The Hunter or The Hunted? Pt 1 (Alien, 1979)

Alien_PosterAlien begins rather quietly.  We see the interiors of a ship that is floating through space.  It comes to life and we meet a crew…space truckers, so to speak.  We do not know much about what they are hauling, though it does not matter much.  We get that these are working class joes.  This is not Star Trek.  The ship has awakened the crew due to a distress message.

Going down to the planet, one of the crew members  is attacked by a strange creature that attaches to his face.  And so begins a terrifying trip for the crew as they try to eliminate the alien creature that evolves to become a greater and greater threat.

Alien is a expertly crafted “haunted house in space” tale.  The ship is vast, yet it has a confined and claustrophobic feel.  The design of the sets is that of a blue collar environment.  It feels used, run down.  It is an industrial, a utilitarian styled ship.  It was assembled for it’s purpose, not it’s beauty.

The alien ship is unique and feels remarkably unearthly.  The pilot, long petrified is inhuman and ominous.

Then there are the designs of the creature itself.  The work of famed artist H.R. Geiger, the alien (later dubbed the xenomorph in the series) feels uniquely creepy and unearthly.  A hard shell, with acid for blood, it seems to exist only to destroy.

The cast  is terrific as weary workers just trying to get by, but being forced to deal with something beyond their pay grade.  Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley steps up to the plate to lead the fight after the crew takes some losses.  At this point the game becomes more one of cat and mouse.

Alien is a film full of surprises and character and manages to stand up to repeated viewings.  It has become a classic for good reason.

Guys Love Their Cars (Christine, 1983)

Christine-1983-PosterAfter the Thing, Carpenter went with a different type of terror.  In some ways, it is a return to the ghostly tale of the Fog.  But instead of Leper Pirates, Christine is the tale of an obsessive car.

Nerdy Arnie is put upon…he has one friend (athlete Dennis) and overbearing parents.  He discovers a decaying old car, a 57 Plymouth Fury.  It’s first owner named it Christine and Arnie falls in love.  He buys the car, and it begins to love him back.  Christine brings about a change in Arnie.  He dresses a bit cooler, he behaves with a bit more attitude.  He even gets a girlfriend.  Attractive Leigh, who is new to the school.  Christine begins to take out the bullies who make Arnie miserable, but the obsession between Arnie and Christine grows and becomes dangerous to his only friends.

Christine is a very good adaption of Stephen King’s work.  It focuses on what is important, even when it makes changes.  Christine’s first owner (Roland LeBay) is the ghost that haunts her.  Arnie purchases the car from him and then he dies.  It is revealed he was a dark man and he has a dark history.

Carpenter optioned to, instead, make Christine a spirit of her own.  And it works quite effectively.  Keith Gordon (Jaws 2, Dressed to Kill) captures Arnie’s descent into truly obsessive behavior effectively.  He take Arnie from Sympathetic to frightening so well.

Visually, the movie is impressive.  There are some amazing shots of Christine (one where she is driving down the road engulfed in flames).  The effects are  “simple” but very effective.  When Christine is damaged, she “fixes” herself and it looks great.

It is interesting to note that the initial negative response to Carpenter’s The Thing left John feeling like he had to take the job.  He did not find the book particularly scary.  And yet, in the end, he created an effect story of obsession certainly belonging in a list of great John Carpenter films.

I Heart New York (Escape From New York, 1981)

Escape-From-New-York-Poster1981’s Escape from New York was a large change from the Fog and Halloween.   There were no supernatural elements and it was not a slasher.  Instead, it was a straight up action film set in the distant future of 1997.  Reagan married Thatcher and they had a kid who became President.  Or something.  Anyways, the president gets stuck in the worlds largest maximum penitentiary.  Also known as New York.

Snake Plissken is coerced into slipping into Manhattan and saving the president.  A pardon is promised.  Of course, nothing turns out to be easy.  Snake ends up with a small band of folks who help him save the President as well as a cassette tape with top secret intel.

This marked the second of several films John made with Kurt Russell.  At the time, Russell was known for a string of Disney films.  The character of Snake Plissken was rugged.  He had an eye-patch, wore a trench-coat…he was a badass anti-hero.  In the end, Plissken is basically an opportunist and an anarchist.  He is not saving the president because he cares.

Carpenter gets action, and has Plissken face several jams, cunningly escaping each one.  His accidental team include a cabbie (named Cabbie, played with dopey charm by Ernest Borgnine), former partner Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau).  Their biggest impediment is the Duke (Isaak Hayes) who rules Manhattan.

I would say the weirdest thing is that some of the technology seems like it lacked creativity.  Seriously, cassette Tapes???  On the other hand, the create computer graphics with models that create an impressive effect.

For a lower budget action film, Carpenter keeps the story moving as Snake runs a gauntlet of trouble.  It is an exciting and entertaining film.  This is one of Carpenter’s great films, and in the early eighties, he was on a real role.

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