From 1980’s The Fog, directed by the great John Carpenter:
From 1980’s The Fog, directed by the great John Carpenter:
4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.
This October, we’ve been using 4 Shots from 4 Films to pay tribute to some of our favorite horror filmmakers! Today, we honor the one and only John Carpenter!
4 Shots From 4 John Carpenter Films
Okay, so it’s more cyberpunk than horror but ….
Listen, it’s John Carpenter. As a month, October pretty much belongs to John Carpenter and there’s never a more appropriate time to share a music video for one of his songs. Interestingly enough, Night is one of Carpenter’s rare compositions that is not also a part of a soundtrack.
It certainly sounds like it belongs in a movie though, right?
4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!
Today, we celebrate the life and career Donald Pleasence! One of the greatest of all the horror icons, Pleasence was born 101 years ago today and that means that it’s time for….
4 Shots From 4 Films
To go along with my review of Curtis Richards’s Halloween novelization, today’s scene that I love comes from the film Halloween …. kinda. It wasn’t included in the theatrical release but, instead, it was later added when Halloween made it’s network television premiere.
Now, I’ve actually heard two stories about this scene. One story is that it was shot during the filming of the original Halloween but that it was cut out of the theatrical release. When Halloween premiered on television, the network needed some footage to pad out the running time so this scene was re-inserted.
The other version is that the scene was specifically filmed for the television version of the film. According to this version, the scene was in an early version of the script but Carpenter didn’t film it until after Halloween had already had its theatrical release and was set to make it’s television debut.
(Personally, to me, the second version sounds more plausible.)
Regardless of when this scene was filmed, I like it quite a bit. In this scene, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) attempts to get his colleagues to understand just how dangerous Michael Myers actually is. This, of course, was a running theme for the character of Dr. Loomis and it has always amazed me that no one was ever willing to listen to him. Loomis spent the last 30 years of his life telling people that Michael was an unstoppable killer. Every single time, he was proven correct. And yet no one ever listened to him!
This scene gives us a chance to see Dr. Loomis in a professional setting, as well as giving us a glance of an adolescent Michael at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. “You’ve fooled them, Michael …. but not me.”
As someone who has seen all of the Halloween films multiple times, I have to say that Donald Pleasence’s performance as Dr. Loomis, especially in the first 2 films, has always been underrated. Pleasence gave a convincing portrait of a man who had spent the last ten years of his life dealing with evil on a daily basis. Who could blame him for being a bit fanatical? Wouldn’t you be if you had spent that much time staring into Michael’s soulless eyes?
In the old west, Jimmy Pearls (Ricky Schroder), a seemingly dissolute young man, kills the three men who he hold responsible for the murder of his parents. Unfortunately for Jimmy, one of those men was the son of powerful rancher Henry Logan (John P. Ryan) and Logan is now determined to track down Jimmy and get some revenge of his own.
Jimmy only his one ally in his attempt to make it to safety and that’s Winston Culler (Wilford Brimley). In his younger days, Culler was a legend. He tamed the frontier and he lived with the Indians and everyone knew better than to get in his way. Now, Winston is older and no one give him the respect that he deserves. Winston allows Jimmy to stay with him but Winston has more than just Jimmy’s safety in mind. Winston has his own reasons for wanting to get revenge on Logan and, despite their constant bickering, he and Jimmy are soon working as a team.
Adrienne Barbeau has a cameo as a madam and, while she’s always a welcome sight in any film, I imagine her casting has to do with the fact that this film was actually written by John Carpenter. Yes, that John Carpenter! Carpenter actually wrote the script for what would become Blood River in 1971. When he wrote it, he pictured John Wayne as Winston and either Elvis Presley or Ron Howard as Jimmy. (The Duke and Elvis in the same film? That would have been something, regardless of how the film itself turned out.) Carpenter sent copies of the script to both John Wayne and director Howard Hawks but neither one responded. It would be 19 years before the script was finally filmed.
Blood River is an amiable western. It was ultimately produced for television and it first aired on CBS. Despite the fact that the film was originally written to be a theatrical film, it plays more like a pilot than a film. You could imagine a weekly series featuring Winston and Jimmy riding from town to town and getting into adventures. The plot is nothing special but Ricky Schroder and Wilford Brimley make for a good team. Brimley is especially ornery, even for him. Blood River may be a simple film but it will be appreciated by those looking for a likable and old-fashioned western.
