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I had heard about Prince of Darkness, I knew that it was a John Carpenter movie and some people said that it was one of his most underrated. I didn’t know much about it except it was supposedly involving the potential end of the world and had Donald Pleasence playing a priest. It turned out to be quite great, way better than I thought it would be.

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The script is quite clever and engaging, with an intriguing supernatural narrative. The scope is bigger than anything I’ve seen from Carpenter before, with this really being a big fight with the world at stake. Right away, it sets up this otherworldly tone and properly maintains that from beginning to end, with this unearthly atmosphere that still feels very much classic Carpenter. At the same time, despite the stakes of the movie, much of the movie is very contained. It generally takes place on one location over a day, a church, and it succeeds with this. It touches upon some quasi-philosophical topics while not getting heavy handed about it, and it still knows what it is. Sure, some of the science and religion talks don’t always gel and is a bit clunky, but that almost adds to the charm in a classic 80s horror way. It does contain some horror slasher conventions like how many of the characters are being killed one by one over the course of the film. It may be slow for some viewers, it definitely takes its time especially when compared to Carpenter’s other movies. However the payoff is great, and the movie concludes with a fantastic climax. Looking at all the elements, this could easily be Carpenter’s most ambitious and unusual film.

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Really the biggest weak link of the movie are the performances and the characters. The cast are a bit too big for the movie, probably so that there’s enough people who can be killed in this movie. As a result though, it’s hard to get attached to most of them. You do somewhat care about the main cast though, mainly Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong and Dennis Dun. The performances are a bit mixed, with the acting ranging from passable to hammy, to occasionally bad.

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John Carpenter directs this film, and as usual his work is good. It has this intense apocalyptic and unnerving atmosphere, with a sense of dread throughout. From the point that the movie starts, you get this feeling that something is wrong and off, and that feeling only escalates as the movie progresses. It’s filmed incredibly well and there are some memorable scenes, especially towards the climax. The setting of the abandoned church is just great to watch the characters run around in. The movie is gruesome, and the practical effects and the makeup are amazing, they have aged surprisingly well considering this movie is from the late 80s. Every John Carpenter score has a way of sticking with you, and Prince of Darkness is no exception. The music from him and Howarth is very synth heavy as usual, making the film’s atmosphere feel even more eerie and chilling.

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Prince of Darkness is an atmospheric, slow burn and thrilling horror movie. If you like Carpenter’s other horror movies like The Thing and Halloween or even just likes 80s horror movies in general, it is worth a look. Currently among Carpenter’s best movies that I’ve seen and one of his most underrated.

The Thing (1982) Review

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The Thing

Time:  109 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady
A. Wilford Brimley as Blair
T. K. Carter as Nauls
David Clennon as Palmer
Keith David as Childs
Director: John Carpenter

In remote Antarctica, a group of American research scientists are disturbed at their base camp by a helicopter shooting at a sled dog. When they take in the dog, it brutally attacks both human beings and canines in the camp and they discover that the beast can assume the shape of its victims. A resourceful helicopter pilot (Kurt Russell) and the camp doctor (Richard Dysart) lead the camp crew in a desperate, gory battle against the vicious creature before it picks them all off, one by one.

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John Carpenter’s The Thing was underappreciated on its release back in 1982, in fact it opened to very negative responses from audiences and critics alike (not helped that it came out around the same time as E.T.). However it found an audience when it released on home video and television, and today it is considered a horror classic, and for very good reason. It remains an incredibly effective and influential horror movie that holds up decades later.

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The Thing is a great mix of sci-fi, mystery and horror. It is gripping from beginning to end and I appreciate and notice new details every time I watch. Essentially it is an intriguing whodunnit mystery, that just happens to have a lot of thrills and gore in it. It has a feeling of claustrophobia and isolation throughout, which is on point and well tuned with John Carpenter’s classic minimalist aesthetics and atmosphere that are present in some of his other movies. It does so well at selling us on how hopeless it is trying to escape from this alien, you feel that sense of chilling paranoia around every corner, much like the characters do. Carpenter’s deliberate pacing and emphasis on the lack of escape also steadily increases the tension. Something which also increases the suspense is the lack of knowledge of who The Thing is at any given time, not to mention the lack of knowledge of what it even is. We also only see it react when its actually being threatened or exposed, and we don’t see the alien and becoming the person. This movie might be known for its effects, but there’s a lot of suspenseful sequences, one involving a blood test especially is a great example of suspense and shock. The ending is also haunting and fitting for the overall movie.

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There are some top-notch performances from the cast. The lead character is that of MacReady, who is brilliantly played by Kurt Russell, one of his best performances and roles. He is believable as a hardened but normal guy finding himself up against an all too real alien threat. The same goes for the rest of the cast, for what they lack in development, they still feel like real human beings stuck in a dangerous situation. Every character feels so lived in and shine with what they are given, really playing into the paranoia considerably well throughout. The script doesn’t delve into everyone’s backgrounds, but it does give each of these people their deserving moment.

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John Carpenter directs this movie, and this is some of his finest work. He is great with atmosphere in his movies, and The Thing is no exception. His use of the cold arctic landscape in this setting further emphasises the crew’s helplessness and isolation from the outside world. All the cinematography and production design are immaculate. There aren’t many jumpscares, but the ones that are here are done well. The Thing contains some of the most mindblowing and gruesome practical effects and makeup in a horror movie, and they hold up after nearly 40 years. The sound design is great, really putting you in the moments. The scores of John Carpenter’s movies are usually done by himself, this time it’s composed by Ennio Morricone. Despite this, it sounds exactly the way he would’ve score it, with simple synthesised tracks that help enhance the sinister mood of the movie. Incredibly simple yet effective.

