By Brian Saur, co-host of Pure Cinema Podcast
On Pure Cinema, we recently tackled the entire epic filmography of one of our favorite directors - John Carpenter. In total, the two episodes we did on this topic run almost seven(!) hours, which is not ultimately that surprising considering our love for the director.
In doing so, we came up with "pairings" (see also: double features) for all of his movies and it was no small task (if an enjoyable one). Beyond having fun trying to decide what other films would go with which Carpenter films, it was interesting to go back and revisit (and in some cases, see for the first time) some of his lesser appreciated entries. Below is a list of some of my favorites after this reappraisal.
Sure this film was Carpenter's first and as such has something of a cult following, but it still remains quite underseen in my opinion in relation to his other works. It's certainly unique and It's a collaborative effort between Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon (both worked together on the story and screenplay of the film) and so you get a certain different kind of irreverent humor than is often present in Carpenter's other movies. Don't get me wrong, they almost all have some comedy sprinkled in them somewhere, but this feels different when you watch it. It's just a really trippy movie that looks at the madness that can take hold after twenty years in space (an idea not touched on enough in many science-fiction films in general). The movie also features lots of goofy characters and is genuinely admirable for what it accomplishes on a meager (rumored at $60,000 budget). Definitely werird and fun though - a Cult film through and through (and one I first discovered via Danny Peary's Cult Movies 2 Book)!
This is probably one of the least seen films in Carpenter's entire ouvre and that's too bad because it is a solid little thriller for sure. Starring the excellent (and lovely) Lauren Hutton as well as Carpenter's future wife Adrienne Barbeau and one of his stock company regulars in Charles Cyphers - this Hitchcockian little made-for-television movie is well paced and evokes a genuine sense of dread throughout that makes it well worth your time. The basic premise of two high rise apartment buildings that face each other and one woman's (Hutton) torment that is born out of this reverse REAR WINDOW-esque setup is quite enjoyable and the suspense is well executed by Carpenter.
This was a film that I had not seen before doing research for our Pure Cinema episode, despite my gigantic fandom for Kurt Russell and this being the first in a long line of joint-efforts by himself and Carpenter. Not sure why I had avoided it, but I was immediately glad I finally got around to viewing this epic (two hours and thirty minutes) look at Elvis Presley - from his humble beginnings to his troubled later years. Russell is quite good in his portrayal of the King and Carpenter - being a big fan of the man himself - treats the subject matter and story with respect which is appreciated (even though I'd love to see even more of the salacious stuff). What we are left with is a moving (if melancholy) portrait of a man who was constantly looking for that next big thing is his career to fill the lonely unexpected void left by success (and perhaps the loss of his mother). Seriously though, if you love Kurt Russell - you owe it to yourself to see one of his better performances.
Wait, wait, wait - how can a big studio film based on a novel by Stephen King be underrated? Hear me out. This is a film that I feel has been neglected - little by little over the years to the point that I don't feel like I hear folks talking about it much anymore - especially in terms of the best films Carpenter ever made. This is a bit of a shame for although he himself may have been less than inspired by the project when he made it, it stands today as a remarkable demonstration of a filmmaker at the height of his craft. We are after all talking about the guy who had just made THE THING (perhaps his best film and my favorite of all-time) just the year prior. A man who was dealing with the fallout of a major studio flop in that same film (how it flopped still baffles me to this day, but it was the summer of E.T. and folks were just not in the right frame of mind for his masterpiece). So what we are left with is a director who had something to prove (whether he would admit it or not) and solid source book to draw from. The result is an excellent movie about a killer car and the boy who loved it. It is incredibly well structured and functions well as both an accelerated coming of age high school movie and a horror film. It is top notch and well worth a look if you've never seen it (or a revisit if you have)
Okay, this is probably one of the most maligned films in Carpenter's later work and I can see some of the reasons why that might be the case. Chevy Chase is certainly miscast (or is being asked to do too much) in terms of being funny, dramatic and appealing as a leading man in this ostensible thriller/adventure story. I personally think he is able to pull it off well enough to not be distracting and that's not the big reason I'd watch the film anyway. For me, the big draw is the then-cutting-edge special effects and seeing John Carpenter "playing with the toys" on another big budget studio movie. The effects work is still quite dynamic and the film goes to some interesting new places that we had not seen before in an invisible man film. I am also just a really big fan of movies dealing with invisibility in general so if you're like me in that respect - you'll likely enjoy this one. I think that, like time travel, we can all relate to the idea of being invisible and fantasizing about what we would if we were suddenly "blessed" with such powers. This film is a lot of fun and has good sense of danger about it as well as a nice villainous turn by Sam Neill - one year before he became universally recognizable with his role in JURASSIC PARK.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.