Thursday, March 3, 2022

Five Films by John Carpenter at The Grand Illusion Cinema: Mar 18 - Apr 5

Few overviews of the decade are so precisely informed in their hierarchical representation of 1980s film as the June 2018 issue of Sight & Sound and their "The Other Side of 80s America" cover feature, focused on the parallel facade of North America cinema. Concurrent with the pop culture revelry of Reaganite family-oriented dramas, action, teen movies, and sci-fi blockbusters, a more rebellious and independent strain of US movie making scratched at the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. Anne Billson's supporting article "A Nightmare on Main Street" plumbs the deeper realms of the decade's more assertively subversive low-to-medium budget genre fare, these often exuberantly “unburdened by notions of good taste". Behind the facade of 80s corporate cinema, upstart movies like Brian Yuzna’s "Society", James M. Muro’s "Street Trash", Abel Ferrara's "Ms. 45", Jack Sholder's "The Hidden", William Lustig's "Maniac Cop", Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead", David Cronenber's "Scanners", Steve De Jarnatt's "Miracle Mile", and Larry Cohen, in films such as "Q: The Winged Serpent" and "The Stuff", were making horror, sci-fi, and fantasy movies that exposed the toxic underbelly of Reaganomics America. Yet none did so more explicitly than John Carpenter's "They Live". Indeed, no true overview of horror and genre film of the decade would be complete without the work of Carpenter. So influential is his work that in 2019 he was awarded the Carrosse d’Or Award at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, and in a rare move for genre film, he is represented by an entry in Senses of Cinema's Great Directors series.

Following the success of one of the earliest entries in the American slasher genre with "Halloween", and before the career defining "Escape from New York", John Carpenter's run of influential 80s genre films are generally seen to begin with 1980’s "The Fog". While visiting Stonehenge during the UK promotion of "Assault on Precinct 13", Carpenter was inspired to make a ghostly revenge film drawing equally from the horror comics of the 1950s by publishers like EC, and their notorious "Tales from the Crypt", as well as a 1958 British creature thriller titled, "The Trollenberg Terror". Arguably, this stretch of films would last a decade, until such mid-1990s entries as "In The Mouth of Madness", and his remake of "Village of the Damned" the 1960s film of the same name based on John Wyndham's novel, "The Midwich Cuckoos". The Grand Illusion Cinema's three week series highlights the diversity of vision and style to be found within this ten year period of film from the director and composer. Cumulatively, they are a showcase of the inventive visual and auditory language he would distinguish as his own, much of which came to define the decade as a whole even outside the parameters of genre cinema. Beginning auspiciously with his directorial debut as a collaboration with University of Southern California cohort, Dan O'Bannon, who would act as editor, production designer, and visual effects supervisor on their existential space colonization satire, "Dark Star". This all some time before O'Bannon was enlisted as visual effects supervisor for Alejandro Jodorowsky's ill-fated adaptation of "Dune", and his later career defining work on Ridley Scott's "Alien" and Tobe Hooper's "Lifeforce". Carpenter's rulebook for style were effectively written in 1980, and 1981, with the aforementioned "The Fog", and "Escape from New York" respectively. These both directly proceeding what is considered the director's masterpiece, his 1982 remake of "The Thing from Another World", based on John W. Campbell Jr's story, "Who Goes There?". On the cusp of the following decade, 1988's "They Live" would exploit the paranoia of the Regan era like no other film of it's time, and his "Prince of Darkness" from the year before stands as one of the finer entries in the then-popular Book of Revelation, antichrist horror subgenre. While Carpenter's 1990's work may not ascend into the realm of the complete and wholly original film language found in the films that precede it, there is still much to recommend his adaptation of "Village of the Damned". Particularly when considered in contrast to the less-than-notable horror remakes Hollywood mass produced throughout the ensuing decade.