4 Shots From 4 John Carpenter Films: Starman, Prince of Darkness, They Live, In The Mouth of Madness


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!

From the day that this site first came online, John Carpenter has been a bit of a mainstay here at the Shattered Lens.  Arleigh has written extensively about Carpenter’s films.  Every October, we seem to have, at the very least, a handful of posts that are somehow connected to the filmography of John Carpenter.  Hell, Carpenter and I were once both interviewed for the same article about the future of horror!

I guess my point is that we really love John Carpenter here at the Shattered Lens.  I’ve lost track of how many editions of 4 Shots From 4 Films we’ve devoted to Carpenter and his films.  However many there are, here’s one more.  Today is John Carpenter’s birthday and that means that it is time for….

4 Shots From 4 John Carpenter Films

Starman (1984, dir by John Carpenter)

Prince of Darkness (1987, dir by John Carpenter)

They Live (1988, dir by John Carpenter)

In The Mouth of Madness (1994, dir by John Carpenter)

Horror Song of the Day: Prince of Darkness Opening Credits (by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth)


Prince of Darkness

John Carpenter, as most long-time readers and visitors to the site will know, is one of my favorite filmmakers. While he has been in a self-imposed retirement these last 15 or so years from directing, his works for two decades prior have to be considered some of the best genre films.

While some of his films have been critically-acclaimed from the start, others weren’t treated as well when they first released. It would only be years later when genre fans would finally come to appreciate some of his lesser works.

One such film is Prince of Darkness. The second film in his unofficial “Apocalypse Trilogy”, this one would be lambasted by most film critics upon it’s release. Even fans of his films would mostly avoid this entry.

Yet, years later it has turned out to be one of his most underappreciated films. It’s soundtrack, one Carpenter did himself with assistance from long-time collaborator Alan Howarth, would become a favorite.

The expanded “Opening Credits” section of the Prince of Darkness soundtrack is a great example of the sort of mood Carpenter can create with his preferred usage of synthesizer and electronic keyboards when it came to composing his film’s soundtracks.

Horror Scenes I Love: In the Mouth of Madness


sutter-canes-agent

John Carpenter’s contribution and influence in horror and genre filmmaking could never be disputed. This man’s films, especially his work from the 70’s and early 80’s have made him one of the undisputed masters of horror (joined by such contemporaries as Wes Craven and George A. Romero). While his worked had become so-so at the tail-end of the 1990’s and quite sparse during the 2000’s his name still evokes excitement whenever something new comes out where he’s intimately involved in it’s creation (these days a series of synth-electronic albums).

It was during the mid-1990’s that we saw a John Carpenter already tiring of constantly fighting the Hollywood system, yet still game enough to come up with some very underrated and underappreciated horror and genre films. One such film was 1995’s In the Mouth of Madness. This was a film that didn’t so well in the box office yet has become a cult horror classic since. Part of his unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (The Thing and Prince of Darkness the other two), In the Mouth of Madness combined Lovecraftian eldritch horror with the horror of the mundane that made Stephen King so popular with the masses.

This scene early in the film just showcases not just Carpenter’s masterful camera and editing work, but was ahead of its time in exploring the toxic nature of fandoms and groupthink. In 1995 such a concept might have been relegated to B-movie horror, but in 2016 it’s become synonymous with such everyday occurrences and topics as Gamergate, Tea Party and Trump supporters to SJW crusaders, Marvel vs. DC and Democrats and Republicans. Everyone believes their group to be the only righteous in whatever argument they happen to be part of and everyone else must be silenced (and in the scene below silenced equates to death).

John Carpenter might have turned into that old and cantankerous, albeit cool, dude who couldn’t care less what you thought of him, but it seems that he saw what was happening today as far back as the 1990’s.

Christopher Lee, R.I.P.


Jinnah

The picture above is Christopher Lee in the 1998 film Jinnah.  In this epic biopic, Lee played Muhammad Ali Jinniah, the founder of modern Pakistan.  Up until yesterday, I had never heard of Jinnah but, after news of Lee’s death broke, Jinnah was frequently cited as being Lee’s personal favorite of his many roles and films.

Consider that.  Christopher Lee began his film career in the 1940s and he worked steadily up until his death.  He played Dracula.  He played The Man with the Golden Gun.  Christopher Lee appeared, with his future best friend Peter Cushing, in Laurence Olivier’s Oscar-winning Hamlet.  He played Seurat in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge.  He appeared in both The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit trilogies.  He appeared in several films for Tim Burton.  He even had a small role in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo.  He appeared in two Star Wars prequels.  He appeared in the original Wicker Man (and reportedly considered it to be his favorite of his many horror films).  He appeared in Oscar winners and box office hits.  And, out of all that, Christopher Lee’s personal favorite was Jinnah, a film that most people have never heard about.

Unless, of course, you live in Pakistan.  When I did a google search on Christopher Lee, I came across several Pakistani news sources that announced: “Christopher Lee, star of Jinnah, has died.”

And really, that somehow seems appropriate.  Christopher Lee was the epitome of an international film star.  He worked for Hammer in the UK.  He worked with Jess Franco in Spain and Mario Bava in Italy.  He appeared in several movies in the United States.  And, in Pakistan, he played Jinnah.  And I haven’t seen Jinnah but I imagine he was probably as great in that role as he was in every other role that I saw him play.  Over the course of his long career, Christopher Lee appeared in many good films but he also appeared in his share of bad ones.  But Christopher Lee was always great.

