Carpenter. Carpenter’s filmography would rank him farther down the list (around #125-130) but there’s authorship in his work that isn’t there with directors ahead of him on the filmography list like William Friedkin or Milos Forman. He’s also not as front-loaded with one big film like Curtiz (Casablanca), Carol Reed (The Third Man), Argento (Suspiria) or Peter Jackson (LOTR). It’s a small window, but from 1978 to 1982 Carpenter was one of the best filmmakers on the planet.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is the-fog-carpenter.jpg
gorgeous landscape shot from The Fog– an underrated little film sort of lost in the strong run from Carpenter from 1976 to 1986
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is carpenter-ladfjdjaf-halloween.jpg
from Halloween– strong imagery

Best film: Halloween. He didn’t invent the slasher with this film (some credit Hitchcock, some Argento, some Powell) but there’s no denying the filmmaking talent on display with the POV tracking shot (through the mask) + awe-inspiring musical score (by Carpenter) and title card opening.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is halloween-carpenter-aldfjaj-43444-1024x435.jpg
the first 5 minutes of Halloween, including these titles, strong work that rank it amongst the best work of 1978 and the horror/slasher genre. I can almost hear Carpenter’s iconic score by just looking at the titles

total archiveable films: 8

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  2 (Halloween, The Thing)

top 100 films of the decade:  3 (Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York)

most overrated:  Assault on Precinct 13– is #786 all-time on TSPDT which makes it good enough for Carpenter’s #3 ranked film. I wouldn’t have a spot for it in my top 1000 and I have it as Carpenter’s 6th best but I look forward to a revisit—unlike most of his work—I’ve only seen this film once.

Assault on Precinct 13 is Carpenter’s take on Hawks’ Rio Bravo

most underrated:  Escape From New York isn’t one of the 4 films from Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, Assault on Prescient 13, They Live) in TSPDT top 1000 and it should be. I have it as his 3rd best film—there’s some great expressionistic world-building dystopia going on here and Kurt Russell (frequent Carpenter collaborator) doing a spot-on Clint Eastwood.

Kurt Russell (frequent Carpenter collaborator) doing a spot-on Clint Eastwood.

gem I want to spotlight:     The Thing

  •  masterful thriller—a remake of course- superior to the 1951 Howard Hawks film of the same name
  • #296 at this time on the all-time TSPDT list—the top-rated Carpenter film- above Halloween– I have them neck and neck
  • The gorgeous title sequence duplicates the original Hawks film—the smoke coming through the lettering
  • Morricone does the score- the first score not done by Carpenter himself on one of his films—the baseline is great but there’s not a lot too it- not on the Mount Rushmore of Morricone scores nor is it the Halloween score
  • It’s no surprise the screengrabs here of are night shots with flames– clearly an ongoing visual motif
  • What a day in 1982- this opened the same day as Blade Runner from Ridley Scott- both didn’t do well but now are widely considered sci-fi and cinema classics
  • A meditation on masculinity—barricaded brotherhood and time of crisis—obviously this is big in Hawks’ oeuvre specifically Rio Bravo (also The Thing of course)—Carpenter also explored this in Assault on Precinct 13– does it again in Ghost of Mars
  • Hawks and John Ford classicism— but you could also write about this being connected to Cronenberg’s body horror- Videodrome, The Fly is probably the closest (also a 50’s sci-fi remake) which comes out in 86’—there’s the HIV-reading of both films—can’t tell who has it, drawing blood—subtext layer adds to the film for sure
  • 80’s paranoia—haha we have Steve Wonder’s “Superstitious” song
  • It’s 108 minutes- tight- we hop right into it with the helicopter shooting the dog and the eerie shootout with the foreigners
  • It could also be connected to Ridley Scott’s Alien– we’re investigating the unknown—both brilliant films
  • The comradery of Hawks’ work- again, best displayed in Rio Bravo isn’t victorious here. This is that film turned on its head- a nightmare- maybe closer to Zinnemann’s High Noon (1952) in which it’s a nightmare with everyone turning on each other—Hawks’ film was really a retaliation to that western so it’s ironic that in tone Carpenter skews that
  • Kurt Russell is awesome here- he steers the ship—courageous, anti-hero that exists in every decade of film history
  • The support is just as good- Wilford Brimley—Keith David
  • There’s a bit of trouble with how much of this film is built on special effects and not cinema aesthetics—
  • The blood-drawing scene is magnificent- so intense
  • There’s some choppy editing when Keith David asks to be cut loose
  • The ending is glorious—the shot of the camp at night with Russell and David
  • Must-See film
from The Thing– clearly an ongoing visual motif with the use of flames

stylistic innovations/traits:   

  • Genre master, horror and sci-fi—many directors use the horror genre as a stepping stone to something else (some, not me, would say stepping stone to “greater things”) but Carpenter mostly stayed true to his roots and I think his legacy is stronger for it
  • Carpenter’s original musical scores are often the highlights of his work—yes like Halloween borrows from Suspiria and Argento but the influences can be seen even today—say like in the score for the Safdie Brother’s Good time
  • Carpenter is clearly influenced by Hawks (masculinity, brotherhood), Romero, 50’s sci-fi (he loves 50’s movies in general if you look at the influence of hawks’ rio bravo on assault on precinct 13. There’s a lot of invasion of body snatchers here
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is big-trouble-in-little-ladkjfda-carpenter-ladkjf-1024x430.jpg
its a little campy for some but many consider Big Trouble in Little China a continuance of Carpenter’s decade-run

top 10

  1. Halloween
  2. The Thing
  3. Escape From New York
  4. Big Trouble in Little China
  5. The Fog
  6. Assault on Precinct 13
  7. They Live
  8. Starman

By year and grades

1976- Assault on Precinct 13 R
1978- Halloween MS
1980- The Fog R
1981- Escape From New York HR
1982- The Thing MS
1984- Starman R
1986- Big Trouble In Little China R
1988- They Live R

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives