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John Carpenter Tag

Horror movies derive most of their power and enjoyment (you sicko) from a combination of novelty and surprise.The novelty: how the filmmakers will have this particular bad guy stalk and kill the good guys. The surprise: OHMYGODLOOKOUTBEHINDYOUDREWBARRYMORE! Nevertheless, because horror movies are eternally popular, Hollywood remakes

This weekend brings Battle: Los Angeles to movie screens across the country, not to mention Aaron Eckhart to the brink of extinction as space invaders sock it to the Left Coast. Last month gave us I Am Number Four, the story of sexy high school kids who just happen to not be vampires — instead, they’re the last of an alien civilization living right in our midst. Do they sparkle in the daylight? That we don’t know.

But we do know that there’s been a fascination with our mothers, brothers, and others from beyond, so here are some of the Popdose staff’s favorite close encounters from the worlds of movies and television. Some come as friends, some want to mate with us, and some want to have us for dinner (it’s a cookbook!).

The Twilight Zone, “To Serve Man” (1962): Rod Serling’s primary focus with his TV series The Twilight Zone was a hidden one. By using science fiction settings and scenarios, he was able to get morality plays about paranoia, bigotry, egotism, and other human failings onto television sets all across the country, and he did so without being preachy.

Of course, he wasn’t above just scaring the crap out of you either. Submitted for your approval, one “To Serve Man,” wherein the aliens arrive on Earth and start hard-selling us inhabitants on the glories of their home world, and how we would be treated as kings there. Why, they even have a book devoted to the task entitled To Serve Man. To prove their benevolence the aliens start shutting down the nuclear armaments of the world, they turn deserts into lush fields, and they stroke our collective ego as it’s never been stroked before. Masses of humans, ready to junk this one-horse planet for interstellar godhood, climb aboard the aliens’ waiting spaceship, only to learn upon their arrival that the menu … is them!

You could make a case that this too is a cautionary tale about human arrogance and the gullibility that sometimes rides shotgun with it, but I suspect Serling was more interested in keeping you on the edge of your seat with this one than anything else. That he was advocating suspicion in the face of the characters’ utter trust of the aliens seems to be a far cry from some of his other Twilight tales. I guess that’s what made the show so brilliant — you just never quite knew what was going to be on that plate. Dw. Dunphy

“There’s something in the fog!” Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980).

After the success of his iconic slasher movie, Halloween (1978), John Carpenter took two years to release his next feature film (though he did work on two TV movies during that time). Released in February of 1980, The Fog was a moderate financial success and reunited Carpenter with some of Halloween‘s key players, including its star, Jamie Lee Curtis. The film also starred Adrienne Barbeau (Carpenter’s wife at the time), Curtis’s mother, famed actress Janet Leigh (marking the first time she appeared on string with her daughter), Tom Atkins and Hal Holbrook.

The Fog tells the tale of Antonio Bay, a fishing town on the northern California coast, that is getting ready to celebrate its centennial. The celebration is soon marred by a serious of bizarre, unexplainable events, culminating in the appearance of a strange, glowing fog. that terrorizes the town. The fog, which quickly spreads over Antonio Bay, is not like any normal fog. There’s something — or, rather, someone — in the fog. Many someones, in fact. And they’re all out for vengeance against one or more residents of Antonio Bay.

In pop culture, lists are everything. They lend a sense of order to an otherwise orderless world. From film and literature to music, critics and readers alike love to put things in tidy rows. It is with this in mind that Popdose presents Listmania, a weekly series counting down the staff’s favorite things.

Be it zombies, vampires, ghosts, goblins or ghouls, everyone has specific fear triggers. For some of us it’s murderous dolls; others prefer the supernatural, either way most of us love a good scare. It was with this in mind that we asked the staff to list the twenty films that scared the living daylights out of them. We chopped, sliced and diced the results and came up with the twenty most terrifying moments in cinematic history, at least according to frightened masses at Popdose.

And if that isn’t scary enough, the good folks at Warner Bros. have a treat for one lucky reader: a free iTunes download of the Director’s Cut of The Exorcist, featuring never seen before behind the scenes footage and interviews with director William Friedkin, actress Linda Blair and author/screenwriter/producer William Peter Blatt. All you have to do to enter is send an e-mail to Jason with the subject “My Best Recipe for Pea Soup!” All entries must be received before midnight, October 29. The winner will be selected randomly and notified by e-mail.

