The Night He Came Home 40 Years Later (Halloween, 2018)

Halloween_PosterIt has been forty years since the rampage of Michael Myers in Haddonfield, IL.  And Michael Myers absolutely was caught and has been institutionalized ever since. He totally did not massacre a hospital or anything else.

The trauma had a profound effect on Laurie Strode, who is totally not the sister of Michael Myers. When Myers is being transferred to a tougher facility, the bus crashes and Myers escapes.  He goes on a new and bloodier rampage, while Laurie tries to protect her estranged daughter and her family.

Myers is not driven to find Laurie because he is her sister, he just is a big believer in finishing what you start…? So, much has been made of the fact that this film is a direct sequel to the original John Carpenter Classic.   There is a throwaway line that pretty much pushes all the other films into the realm of “urban legends” which…I guess works.  Admittedly, it makes some of this feel less personal. But at the same time, the portrayal of Laurie as a survivor of a brutal event who became fueled by her fear and paranoia to never be a victim again (shades of Terminator 2 here, including the pained relationship with her daughter who was taken away from her by the state, as she was training her to be a warrior) is really pretty exciting here.  Curtis is really great in the role.  And she shines each time she is on screen. There is a lot of meat for her here.

The film has some great callbacks to the original with little moments and visual cues. It also has some beautifully lit shots.

The film is really overloaded with characters, and this results in characters you kind of expect to matter more suddenly are just out of the story.  Now granted, some of the characters kind of stand out as victims. But Laurie’s grand daughter is a huge focus and then she disappears for nearly the entire sequence where Michael and Laurie are stalking each other through Laurie’s house. Granddaughter Allison’s boyfriend seems like he will play a pretty big role and literally just drops out of the film, never to be seen again.

There is at least one twist that seems to be either super predictable or totally out of left field depending on who you ask…but…oh well…

Is this a new classic entry in the franchise?  Well…not really.  Is it bad? No.  I actually really did enjoy the film. It can be uneven, but it is still an enjoyable ride. It does rise above a lot of the previous films in the franchise.  Again, Curtis is really good (really, the core cast of Curtis, Greer, Will Patton and Matichak is great).  Plus, the new Carpenter soundtrack is just killer all the way through.  I kid you not, that was almost worth the price of admission alone for me.

Instability (the Ward, 2010)

the-ward-posterCarpenter’s final film to this point is the Ward.  It was his first feature length film since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars.  Carpenter said he had fallen out of love with film-making.  And so, the Ward was to be his return to his love.  And I wish I could say it is a triumphant return.

The Ward is the story of a young woman, Kristen, in the 60’s locked in a mental ward.  She is locked away with several other young women.  She tries to get along, but feels there is something wrong.  And it is not just the cruel employees who mistreat the girls.  It appears the ward may be haunted.

The film quickly throws away the question of if it is in Kristin’s imagination.


It becomes obvious there is a ghost and she is killing off the girls, working her way back to Kristin.  They discover the name of the ghost is Alice a prior patient of Jared Harris’ Dr. Stringer.  Oddly, the hospital seems unconcerned with the disappearing girls.  And then there is the twist…a twist that is pretty easy to see coming early on in the film…and a twist we saw in the 2007 film Identity.  I am not saying you cannot have a reveal similar to a previous film.  But you better find a way to make it a surprise.

The problem is not really the performances…everybody is doing their best with very thin characters.  I suspect that this was partially intentional.  That each girl was some brand of archetype.  But they lack the depth beyond this to sell them as real characters, which again fails to hide the big twist towards the end.

I realize the story and script are not the fault of John Carpenter.  He did not write this film.  Carpenter was strictly in the capacity of director with this one, even the music being composed by someone without input from Carpenter.  Which is regrettable, because he has some terrific musical output the last couple of years.

I truly had high hopes for the Ward, but it feels like a really pedestrian offering from a talented director.



Religious Fervor (Pro-Life, 2006)

pro-life-posterCarpenter’s second contribution to Masters of Horror is a bit more mixed.  For one thing, it makes They Live look subtle and nuanced in it’s politics.  Pro-Life is, unsurprisingly, a horror movie centered around abortion.

Angelique is a young pregnant woman seeking an abortion.  She comes from a religious family that protests abortion clinics and uses violent methods.  She arrives at a clinic, but soon her father and brothers show up to stop the abortion.  But Angelique has no ordinary child growing in her.  The father is not human…as her father and brother terrorize the clinic, she gives birth to a horrific beast that is already deadly.

