Last week, I picked up a “4 Film Collection” of movies on DVD entitled John Carpenter: Master of Fear.
The films included were The Thing, Prince of Darkness, They Live and Village of the Damned.
So, curling up in the old wingback armchair, I had a bit of a John Carpenter retrospective this weekend from Saturday night continuing through way-too-late Sunday night.
Fair warning: I tend not to review movies the way just about everyone does. And by ‘review’, I mean giving my own two cents on what I thought of the movie. Things like plot, character development, whether it’s a ‘great film’, etc, don’t usually figure in my reviews. I take other things into consideration. For example, to me a lot depends on when and where I saw the film. Did I see it in the movie theatre? Did I watch it on TV? Am I watching it on DVD or even VHS? If this is a remake, did I see the original? Context, to me, helps ‘put me in the picture’, no pun intended. I tend to focus on whether or not I like the actors in the movie… and I don’t mean ‘do I like the actor’s performance in this film?’ I mean, do I like the actor in general. Is he or she someone I enjoy watching, regardless of which movie it is? I usually concentrate on special effects, action, cinematography and humour or horror. I often make references and connections to other movies of which the film I’m watching reminds me. I put a lot of stock in my gut reaction to the film and whether or not it ‘gets me’. Ultimately, the bottom line is… Did I have a good time? So, bearing those quirks of mine in mind, here we go…
The Thing. : I’m pretty sure I saw this in the movie theatre when it came out. I vaguely remember watching the original movie of The Thing from Another World (1951) on TV when I was a kid. All I can remember of it was that the original featured James Arness as a kind of giant monstrous carrot or something like that. John Carpenter’s remake was a big improvement, in my mind. Carpenter’s remake stars Kurt Russell, so it can’t be all that bad. I’ve been a huge Kurt Russell fan ever since I saw him as Snake Plissken in Escape from New York. At any rate, the movie is about some kind of parasitic space alien creature that kills and takes on the form of its victims. It infiltrates (in the form of a dog) an Antarctic research station. Paranoia overtakes the researches as, one by one, they disappear and the rest the try to figure out WTF is going on. Mayhem ensues. The effects are cool. Some of them seriously and delightfully creepy, especially the ‘spider head guy’. Those who’ve seen it, know what I mean. I liked it a lot. A good scary movie of the kind where the characters… the victims… have nowhere to go, nowhere to escape. All those cramped passageways and little rooms reminded me of the 1979 horror classic, Alien.
A prequel, also titled The Thing, was filmed in Toronto in 2010 is scheduled to be released on October 14, 2011. Can’t wait!
Prince of Darkness.  Saw this on TV. Alice Cooper has a bit part as a majorly weird crazy homeless guy. The movie stars Donald Pleasance (who also starred in John Carpenter’s 1978 movie, Halloween). Pleasance plays a priest who invites a professor and a bunch of academics to investigate a mysterious cylinder in the basement of an L.A. church. The cylinder contains this swirling green liquid which turns out to be… a spawn of Satan! Madness and mayhem ensue as the thing in the canister, not unlike the alien in The Thing, slowly takes over and one-by-one possesses the researchers and uses them to bump off the remaining colleagues and unleash an unspeakable evil. Also, like the alien in The Thing, the goal (and the ultimate fear for the cast and audience alike) is that the Evil should escape and take over the world! A satanic apocalypse as opposed to a space alien apocalypse. I liked Prince of Darkness. It has some wonderfully scary moments. I also enjoy the idea of a bunch of geeky nerds trying to analyse and codify Evil. And Alice Cooper looking extremely creepy. And for Alice Cooper, that is saying something!
They Live.  I’m pretty sure I saw this one in the movies. It stars one of my favourite people, Roddy Piper, aka ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, aka The Hot-Rod. Roddy Piper is Canadian and a professional wrestler as well as being an actor. OK, here’s the deal… Some kind of space aliens secretly take over the world and are projecting a kind of false reality to keep people fooled into thinking things are the way they always were. Roddy Piper is fun as the muscle-bound average Joe leading man. He and his buddy, played by Keith David (who also appears in Carpenter’s The Thing), try to stop the aliens. Mayhem ensues. Meg Foster and her barely human blue eyes are dead-pan creepy as Holly. The special effects are low-budget and the action isn’t very ‘actiony’ but I like Carpenter’s view of a world within a world. This kind of vision of ‘things are not as they seem’ and ‘there is a different reality just under the surface’ reached its height, in my mind, with the 1999 movie, The Matrix. I had an enjoyable time. Did I mention it has Roddy Piper in it??
Village of the Damned.  Never saw it either in the movie theatres or on TV. First time I watched it was last night. It stars Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley and Mark Hamill. Not too shabby. This is John Carpenter’s remake of the 1960 movie of the same name. In a small coastal village, the entire town experiences a fainting spell. After several hours, everyone wakes up. Ten of the women are pregnant, all having conceived on that same fainting day, all giving birth on the same night. One is still-born. Kids grow up all looking alike with pale skin, white hair and weird eyes. They are all super-smart, super intense and emotionless. They are also way creepy and have mind-control powers which make their eyes glow. The kids turn on their ‘parents’ and basically anyone who isn’t exactly like them or who displeases them or doesn’t do what they want. These kids have no sense of humour. Mayhem ensues which is, at times, quite violent. While I enjoyed and had a good time watching the previous three Carpenter films, I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is quite the right word for what I was experiencing while watching Village of the Damned. The movie is disturbing in that it portrays the telepathic children as genuinely scary and evil and we don’t want to think of any small children, let alone our own small children, as evil. Also, to a large extent, adults control little kids and are constantly forcing them to do things they don’t want to do. For the most part, they are helpless against us. It is unsettling to see the tables turned on us so viciously. Is it a great film or even a good film? Probably not. But movies tap into our emotions and revulsion, disgust, fear and discomfort are all valid targets. I would say that Village of the Damned is worth watching for exactly that reason. Sometimes, it is good to be bothered by a film’s subject matter, regardless of whether or not the movie is imperfectly executed.
So until next time, boys and girls, keep the popcorn hot and the pop cold!