If you missed the first half of the list, you can catch up here:
Popdose Listmania: Top 20 Scariest Films (20-11)

So go ahead, pop the no-doze, and whatever you do: don’t fall asleep…

A few months back, I sat in a crowded theater on opening night of My Bloody Valentine 3D. As I was sitting there waiting for the movie to start, it occurred to me that I was the only one in the audience who was old enough to have seen the original in the theater. All of this reminded me how I felt about slasher films as a teenager, which is basically the same way I feel about them now: I love them — and yet I hate them, because there are far too few good ones. I went to these movies hoping to be scared but the TV ads usually frightened me more than the actual movies. The aforementioned original My Bloody Valentine (1981) turned out to be kind of lame. Even the ultimate ’80s slasher movie Friday the 13th (1980) didn’t scare me all that much. Sure, I jumped at the end like everyone else when Jason’s corpse came out of the water, but the ending still made no sense whatsoever.

HalloweenThe problem for most of these movies is that the bar had been set tremendously high by John Carpenter in 1978 with Halloween. Shot on a reported $320,000 budget, Halloween raked in $70 million worldwide and spawned a wave of slasher film imitators that lasted most of the ’80s.

Previous to Halloween, Carpenter had made Dark Star (1974) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). Dark Star began as a USC film school project shot on 16mm, a very funny black comedy sci-fi tale about hippies in space who are on a mission to destroy unstable planets. Assault on Precinct 13 is a tense low-budget action flick about a police precinct under siege by a street gang seeking retribution, in which cops and prisoners have no choice but to fight side-by-side to fend off the attack.

So what makes Halloween succeed on a level that its later imitators could never quite match? To be fair, Halloween was in many ways the first of its kind so many elements that would later become cliché (such as camerawork from the POV of the killer, teenagers being murdered after having sex or a “boogeyman” killer that won’t seem to ever die) weren’t cliché yet. But the true reason for its success is the level of filmmaking.

With all this talk about remakes in various stages of production, from rumored to released, I’ve received a couple of suggestions that I do a list of needless remakes. But because (to sort-of quote Robert Stack in Airplane!) “That’s just what they’re expecting me to do,” I decided to flip it around and do a list of great remakes. Because let’s face it, none of us want these movies to turn out bad — we’d all rather they be good. When I hear of a remake in the works, such as 2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, when I’m finished rolling my eyes there is a gullible part of me that thinks “wait a minute, Keanu Reeves is an interesting casting choice and the themes of the original are still relevant today — this might work!” But then the movie gets released and the reviews are so universally awful, I decide to skip it. That’s typically what happens, but there is always a twinge of hope that the remake will be good.

So what constitutes a great remake? I’d define it as a movie that takes the original premise, makes it its own and in no way tarnishes the memory of the original. Here are ten films that I feel do exactly that. I know it’s sacrilege to say, but some of these I think are even better movies than their inspirations.

ThingThe Thing (1982). From the very opening, with the desolate shots of the Antarctic and the Norwegian helicopter pilot trying desperately to kill a dog running in the snow, we can tell we’re in for a different ride than the 1951 Howard Hawks original The Thing from Another World. Director John Carpenter and screenwriter Bill Lancaster take the story in a more psychological direction — as the men become infected by the “thing” they show no outward signs and the paranoia grows as they begin to point fingers at each other. The good old early 80’s makeup effects by Rob Bottin still hold up beautifully, especially that defibrillator gag. The great cast includes Kurt Russell, Richard Dysart, Wilfred “I’m all better now” Brimley and Donald “I’d rather not spend the rest of this winter tied to this fucking couch” Moffat. By the way, John Carpenter has had good luck remaking Howard Hawks’ films — if his 1976 Assault on Precinct 13 had “officially” been a remake of Hawks’ 1959 Rio Bravo, I would have included it on this list. (Now if only people would have luck remaking Carpenter’s own films!)

TerminatorIf you’re like me, when you see a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger in shades, a certain five-note rhythm comes to mind. There’s no denying composer Brad Fiedel kicks things off in James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) with a great main title, letting us know we’re building to something awesome here.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a wave of low-budget films hitting theaters, but they didn’t feel low-budget — they all had the aura of expensive blockbusters. I’m talking about flicks like The Howling, Scanners, and Escape From New York (all 1981), and directors like Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, and of course Cameron — directors who knew enough about the craft of filmmaking to stretch their shoestring budgets and create cool-looking movies.

Carpenter’s Escape From New York is a good example. The dilemma: how to make New York City look like a maximum-security prison in the near future with very little money? The early establishing shot of the Manhattan skyline is a matte painting. But more important is the way Carpenter pans up from the set — created in Sepulveda Basin, California — to the night sky, then cuts from blackness to the matte shot, perfectly matching the lighting and camera movement so it appears to be one continuous shot.

Cameron served as a matte painter and special-effects cameraman on Escape From New York, but before that, he was a model builder who was quickly promoted to art director on Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), produced by Roger Corman. Cameron literally stapled empty egg cartons to the back wall of one of his alien-spaceship sets because it was cheap and he thought it would look cool. It was around this time that he met Gale Anne Hurd, who served as an assistant production manager on the film. A few years later, when Cameron started developing his idea about a cyborg assassin from the future, he brought Hurd on board to cowrite and produce.