And that is before daddy shows up.


Pro-Life is a dealing with a sensitive topic, and it handles it with all the care of a sledge hammer.  The father and brothers commit a vicious murder, and although there have indeed been doctors killed by pro-life activists, this is flat out standard horror movie death.

The visual effects are quite good, the monster(s) is effective.  The cast is good, especially Ron Perlman as the frightening Dwayne Burcell.  But it these things do not make the film less distasteful.  It is a pro-choice screed and not a very effective one at that.  In the end, it is one of Carpenter’s lesser efforts.

The Folly of Film-making (Cigarette Burns, 2005)

Cigarette_Burns-CoverIn 2005 Mick Garris created the Masters of Horror for Showtime.  The idea was that well known horror directors would make short horror film (an hour long).  There were two seasons and Carpenter contribute a film to each season.

Norman Reedus (better known as Daryl on the Walking Dead) is Kirby Sweetman, a rare films dealer.  He is hired to locate La Fin Absolue du Monde (French: The Absolute End of the World) a movie shown only once and it caused the audience to go into a homicidal frenzy.

The deeper Sweetman digs into trying to locate the film, the more disturbing things become.  The film featured an act so depraved, it’s evil infects the viewer.


The twists and turns of the tale are well orchestrated by Carpenter.  Visually, it is disturbed and haunted.  It is well cast, including horror veteran Udo Keir is the buyer who hires Reedus.

Cigarette Burns could be an addendum to the Apocalypse trilogy, and it is a strong episode from the Masters of Horror series.  Carpenter feels a top form here, and after Ghosts of Mars, it is good to have him back.

Ghosts With Tattoos (the Ghosts of Mars, 2001)

ghosts_of_mars_posterIn the future, the terraforming of Mars has begun  There are colonies all over Mars.  The world is now a Matriarchy.  A police force is sent to Mars to transfer prisoner Desolation Williams.  They arrive to find the town empty except for some folks in lock up, including Desolation.  He and the others have no real answer for what is happening.

They soon discover that there may be more to it than a murder spree.  The ghosts of Mars indigenous population are taking over the bodies of earthlings.  Melanie Ballard is a tough space cop and finds herself aligned with Williams, who proclaims his innocence in the murders of countless colonists.  While she believes he is not a killer, she believes in following her orders and bringing him in, but survival requires them to wait on that and work together.  The spirits or organisms (whatever they are) take over people…in stage one they stare intensely at their hands.  Then they start mutilating themselves.  Then they get violent.

The exploration of the mystery gets slow at times, and there is a lot of running around that feels like padding for the story.  The film is bloody and violent when not being slow and expository.

The story is basically told in flashback with Ballard giving testimony about what happened.  Then there are the flashbacks in flashbacks.  This gets tiring fast as characters show up to tell Ballard what she missed.

In addition, the acting is fairly weak in most cases and nothing is to compelling.  The reveal of the cause it a twist that neither surprises nor adds to the situation.

It is interesting to note that the film started as Escape From Mars, a Snake Plissken tale.  The studio got a bit uncomfortable with a third Escape film and opted to have Carpenter change up the story.

There is no telling if Escape From Mars would have been a better film than Ghosts of Mars, but this is easily the worst of Carpenter’s work.


Blood Feast (Vampires, 1998)

john_carpenters_vampires_posterCarpenter followed up Escape From L.A. with a foray into traditional monsters with Vampires.  James Woods plays the Vatican’s lead Slayer Jack Crow.  Crow leads an elite team of vampire hunters.  They are a rough bunch who believe God exists…but they think He is a bastard.  Crow believes in his work, but is tired of the Church.  After a productive day of vampire hunting, the group celebrates with hard drinking and prostitutes.  But they are surprised by the Master Vampire.  He slaughters the Slayers, leaving only Jack and Anthony (Daniel Baldwin).  Crow and Anthony discover a young woman named Katrina was bitten by the Master before he went on the Killing spree.  They decide to use her to track the Master.

The two are saddled with a Priest to represent the Vatican’s interests.  This actually helps, as it gives Crow a chance to explain how things work in the world of Carpenter’s Vampires.  Crosses, Holy Water don’t work.  Just a stake through the heart and sunlight.  This is not like Blade (which came out the same year) where the vampires are a natural occurrence.  The Vampires here are decidedly supernatural. The end result of an exorcism gone wrong, the Master now seeks the Black Cross, which will help him become more powerful and survive stuff like sunlight.

