John Carpenter, or the “Master of Horror” as he has been dubbed, is one of the most influential genre directors who’s ever lived. His influence on horror, sci-fi, thriller and action is huge, but Carpenter’s career and range goes beyond that; you could see his soft romantic side in “Starman” and how he extraordinarily handled a traditional biopic in “Elvis.”
Through the years, even his box office flops have started to gain new attention and his previously criticized films – yes, “The Thing” didn’t actually get strong reviews at its initial release – are now considered to be masterpieces.
Always an influential, unique, and distinctive voice in cinema, Carpenter had always been a man ahead of his time and it’s no surprise that his style is everywhere these days. Here are 10 films that may sound interesting to those who like and appreciate John Carpenter’s works.
1. Grindhouse (2007)
Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino are both huge fans of John Carpenter. One of the early favorites films of Rodriguez was “Escape from New York”; he even wanted to make a remake of the movie, and got his blessings from Carpenter himself.
If you watch his interview with Carpenter on “Director’s Chair,” he admits the film’s influence on his “Spy Kids,” “El Mariachi” and “Machete.” As for Tarantino, he was also a huge fan of “Escape,” “Assault on Precinct 13” and “The Thing,” which was a notable influence on him when he made “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Hateful Eight” where he had to show the film to the entire cast.
Tarantino says while speaking of the film, “Robert’s movie is so similar in style and feel to a John Carpenter movie, we’ve always been joking that, it’s like the zombie movie John Carpenter should’ve made in between Escape from New York and The Thing. And not only that, Robert was even playing Escape from New York music on the set all the time.” That’s also how he decided to cast Kurt Russell in the second part of “Grindhouse,” his own film “Death Proof,” and he was great as ever, sometimes reminding us of his iconic roles in Carpenter films.
“Grindhouse” didn’t get the love it deserved when it was released, and “Death Proof” may have looked minor in Tarantino’s filmography, but it’s still good fun as is Rodriguez’s crazy ride “Planet Terror.”
2. Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981)
When we talk about John Carpenter-like films, usually everybody comes up with the modern films that has his influences all over them, but there have been some great films made in previous decades that was similar to some of Carpenter’s films; no, not just stuff Walter Hill’s genre films, because Carpenter’s films are diverse.
“Fort Apache, the Bronx” is an overlooked film from the early 1980s that has some similar feelings to Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13.” So if you love that film, chances are you might enjoy this police drama as well. Paul Newman is once again brilliant in the lead role in this depressive and dark film that tells the story of the lives of policemen in the run-down South Bronx neighborhood of New York City.
The movie might not be the level of other great films with similar storylines, but those who enjoy such cop films will find a lot to appreciate. Newman’s terrific performance, alongside the film’s interesting and realistic attempts to portray the difficulties in the daily life of a police station back then, are among the highlights of the film. Speaking of “Assault on Precinct 13,” its remake with Ethan Hawke is also a fun ride, even if not as influential as its original.
3. Attack the Block (2011)
“Attack the Block” is a postmodern take on the alien invasion genre to dark, thrilling, funny, scary, and entertaining results, and it deserves more attention than it got. The aliens are invading their block, and it’s up to this gang of young hoodlums to put a stop to them.
First-time director Joe Cornish, who recently made “The Kid Who Would Be King,” certainly has watched a lot of Carpenter and Walter Hill movies. Just like his friend and collaborator Edgar Wright, he loved ‘80s genre films and he also tried to keep those traditions alive in this overlooked film of his.
Cornish is no Wright when it comes to balancing comedy and action, but he still did a pretty good job here. At the moment you hear that minimalist synch score, you know that the director knows how such music was an integral part of Carpenter’s films and how he used it to create tension.
Then there are also echoes of “Escape from New York,” “The Thing” and “Assault on Precinct 13” here in the plot. One can claim it also has that “Dark Star” vibe. Hill’s “The Warriors” and Dante’s “Gremlins” were also obvious influences. Since its release, it seems to get even more forgotten, which is a pity.
4. Midnight Special (2016)
As mentioned In the intro, Carpenter also had a sensitive side and he showed it in “Starman,” which came right after “Christine” and before “Prince of Darkness.” That was basically “E.T.” for adults and as a romance story, it was an unusual entry in Carpenter’s filmography, which is always full of surprises.
“Midnight Special” is not a romance story but it has a touching dramatic depth. A strange boy is kidnapped by a cult-like ranch – as we learn later from his birth father. As a result, the FBI storms the ranch where the family lived, because the boy obviously has extraordinary abilities.
You cannot and should not tell more about the story, otherwise you would rob “Midnight Special” of its greatest strength. Like “Starman,” “Midnight Special” is a sci-fi chase picture, and director-writer Jeff Nichols doesn’t deny that. It’s actually kind of surprising that he actually made a film with such a strong Carpenter influence. It’s a further proof that his influence is everywhere.
When the film was still in development, he described his desire to making this film as, “I kind of want to make a 1980s John Carpenter movie. If I had to choose one of those it would be Starman.” And it’s a beautiful tribute to “Starman” as it’s a great film on its own as well.
5. Green Room (2015)
Jeremy Saulnier is another Carpenter fanatic. His favorites are “The Thing,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” “They Live,” “Halloween” and “Christine.” His “Green Room” follows the plot of a punk band who find themselves attacked by neo-Nazi skinheads after witnessing a murder at a remote club.
It’s an exciting and oppressive thriller that focuses on the local limitations of his narrative premise and creates a sense of claustrophobia with narrow-cut frames, and here the influences from “The Thing” and “Assault on Precinct 13” become clear. It’s nice to see how the four guys do not panic or get overly scared, but think and debate as best they can in such situations and make plans.
Saulnier’s script is convincing, and his directorial skills and talent at creating atmosphere is strong. He mentioned that he got a lot of inspiration from Carpenter’s sense of authenticity. Thanks to visually striking cinematography and stylish, sometimes shocking violence, “Green Room” was one of the best films of its year, but unfortunately flopped at the box office.
The cast that included Imogen Poots, Patrick Stewart, and the late Anton Yelchin was also very strong and helped the film come off as even more convincing and realistic. If you enjoy “Green Room” but somehow missed Saulnier’s “Blue Ruin,” you should check that out as well.