It really is hard to know where to begin with Christopher Lee.  Though his death was announced on Thursday, I haven’t gotten around to writing this tribute until Friday.  Admittedly, when I first heard that Lee had passed away, I was on a romantic mini-vacation and had promised myself that I would avoid, as much as possible, getting online for two days.  But, even more than for those personal reasons, I hesitated because I just did not know where to start when it came to talking about Christopher Lee.  He was one of those figures who overwhelmed by his very existence.

We all know that Christopher Lee was a great and iconic actor.  And I imagine that a lot of our readers know that Lee had a wonderfully idiosyncratic musical career, releasing his first heavy metal album when he was in his 80s.  Did you know that Lee also served heroically during World War II and, after the war ended, helped to track down fleeing Nazi war criminals?  Did you know that it has been speculated that Lee may have served as one of the role models for James Bond?  (Ian Fleming was a cousin of Lee’s and even tried to convince Lee to play Dr. No in the first Bond film.)  Christopher Lee lived an amazing life, both on and off the screen.

But, whenever one reads about Christopher Lee and his career or watches an interview with the man, the thing that always comes across is that, for someone who played so many evil characters, Christopher Lee appeared to be one the nicest men that you could ever hope to meet.  Somehow, it was never a shock to learn that his best friend was his frequent screen nemesis, Peter Cushing.

Christopher Lee is one of those great actors who we assumed would always be here.  The world of cinema will be a sadder world without him.

Legends together

Legends together

Here is a list of Christopher Lee films that we’ve reviewed here on the Shattered Lens.  Admittedly, not all of these reviews focus on Lee but they do provide a hint of the man’s versatility:

  1. Airport ’77
  2. Dark Shadows
  3. Dracula A.D. 1972
  4. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave
  5. Dracula, Prince of Darkness
  6. Hercules in the Haunted World
  7. The Hobbit
  8. The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies
  9. Horror Express
  10. The Horror of Dracula
  11. Hugo
  12. Jocks
  13. The Man With The Golden Gun
  14. The Satanic Rites of Dracula
  15. Scars of Dracula
  16. Scream and Scream Again
  17. Season of the Witch
  18. Starship Invasions
  19. Taste The Blood of Dracula
  20. The Wicker Tree

Sir Christopher Lee was 93 years old and he lived those 9 decades in the best way possible.  As long as there are film lovers, he will never be forgotten.

Quickie Review: Prince of Darkness (dir. by John Carpenter)


If there’s a horror filmmaker who truly deserves the label of maverick and master at the same time it would be one John Carpenter. From the very beginning, Carpenter did his films his way despite working within the Hollywood studio system. This has made his films turn out not as well-received later on in his career (especially during the 1990’s) as studio interference and him burning out after doing so many projects one right after the other. In 1987 he made one of the more under-appreciated horror film of that decade with Prince of Darkness. This was a film born out of Carpenter at some point during the 80’s studying on the subjects of theoretical physics and atomic theory (the man’s a veritable polymath).

The film begins with a sequence montage of setting up the setting for the film. It’s a rundown, but still occupied church in Los Angeles where we see an old priest pass away leaving another priest (played by Carpenter vet Donald Pleasance) the secret hidden within the church to him. This secret leads to this priest asking physics professor Birack (another Carpenter vet in Victor Wong) to assist him in unraveling the mysteries of the container beneath the church. With some of Birack’s best students to assist them the film moves onto the meat of the story. We find out that the container vessel that has been kept secret under the Church and by the Inner Circle of the Vatican itself is a prison for Satan itself who whose form is a swirling green liquid within.

Prince of Darkness, written by Carpenter himself under the pseudonym of Martin Quatermass, posits an interesting take on the concept of good vs. evil. The film puts forth the idea that Satan is not just evil, but may only be the son of an even bigger evil. An evil voiced out by the professor as the Anti-God. Carpenter’s foray into researching about theoretical physics really helps in making all the talk of quantum mechanics, atomic theory and the like within the film to try and explain evil in a scientific way made for an interesting film. It is definitely one of the more inventive take on the God vs. Satan theme then and even now.

The film does suffer from having a weaker cast the your typical Carpenter film. Pleasance seems to be sleepwalking through the film and whose only role seems to either burst out in indignant rage against what his Church tried to keep secret or to spout out observations in a hushed, conspiratorial tone. His opposite in Victor Wong does a much better job in the role of the physics professor whose not so entrenched in the material world of science that he’s not willing to entertain the thought that Satan really is the swirling green liquid in the container. The rest of the cast do a good enough job to be better than one-note, but not enough that its difficult to empathize with any of them that when they finally get killed or possessed in the film we don’t feel anything for them.

Prince of Darkness marked the second leg in what Carpenter has called his “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with 1982’s The Thing remake and ends with 1995’s In the Mouth of Madness. Thematically this film works within the context of that apocalyptic theme. It is a film that’s really a low-budget “Second Coming” film which began to manifest within all forms of entertainment during the late 80’s as the 1990’s neared and the new millennium loomed over everyone. While the film’s cast performance was probably one major reason why the film didn’t do as well as it should’ve in a horror-crazy environment of the 1980’s the film has gained a considerable amount of a cult-following since. Prince of Darkness, as flawed as it was, really shows Carpenter at his most rebellious (something he would exponentially reveal years later with the subversive They Live) in not just taking on the concepts of God and Church vs Science and Logic, but in creating a film with an ending so ambiguous that it probably would kill what good will some audiences were willing to give it down the drain. But it’s an ending which tied into his “Apocalypse Trilogy” and one that horror filmmakers still not willing to use.