For today’s song of the day comes from Ennio Morricone’s score for John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. Desolation is an aptly named composition because this song capture the feel of isolation and paranoia that has made Carpenter’s film a classic.
Previous Entries In Our Tribute To Morricone:
The FBI needs someone to steal a computer disk that can bring down a corrupt Las Vegas corporation so they hire reformed thief Sam Quint (Tommy Lee Jones). Quint manages to steal the disk but he finds himself being pursued by Ringer (Lee Ving), an old acquaintance who now works for the corporation. In order to keep the disk from falling into Ringer’s hands, Quint hides it in the back bumper of an experimental racing car called the Black Moon. The Black Moon, which runs on water and can fly when it reaches its top speed, is being taken to Los Angeles by Earl Windom (Richard Jaeckel) so Quint assumes that he’ll just follow Window to L.A. and then retrieve the disk when no one is watching.
However, as soon as the Black Moon arrives in Los Angeles, it’s stolen by Nina (Linda Hamilton). Nina works for Ed Ryland (Robert Vaughn), an outwardly respectable businessman who secretly runs a syndicate of car thieves. Now, Quint and Nina (who conventiently falls in love with Quint) have to steal the car back from Ryland while staying one step ahead of both Ringer and the FBI.
Black Moon Rising is not a movie that you watch for the plot or for the non-existent romantic chemistry between Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton. You don’t even watch it for the white collar villainy of Robert Vaughn, who basically just recycles his performance from Superman III. This is a movie that you watch for the car! The Black Moon is definitely an impressive vehicle. Who wouldn’t want to steal one of these?
In a car chase movie like Black Moon Rising, the most important thing is that the car must be cool. The Black Moon looks like something Mad Max would drive and it can actually fly so, by definition, it’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, Black Moon Rising doesn’t spend as much time with the car as it should. The movie gets bogged down with the scenes of Quint and Nina falling in love and Quint having to deal with his FBI handler (played by Bubba Smith). This is a film that would have benefited from being directed by someone like Hal Needham, who understood that people don’t come to car chase movies for the plot. They come to car chase movies because they want to see people driving fast and cars crashing in spectacular ways. Still, even though the car isn’t onscreen as much as it should be, the car is still cool enough to make Black Moon Rising watchable.
One final note: the screenplay is credited to John Carpenter. Though the imdb claims that this was the first script that Carpenter ever sold and that the film spent ten years in development, Carpenter says that he wrote the script around the same time that he made Escape from New York. He also says that he’s never actually seen the completed film.
Just to make clear, the video is from 2016. The song, of course, is from John Carpenter’s 1981 film, Escape From New York.
Before you start, note that Escape From New York was recently showcased in Jeff’s 4 Shots from 4 Films post to celebrate Kurt Russell’s birthday. For another take on the film, check out Jeff’s review. Please check that out, and then double back here, if you want.
When I was little, my Aunt would sometimes take my older brother and I with her into Manhattan. In a little movie theatre near 82nd Street, she’d get us a set of tickets for a film, help us get seated with snacks and then either stay for the movie or leave to perform housekeeping duties for someone nearby if she had work and we weren’t allowed to hang out on site. John Carpenter’s Escape From New York wasn’t a film she stayed for (she loved Raiders of the Lost Ark), but it was okay. I was introduced to Snake Plissken, who ended up being cooler than Han Solo to my six year old eyes. Instead of being the hero, here was a criminal being asked to a mission. It showed me that even the bad guys could be heroes, now and then (or better yet, not every hero is cookie cutter clean). The film became an instant favorite for me. As I also do with Jaws and The Fog, I try not to let a year go by without watching Escape From New York at least once. It was my first Carpenter film.
The cultural impact of Escape From New York is pretty grand, in my opinion. It had a major influence on Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear video games and also spawned a few comics with Plissken, complete with Jack Burton crossovers with Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China.
