Get Ready for Halloween With John Carpenter’s Five Spookiest Films

Forget dressing up for Halloween parties—you’re an adult now. The appropriate course now is to sit in the dark scaring yourself silly with classic horror movies while you stuff your face with candy because no trick-or-treaters ever make it to the sixth floor of a walk-up. And while he didn’t always work inside the genre (see: Escape From New York), John Carpenter has always been a master of it, easily equal to your murderous movie marathons.



Well, sure, duh, it’s got “Halloween” right in the title. But it’s well worth seeing the film that launched a million knockoff slashers, establishing all those beloved clichés about innocent virgins and un-killable psychos. These are also undoubtedly some of the most sensational stabbings since that one notable Hitchcock shower scene.  


Assault on Precinct 13

Nothing supernatural to fear here, not even the uncanny Michael Myers, only the relentless hate and bloodlust of our fellow human beings. Carpenter gives politically-correct inclusivity a sick twist as a gang with members of every race turns out to be more of an army, and not inclined to let themselves be ruled by the cops, who fight for their lives against an inexhaustible siege.


The Fog

A slow burn, but an extremely satisfying one, with some of the creepiest shots in the Carpenter repertoire: he shoots those rolling, smoky mists with an almost tender touch, and they conceal some top-notch ghouls. With an unexplained phenomenon killing people in a small northwestern town and some dire post-colonial overtones, this is the total package.  


They Live

The story of a man who discovers that life on earth is not what he assumed, and from there goes on a bloody rampage in order to kill every parasitic monster hiding in plain sight, They Live will make you laugh even as it unsettles and challenges your deepest beliefs; this dread is only compounded by the passing thought that wrestler Roddy Piper, who plays the tough-guy lead, has actually snapped and is just shooting innocent people.  


The Thing 

Indisputably one of Carpenter’s finest achievements. If Alien sets the bar for the haunted-house-in-space subgenre, The Thing is the best invasion allegory, with an extraterrestrial that can mimic any animal running loose inside an isolated Antarctic research station and the terrified occupants suddenly suspicious of one another. Claustrophobic, paranoid, desperate, you’re not going to sleep well after this one—the creature design and practical effects alone are so disgusting, so tactile and there, that you’ll wonder how anyone could prefer CGI. 

Shut Up And Listen To Music About Fog

I know, I know, we’d all prefer to see the sun at least once every fortnight, but the fog blanketing New York today is pretty cool, so just enjoy these foggy-sounding fog songs. (Note: definitely includes John Carpenter’s main theme from beloved horror flick The Fog.)

All Fogged Up And Nowhere To Go 

Beat Happening — "Foggy Eyes"

Craft Spells — "The Fog Rose High"

The Fresh & Onlys — "Fog Machine"

Tim Hecker — "In The Fog I"

Brian Eno — "Events In Dense Fog"

John Carpenter — "Theme from The Fog"

Nosaj Thing — "Fog"

Fossil Collective — "Fog"

Kate Bush — "The Fog"

Azure Ray — "In The Fog"

Parov Stelar, Jerry Di Monza — "The Fog"

Robot Science — "Fog"

For those in a more minimalist mood, here’s all three movements of Tim Hecker’s "In The Fog" together as they flow on the excellent album Ravedeath, 1972. Now go get fogged.

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter. Photo by Bex Schwartz.

Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, & ‘The Thing’ Remake Breaking Ground

Three projects I’m excited about begin lensing this week (ostensibly), so I thought it’d be appropriate to wish them all well. The first is the Coen Brothers’ remake of Henry Hathaway’s 1969 John Wayne wagoneer, True Grit. This time around, Jeff Bridges takes over the role of crapulous sheriff Rooster Cogburn, hired by an impetuous young girl (Hailee Steinfeld) looking to avenge her father’s murder. I can’t say that the original — which earned Wayne an Academy Award for best actor — is exactly a favorite, but the idea of the Coens collaborating with Bridges for the first time since The Big Lebowski is sufficiently thrilling for me to get over any misgivings.

The next film that’s got me going is Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. I know very little about the Kaui Hart Hemmings novel on which it’s based, so the Publisher’s Weekly blurb will have to do.

Hemmings’ bittersweet debut novel stars besieged and wryly introspective attorney Matt King (Clooney), the land-rich descendant of Hawaiian royalty and American missionaries and entrepreneurs. He wrestles with the decision of whether to keep his swath of valuable inherited land or sell it to a real estate developer. But even more critical, Matt also has to decide whether to pull the plug on his wife, Joanie, who has been in an irreversible coma for 23 days following a boat-racing accident.

The big draw for me here is, of course, Payne, who hasn’t helmed a feature since Sideways. Fans of the Election and About Schmidt director have had only his contribution to the omnibus film Paris, Je t’aime to tide them over, though many (myself included) count that among his best works. Hopefully The Descendants will be worth the wait but, if nothing else, I’m happy to see that the underrated Matthew Lillard (SLC Punk) is getting some decent work again.

The last film I’m juiced about is the re-make of John Carpenter’s 1982 classic The Thing, itself a loose remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks picture, The Thing from Another World. Carpenter’s film is the kind of thing that really can’t be bested, so the filmmakers (producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman, director Matthijs Van Heijningen Jr.) are making more of a companion piece rather than a straight-up remake. Fans of the original may recall that the “thing” came to infect Kurt Russell’s arctic weather station after wreaking havoc in a similar, nearby Norwegian camp. The new film aims to tell the story of that latter camp, only briefly visited in Carpenter’s film. It’s a canny move I think, one that wont ruffle the pic’s legions of devotees, who I’m guessing share my opinion that there’s really no replicating this (which is pretty NSFW owing to spectacular gore!):