John Carpenter in 4K reviews – shlock and gore from Hollywood’s dark star | John Carpenter

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The forelock-tugging new reboot of Halloween confirms the huge shadow John Carpenter still casts over genre film. If that film and The Thing represent the director at his peak, the new 4K restorations of The Fog, Escape from New York, Prince of Darkness and They Live doing the rounds in UK cinemas show that his B game wasn’t half bad either. Even when the concept becomes muddy or the script threadbare, it’s executed with infectious confidence, Carpenter plugging his trademark electro themes straight into our fear and pleasure centres and proceeding accordingly.

Cinema’s most entertaining nihilist is also often perversely society-minded, but Carpenter’s fondness for an ensemble cast becomes The Fog’s (★★★☆☆) wobbly peg leg. Extensively reshot, the 1980 film never finds a compelling character to face down the undead leper sea captain Blake, shambling out of the sea mists to wreak vengeance on a Californian seaside town. His Halloween star, Jamie Lee Curtis, has a small role, as does her mother, Janet Leigh, as the town matriarch in denial. Lucky, then, that it’s one of the director’s most atmospheric, the shots of a wave-lashed cove and fog-choked headland making the town’s impending reckoning almost poetic. But the ending feels rushed, with surprisingly good-mannered revenants who like to knock before their hook-handed eviscerations. It probably tided over the dry-ice industry until the mid-80s.

Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken provides the focal point The Fog lacked in the following year’s relentless Escape from New York (★★★★☆), which is close to Carpenter’s premium vintage. His stubbled, eye-patched, ultra-laconic badass makes the Man With No Name look like Benny Hill when he’s dispatched to save the US president (Donald Pleasance), who has crash-landed on Manhattan Island – now a maximum-security prison. Carpenter made full use of his largest budget yet, $6m, cobbling together the fantastically ramshackle analogue of crime-ridden 70s New York that Plissken infiltrates. With carnivalesque denizens like Ernest Borgnine’s vaudeville-loving cabbie and Isaac Hayes’s twitching crime boss, the film plays its social satire broad but strings it along a rail of self-awareness (“I’m too tired,” sighs Plissken at the end, when Lee Van Cleef’s prison governor asks if he still wants to kill him). These days, of course, we might hire Plissken to stop the US president leaving Manhattan.

Maybe the director’s most underrated film, Prince of Darkness (★★★★☆) fashions something original from the hoary satanic panic setup. Carpenter’s go-to harbinger, Donald Pleasance, is the priest who summons a troupe of academics to monitor a giant canister of swirling green matter in the basement of a derelict Los Angeles church. The novelty is the scientific subtext with which Carpenter, writing as “Martin Quatermass”, infuses the story; the film occasionally gets bogged down raving about quantum physics and the uncertainty principle, but it all largely adds an intriguing alien sheen. It’s impressive how much Carpenter produces from so little: the absences and reappearances in the church’s hallways of another trademark ensemble; a creepy astral transmission unsurpassed until Ringu; Alice Cooper; a couple of mirrors. Close to a decade’s experience in horror pays off, with Carpenter working the audience with jump-scares and revolting demises like an old pro. But the true achievement is a sense of ecstatic entropy and corruption that seeps out of every pore.

If one of Carpenter’s back catalogue was crying out for a remake, it isn’t Halloween but rather They Live (★★★★☆). The film was was responding to the start of the US rust belt and Reagan-era consumerism, but its themes of working-class subjugation and omnipresent media control have only become more pressing. The allegory is framed in fabulously lurid B-movie terms: drifter Nada stumbles on a pair of shades that allow him to see that Earth has been infiltrated by Día de Muertos-faced aliens intent on milking humankind. Played by WWF wrestler Roddy Piper, Nada is deliberately stuck in the cornball idiom of the 80s action hero, with one-liners to match: “Brother, life’s a bitch … and she’s back in heat.” Carpenter’s own ornery attitude to the thankless task of the revolution is summed up in the sequence where, trying to get his partner to don the glasses, Nada street-brawls him for six straight minutes. The Fight Club of the 1980s.

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Source: The Guardian
Keyword: John Carpenter in 4K reviews – shlock and gore from Hollywood’s dark star | John Carpenter

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