The Master of Horror, John Carpenter made a name for himself after the release of his 1978 low-budget horror film Halloween. One of the most influential horror directors of all time, Carpenter revolutionized the genre and has left a lasting legacy in cinema thanks to his iconoclastic films over the past 40 years!
18. THE WARD
Yeah, this one’s pretty fucking lame. After a nearly 10 year hiatus, John Carpenter returned back to cinema only to give us his weakest effort to date. The Ward feels nothing like a traditional Carpenter film and nothing about it wants to be memorable in any way. The end ‘twist’ is one of the most eye-roll deserving endings to a film this decade. The back end of Carpenter’s career is full of disappointments and his latest feature film is possibly the most disappointing.
17. MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN
Memoirs of an Invisible Man is an entertaining film, but to rank it anywhere near the top of this list is just impossible. The film is a Chevy Chase vehicle all the way through and there is virtually no sign of Carpenter anywhere in the picture. The invisibility effects used in this film are top notch, but it just can’t save this film from being anything more than another run of the mill comedy that could have been directed by anybody.
16. ESCAPE FROM LA
Escape From LA is not much more than just a caricature of its predecessor that revels in its own absurdity. With a pretty impressive cast and budget, it’s a shame that Escape from LA is still so absurdly bad. The budget was clearly spent on the enormous cast, leaving no more than a dime to be spent on special fx. Carpenter, however, seems to acknowledge that this film won’t stand anywhere close to the original, and by no means attempts to outdo it. Instead, he pushes all the nonsensical moments of the film to their breaking point to create an almost satirical version of Escape From New York that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. If it wasn’t for Snake Plisskin, this one would probably be dead last.
15. GHOSTS OF MARS
You can only take Ghosts of Mars as seriously as the name allows you to. This isn’t by any means a commendable, artistic contribution by Carpenter, but it is a fun, satisfying movie. For anyone who’s easily pleased by explosions, guns, gore, ghastly martians, or Ice Cube; this is the one for you.
Vampires. One of the films in Carpenter’s filmography I’m most torn on. It’s not really that bad or anything, it’s just kind of forgettable. James Woods gives a super fun performance as Jack Crow, the leader of a group of Vampire killers hired by the Vatican, but his performance just isn’t enough to bring life into this otherwise lifeless movie. Of course, this is a film dealing with the living dead, but that doesn’t mean the movie itself has to feel so lifeless.
13. VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED
On paper, this film should be a lot worse than it actually is. But, don’t get me wrong it’s still not great. While the script is just downright terrible, Carpenter takes the goofy concept of mind control alien children and uses the comically bad aspects of it to his advantage by giving us a movie that’s so bad it’s kinda good. Under any other director, this would have been another stupid throwaway, but it does have some decent ‘Carpenter’ moments that make it feel like he actually cared this time around. Unfortunately, the script and actors didn’t do Carpenter many favors.
After The Thing bombed at the box office, Carpenter was no longer in the position to choose the films he wanted to make. That’s how he got attached to Christine. Christine was just a job for Carpenter, he had no intention of ever making it as a personal project, and it sure feels like it. Everything about this movie is sloppy, but it did do alright at the box office and allowed for Carpenter to go back to making the films he wanted to make.
11. DARK STAR
John Carpenter’s debut film is a satirical take on great sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. What started as a student project for Carpenter in film school, got some backing and slowly but surely got a feature run time and screened in a few theaters for quite a few years. It’s nowhere near some of the gems Carpenter would go on to make afterwards, but it is damn funny and presents us with an interesting look at an iconic director’s humble beginnings.
10. PRINCE OF DARKNESS
The second installment of Carpenter’s ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’ brought Carpenter back to the horror genre after making Starman and Big Trouble in Little China. The film follows a group of students researching a strange green substance in a church that turns out to be the liquid essence of Satan himself. There are some hammy moments, but as a whole the film has some spectacular moments, especially in the closing 15 minutes. Although not one of his best works, Carpenter brings us back to his roots in creating a satisfying horror film centered on characters trapped in an isolated environment.
Starman is one of Carpenter’s most sympathetic films. He takes the science fiction genre that he’s dove into before but uses it as a platform to explore a more romantic story. Jeff Bridges gives the performance of a fuckin lifetime playing an extra-terrestrial who takes on the form of a woman’s deceased husband when he gets shot down on earth. With any other cast this movie would have been goofy as hell, but Bridges and Karen Allen both make it worth seeing 35 years after its release!
8. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
We all know how often ‘80s’ is used as an adjective, but nothing out of the decade deserves it more than Big Trouble in Little China. This jam-packed comedy-action film is filled with wild effects, creatures, martial arts, and memorable taglines that oddly parallel the mythos involved in the Western genre. This isn’t exactly a ‘typical’ Carpenter film, but it’s nonetheless iconic and always rewatchable!
7. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13
John Carpenter’s second film, but his first outside the scope of ‘student film’ status is a gripping thriller centered in Los Angeles gang territory. Assault has its cheesy moments when it comes to the acting, but it does show just exactly what Carpenter can accomplish on a technical level when given a larger scale to work with. An all-out blood bath of a movie that’s not only a super fun watch, but an insightful look at gang violence and the primitive love for weapons we have as humans.
6. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK
Escape from New York was the first collaboration between Carpenter and one of his favorite actors Kurt Russell. Russell plays the iconic Snake Plisskin in this dystopian, rescue mission movie that shows us where movies like Warriors and all the other gang driven films of the 80s go their inspiration from!
5. THE FOG
The Fog, Carpenter’s follow-up to Halloween is a grander scale horror film that takes a similar concept from Assault on Precinct 13 but presents it within the confines of a horror film. It’s one of the most fun films of Carpenter’s to watch and has so much re-watchability that it’s impossible to not group this one amongst the top tier films from the Master of Horror.
4. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
In the Mouth of Madness shows Carpenter returning to his true form after a pretty sloppy outing with Memoirs of an Invisible Man. In the Mouth of Madness is as ‘Carpenter’ as it gets with supernatural horror, loads of practical effects and body horror all melded together to close out his “Apocalypse Trilogy”! A truly underrated gem in Carpenter’s cannon and his last really great film!
3. THEY LIVE
If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t ever seen They Live, chances are you’ve seen its influence in pop culture thanks to the clothing brand ‘Obey’ who got their name and style from the subliminal, consumer-centric billboards in the film. WWE Wrestler Roddy Piper stars as Nada, a drifter who finds a box of sunglasses that help you see all the subliminal messages in billboards and advertisements as well as the true nature of all the stuck-up yuppies in town. It’s one of the most creative takes on analyzing consumerism in cinema and it includes some of the most memorable movie moments of the 80s, including a comically long fight scene between Piper and Keith David.
It’s almost impossible to think of all the greatest figures in horror without thinking of Michael Myers. The iconic masked slasher took audiences by storm when Carpenter introduced the slasher film to the mainstream. Halloween was Carpenter’s first attempt at horror and in fact it was so successful that the majority of the films he would put out afterwards would all be horror. Halloween transcended the genre and introduced us all to a new set of tropes that would form a new guideline in creating the modern horror picture.
1. THE THING
The Thing is without a doubt Carpenter’s masterpiece. A paranoia induced fever dream taking place in the barren Arctic, The Thing allowed for Carpenter to take full advantage of all the resources he was given to make his 6thfilm his most memorable. Working with a bigger budget allowed Carpenter to pay homage to his favorite director Howard Hawks while also creating something entirely new and iconic on its own. After 35 years, the body horror is still terrifying and the paranoia is just as relatable. Like a fine wine, The Thingonly gets better with age.