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The Thing is fantastic and an absolute horror classic for so many reasons. Its script is finely tuned to near perfection, the characters are simple but given enough believability and are performed well, and John Carpenter’s direction is fantastic, making the film effectively suspenseful and unnerving from beginning to end. It is John Carpenter’s best film to date, and it has aged very well over the years. If you are a horror fan, definitely check out The Thing as soon as you can.

Halloween (1978) Review

Time: 91 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis
Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode
Nick Castle as Michael Myers/The Shape
P. J. Soles as Lynda Van Der Klok
Nancy Kyes as Annie Brackett
Director: John Carpenter

On a cold Halloween night in 1963, 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, while being transferred for a court date, a 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he looks for his next victims.

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With the latest Halloween movie coming out less than a month away, I decided to have another look back at John Carpenter’s horror classic, Halloween. Halloween was revolutionary for film, especially for the horror genre. Even with a smaller budget and a simple premise, they really caught lighting in a bottle with this.

Getting some of the worse elements of the movie out of the way, some of the dialogue can be really bad, especially when it comes to the teenage characters, it’s like someone is badly trying to imitate teenagers from the 70s. With that said it’s a minor issue. The film does also set all of these characters up to be one dimensional bags of blood to be stabbed by the masked killer, something that other slasher movies following it would be doing as well. Since it was the first to do it I guess I don’t have too much to complain about. A lot of the clichés and tropes that would happen would be because of this movie, for better or for worse. No, Halloween wasn’t the first slasher film to be made. It was however one of the first slasher movies to introduce the idea of a killer coming to a familiar location instead of going to a place where the killer is (like Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Halloween is about an hour and 30 minutes long and that was the right length, it doesn’t drag and even in the scenes where nothing much is happening, Michael Myer’s presence will usually be felt during it. Halloween is quite a simple movie, with a limited amount of locations, a simple premise, a straightforward killer, yet all of it works, it’s simplicity is the key to its success. The portrayal of Michael Myers is really effective. The only bit of backstory that we get about him is from Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) who describes him as being pretty much pure evil and you completely buy it. Making it even more intimidating is how Myers seems absolutely unstoppable. He doesn’t run when chasing after people and when he kills he’s not over the top with it, he walks slow, he kills silently, the only sounds from him are his deep breaths. From what I understand the sequels and the remakes try to make an explanation for him, however while they might be able to explain why he acts how he does (which does take away from him as a character), nothing can really explain his immortality. I much prefer the pure evil explanation for him.

Donald Pleasence is fantastic as Sam Loomis, the doctor who is the only person who truly knows how dangerous Michael Myers is. True there’s not much to the character but it’s by far the best performance in this movie. Jamie Lee Curtis makes her debut acting performance here as Laurie Strode and she does pretty okay in her role, nothing great but nothing bad either. It’s worth keeping in mind that she essentially became the first “last survivor” character in a slasher film, so a lot of the tropes with that sort of characters started with her character. She’s at least better than most of the other actors. Most of the actors are pretty bad, especially the teenage characters.

John Carpenter’s direction was one of the main reasons why Halloween works so well. Halloween has a budget of about $300,000, which even then in the 70s was pretty low and yet he did so much with that budget. Sometimes you can feel some of the restraints with the regard to things like the sound design is not always the greatest but most of it is fine. Something about how small scale it feels really adds to this movie, you feel much more confined to what is going on. The cinematography is absolutely masterful, the use of wideshots was really effective, especially for building tension and suspense. Carpenter made Michael Myers a real presence throughout the movie, even when he isn’t killing anyone. In fact, him just standing somewhere in the background is really effective, way more effective than just him killing people. The kills are actually pretty tame for a slasher film but they are pretty effective. They aren’t overly bloody or gory and are usually somewhat in the shadows, fitting in with the rest of the movie and not being a typical bloodfest (which the movies would eventually become). The cinematography is only made better with the use of John Carpenter’s score, which is absolutely excellent. I don’t think Halloween would have been as iconic or effective without the score. Every time that main theme comes on, you are just wondering what’s going on, whether Michael Myers is there or what’s happening next, and only continues to build tension and really sets the mood. The design of Michael Myers is simple but effective. A William Shatner mask and a jumpsuit is all there is to his physical appearance and yet it remains one of the most iconic horror costume designs ever 40 years later. As for the scares, most of them didn’t affect me but that’s just me, I’m difficult to be scared. It does have some jump scares but all of them are effective, it’s not cheap at all and even the fake out jump scares are pretty effective.

Halloween is still a horror classic to this day and it’s easy to see why looking back at it. John Carpenter’s direction of this simple premise was really effective and led to a huge change for the horror genre (for better and for worse). It’s actually the only movie in the long series that I’ve watched but I can’t imagine any of the sequels being even close to living up to the original. The sequel coming this year will be ignoring all other sequels and it looks like it will at least somewhat close to being at the level of the original, which is saying a lot considering how great the original is. 40 years on, John Carpenter’s Halloween still remains a classic.