Probably one of the more interesting things about the film is the Vatican connection.  Unlike Prince of Darkness, which had an “Everything you know is wrong” approach, it is the Vatican has kept the existence of vampires a secret.  Woods is perfectly good as the cranky and revenge driven Crow.  As blue caller Slayer Anthony Montoya, Baldwin has a likeable charm.  Tim Guinee’s Father Adam is likable as an enthusiastic wannabe Slayer.

In all of this, the part that does not work is the design for the Master.  He is not going t stand out in a lineup.  He is kind of dull, both in character and appearance.

Honestly, Vampires feels like the beginning of a decline for Carpenter.

I Love L.A. (Escape From L.A., 1996)

Escape-From-LA-posterJohn Carpenter’s first sequel.  Escape From L.A. brings back Snake Plissken.  The setup here is that in the late 20th century, a Presidential predicts a major earthquake will hit California and Las Vegas because of their sinful ways.  Unlike Pat Robertson, his prediction comes true.  American makes the now island of Los Angeles a one way prison.  The president was elected to a lifetime appointment.  They instituted a theocracy.  If you were to sinful you were sent to L.A. (but you get the option to repent of your sin and be immediately electrocuted).

In the future of 2013, the President’s daughter (oddly named Utopia, because a hyper-religious parent would name their kid Utopia?  Or is the implication that he used to be a hippie?)  has stolen an important prototype and run off to L.A.  Like before, the government calls in Snake Plissken and forces hm to make a deal to go into L.A. and get the prototype back so a potential invasion of America can be averted.

Plissken runs into all sorts of Oddballs, such as evil plastic surgeons and a surfer gang.  He gets help from the morally ambiguous Map to the Stars Eddie and the sexy Taslima.  He takes on Cuervo Jones in an attempt to get the prototype.

Like most sequels, Escape From L.A. mimics Escape from New York a lot.  There is even a scene where he walks into a club and finds a dead Rescue Team member he was tracking.  On the other hand, the film really amps up the action.

The film has stuff that does not really make sense.  The Evangelical President outlawed eating of red meat?  I mean, it might make more sense if the laws were based in Old Testament.  The effects are not..well…effective.  Many scenes are clearly green screened.  The basketball sequence just does not compare to the gladiatorial combat of the first film.

This is not to say the film is terrible.  The cast, including Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golina, Pam Grier, Stacy Keach and Cliff Robertson are all good.  And Russell slips right back into the skin of Snake Plissken with ease.  One of the most entertaining moments is when Snake is captured by the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills (Played by Bruce Campbell).  He leads a group of surgically enhanced misfits…they need to keep replenishing their body parts and look like the surgical disasters of nightmare on E! Television.

Escape From L.A. is fun, but comes no where near the classic status of Escape from New York.



Can I Play With Madness (In the Mouth of Madness, 1994)

in-the-mouth-of-madness-posterCarpenter returned to the big screen for his next endeavor.  A mind-bending Lovecraft inspired horror film.  Starring Sam Neill, In the Mouth of Madness is about insurance investigator John Trent who is looking into the disappearance of famed horror writer Sutter Cane.

Cane is like Stephen King in popularity, as well as his books being centered around a certain geographical location. Sent on his quest by Charlton Heston’s Jackson Harglow (the publisher), Trent starts to discover that Cane’s books are having a profound and violent impact on his readers.  Trent is finally able to create a map using portions of covers to Cane’s previous books.

He embarks on his journey with publisher liaison Linda Styles (Julie Carmen).  As they arrive, they start noticing something askew with the small town of Hobb’s End.  The buildings all fit locations described in the books.  There are people who seem to be from the books.  At one point, Trent tries to debunk this by pointing out that that they would be able to see an ancient church from a window, but Styles points out he is looking from the wrong window.

As the world seems to unravel before Trent’s eyes, he fights believing what is true.  In the Mouth of Madness is the final film in Carpenter’s loose Apocalypse Trilogy (the first is the Thing and second Prince of Darkness).  And it is a perfectly trippy film.  Carpenter uses the Lovecraft elements particularly well.

The visual effects are very well done, feeding the creepy vibe of the film.  Much of the early part of the film suggests Trent is hallucinating, but upon arriving in Hobb’s End, it is clear that something is truly wrong.  The effects feed this twisting of reality in a particularly effective way.