Carpenter brought in most of the same crew he worked with in his previous movies. The film was the third collaboration between Carpenter and Debra Hill, who previously worked with him in 1978’s Halloween and 1980’s The Fog. Though Hill didn’t write this one, she was still the producer, along with Larry Franco. There’s also a bit of speculation on whether Hill performed the opening vocals describing New York or Jamie Lee Curtis handled that. Cinematographer Dean Cundey (who worked on most of Carpenter’s early films) returned to help give the movie it’s gritty look, which is helpful considering how much of it takes place either at night or in darkened rooms. Another interesting part of the production is James Cameron, who was the Director of Photography when it came to the effects and matte work. One of the best effects shots in the film has Plissken gliding over Manhattan, which was designed by Effects member John C. Wash. The shot on his plane’s dashboard of the city was made from miniature mock up with reflective tape that made it appear as if it were digital, which was pretty cool given that they weren’t on an Industrial Light and Magic budget. There’s a fantastic article on We Are The Mutants and on the Escape From New York/LA Fan Page that focus on Wash’s technical contributions to the film.
For Carpenter’s career, Escape From New York marked the start of a great working relationship with Alan Howarth. Howarth, who also worked on the sound in the film, assisted Carpenter with the soundtrack. I’ve always felt this brought a new level to Carpenter’s music overall. You can easily hear the difference when Howarth was involved. Where Carpenter excelled at general synth sound, Howarth’s touch added some bass and depth. Together, they’d work on Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Prince of Darkness and They Live together. On his own, Howarth was also responsible for both Halloween 2, 4 and 5.
For the writing, Carpenter worked with Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers for him in the original Halloween. Escape From New York’s story is simple. In 1988, the crime rate for the United States rises 400 percent. As a result, someone had the notion to turn Manhattan into a prison for an entire country, setting up walls around the borough and mines in the waterways. When Airforce One crashes in the borough nearly a decade later, the recently arrested war hero / fugitive Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given a mission. Go in, rescue the President and/or the tape he’s carrying in 22 hours, and Plissken receives a pardon for all his crimes. To ensure that he follows through, he’s injected with nano-explosives that will kill him when the deadline hits. What seems like a simple mission becomes a little complicated when Snake discovers the President was captured by The Duke of New York, played by Issac Hayes (I’m Gonna Git You Sucka). Given that I’ve commuted to Manhattan more times than I can count, the film holds a special place in my heart. The concept of the entire borough being a prison was mind blowing as a kid. The concept still holds up for me as an adult.
For a film about New York, there were only two days of filming actually spent on location there, according to Carpenter’s commentary. Most of that was used for the opening shot at the Statue of Liberty. The bulk of the film was made in Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis. At the time, there was a major fire in St. Louis. The damage made for a great backdrop for both the crash site and the city at night. The film does take some liberties with locations, though. For example, as far as I know, we don’t have a 69th Street Bridge in Manhattan, but as a kid, it didn’t matter much. From an action standpoint, it might not feel as intense as other films. Even when compared to other films in 1981 – like Raiders of the Lost Ark (released a month earlier) – Escape From New York doesn’t have a whole lot, though I still enjoy what it does provide.
Casting seemed to come easy for the film. Hill, Castle and Carpenter reached out to some friends. Kurt Russell and Carpenter worked together on Elvis, that was easy enough. Russell’s work with Carpenter would continue on in The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A. From Halloween, Donald Pleasance was brought on to play the President, along with Charles Cyphers and Nancy Stephens as one pissed off flight attendant. From The Fog, we have Tom Atkins as Nick and Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, who happened to be married to Carpenter at the time. According to Carpenter on the film’s commentary track, the sequence for Maggie’s exit needed to be reshot and extended. The scene with her body on the ground was filmed in Carpenter’s garage and added to the film.
Ernest Borgnine’s (The Poseidon Adventure) Cabbie was a favorite character of mine. Like most cabbies, he knew the city well. He even prepared for some of its challenges with molotov cocktails. Harry Dean Stanton (Alien, Christine) played Brain, the smartest individual in the room and the supplier for gas for the Duke. If you look close, you’ll also catch Assault on Precinct 13’s Frank Doubleday as Romero, which his crazy looking teeth. To round it all out, Lee Van Cleef (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly) plays Hauk, who puts Snake on his mission. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Carpenter film without a George ‘Buck’ Flower cameo. Buck was kind of Carpenter’s lucky charm in the way Dick Miller was for Joe Dante’s films. Good Ol’ Buck plays an inmate who sings Hail to the Chief.
Overall, Escape From New York is a classic Carpenter film that’s worth the watch. Whether you do so while wearing an eyepatch or not, that’s on you. We all have our preferences.