Carpenter’s direction is on point in this film, he is in control and not having to worry about studio concerns like he did with Memoirs of an Invisible Man.

The cast is very good, and Neill sells both the skeptical investigator and the man losing his mind.  Julie Carmen has the second biggest role in the film, and she is terrific as both support and foil for Neill.

The weakest link is the soundtrack.  Carpenter went for more of a rock vibe, which does not support the film in the way his earlier soundtracks did.

Still, in the end, this one of Carpenters stronger entries and has a lot to enjoy for the viewer.




Be as Little Children (Village of the Damned, 1995)

village-of-the-damned-posterVillage of the Damned is Carpenter’s second remake.  This one is not quite as inventive as the Thing.  Here, Carpenter sticks much closer to the source material.  The film begins in an idyllic small California town where there is a community barbecue.  In the midst of the festivities, the entire town falls unconscious.   The government enters the scene very quickly to assess the situation.  They find there is a line that can be crossed, where a person will pass out.  Almost as quickly as it hit, the town wakes up.

Soon, six women discover they are pregnant.  The babies are all born at the same time (but one is stillborn), and the government leaves behind researches to keep an eye on the newborns.  As the years progress the five children are becoming quite peculiar and are surrounded by mysterious tragedies.  The children all have silvery hair (the actors are quite annoyed that people think they wore wigs.  They did not) and are immensely smart.  They are eventually kept away from other children and taught by Christopher Reeve (in his last role before being paralyzed).  Reeve’s Alan Chaffee knows there is a problem brewing and starts trying to find ways to block the children’s psychic powers.  He also starts to connect with the young David, who seems to have more empathy than the other children.  This is, in part, due to the stillborn having been meant to be his partner.

Really, the visuals of the film are striking.  The five children with shocking silver hair and the subtle visual effects (primarily in their eyes and faces, the more intensely they focus, the more their alien physiology becomes dominant).

The performances are all dependable for the needs of the film.  Reeve makes good use of his decent guy reputation and Kirstie Alley is good in the role of cold and calculating government liaison Dr. Susan Verner.  But really? the standouts are Thomas Dekker as David and Lindsey Haun as Mara.  Haun is chilling and full of menace, while Dekker’s growing humanity makes him truly sympathetic in his loneliness.

While not as unique as his previous remake, the Village of the Damned is a nicely done horror film that pays homage to more classic horror.

Crypt Keepin’ Carpenter (Body Bags, 1993)

body-bags-coverAn attempt by Showtime to create a Horror Anthology to compete with HBO’s Tales From the Crypt, Body Bags both starred and featured direction from John Carpenter.  Showtime killed the series but released the three shorts set against bookend segments hosted by Carpenter as a creepy coroner.  His assistant was Tobe Hooper, director of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Both directed a segment as well.

Just like the Crypt Keeper, the Coroner makes schlocky jokes, before introducing the story.  It is not entirely certain each bookend was meant for the story that followed.

The first tale, the Gas Station, is about a young woman on her first night working at a gas station on a lonely stretch of road.  After a parade of weirdos, she discovers she is being stalked by a serial killer.  It is not a unique story, but it is well done, with a nice little twist.  Wes Craven has an amusing cameo as a creepy drunk who hits on the young woman.

The second segment, Hair, is about a man who is obsessed with his thinning hair.  In spite of his girlfriend’s insistence that it does not matter to her, he cannot stop fearing losing his hair.  Everywhere he looks he sees luxurious heads of hair.  He drives his girlfriend away because he won’t accept himself.  One night, he discovers a clinic that promise actual regrowth of lost hair.  Richard runs to the clinic for their service.  He is stunned when they try and talk him out of it, but he wants hair.  But in the end, he finds the hair wants him just as much as he wants it.  This is an entertaining story with and entertaining performance from Stacy Keach.  This is also the most humorous of the stories.

The best segment is the Eye, starring Mark Hamill as a minor league baseball player whose career is cut short when he loses an eye. He is offered a chance at a new experimental surgery that gives him a donor eye.  But with the eye comes dark and depraved visions.  Are they his own or the previous owner of the eye? Hamill gives a strong performance.  Of the three tales, this is the best of the bunch.

As with all anthologies, some installments are better than others.  But thankfully, in the case of Body Bags, all three are ranging from decent to very good.  While the first two segments are directed by John Carpenter, the Eye is directed by Tobe Hooper.  This is an enjoyable film.  And for those curious…you get to see Luke Skywalker’s bare butt.



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