Review: The worlds of John Carpenter

John Carpenter. Source:

It’s Halloween night: a masked face stares at you from a distance, a past long dead, a knife glinting in the night, and a monster of a man. Behind the camera, a man stares at the scene, and the horror truly begins with the word, Action! 

In a world filled with directors and horror movies, John Carpenter stands out immediately. Carpenter has directed many movies in his career, one that stands out most is “Halloween” a movie that redefined the legacy of Horror. And while the 1978 “Halloween” is a hallmark of Carpenters movies, he’s created many cult classics in his lifetime. One being “The Thing” a movie surrounded by paranoia, and “Escape From New York” a dystopian action movie highlighted through suspense. This article will take a closer look at these movies, reviewing them in the process. 


When “The Thing” came out in 1982, it was not a hit. In today’s words, it would have been considered a flop. 

Vincent Canby, a writer from the New York Times in 1982, even wrote ” ‘The Thing,’ which opens today at the Rivoli and other theaters, is too phony looking to be disgusting. It qualifies only as instant junk.” 

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Over the years, “The Thing” has now become a cult classic, a must-watch movie by the public. When watching it, you can truly understand why people thought so too. 

John Carpenter’s version of “The Thing” begins with a spaceship crashing into Earth soon followed by a shot of the vast plains of Antarctica. The isolation is interrupted by a Norwegian helicopter shooting at a husky across the antarctic. Where they soon stumble upon a U.S research facility, this sequence sets up the eerie and isolated setting in the movie. From this, you may begin to question why they were shooting at the dogs in the first place.

All seems fine at the Antarctic base until R.J Macready, played by Kurt Russell, brings back an amalgamation of human life from the ransacked Norwegian base. 

During this time, eerie shots of the husky are taken, setting up the suspicion that all is not what it seems with the dog. As the story progresses, you are greeted by the knowledge that the dog is a thing, an organism that imitates a life form so perfectly that it can take over others in a matter of minutes. The tagline for the movie confirms suspicions with ‘Anytime. Anywhere. Anyone. Man is The Warmest Place to Hide.’ The truly scary thing about ‘the thing’ is not the thing itself although its gory and nightmarish visuals are scary. It’s the fact that no one knows who’s real anymore, with one of the members of the team already assimilated by the thing.

There is no trust, and paranoia runs rampant throughout the movie. Kurt Russel’s character says it best with “Nobody Trusts Anybody Now, and We’re All Very Tired.” They turn on each other not knowing who’s real, which in turn allows the thing to assimilate more; the claustrophobia of fear and paranoia throughout the movie makes it one of the scariest movies out there.

 John Carpenter’s “The Thing” creates an antagonist that does not appear frequently but the emotions it brings out stay throughout the movie; the antagonist is looming over them through their own fear and thoughts. Even with this dense atmosphere, Carpenter is able to create personalities in characters who are quickly killed off. Allowing the audience to connect with them and in turn, feel their fear, motives, and paranoia.   

The ending could be considered an open ending with fire brimming and two men alone in the vast arctic but R.J Macready’s words ring true till the very end ‘nobody trusts anybody now, and we’re all very tired. I give this movie a solid 10/10 stars. 

The 1981 film “Escape from New York” (EFNY) was a box office hit, amassing $25.2 million with a budget of 6 million. EFNY starts with a computer depicting the context of where the movie takes place. Manhattan Island is now America’s prison, the island itself is now a giant maximum security prison with the police making sure no one gets out. One of the first scenes of the movie is two inmates attempting to escape Manhattan through a makeshift raft, after being shot at they began to return only to be immediately blown up even when complying. It sets up the notion that escaping Manhattan alive is an impossible task. 

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The city is bathed in fog and darkness creating a gloomy and dense atmosphere, only to be contrasted with the white inside of what is essentially the warden’s office. This contrast further highlights the difference between the prison and the outside. 

 The audience is then greeted with the knowledge that AirForce One was hijacked and crashed into the prison that is Manhattan. The president escaped only to subsequently be taken hostage by who we would later find out to be the antagonist, the Duke of New York, played by Issac Hayes. With no clue as to where the president is they turn to decorated war hero turned criminal Snake Plissken played by Kurt Russel to find him. 

Hauk, played by Lee Van Cleef, is the warden of Manhattan, and bargains with Snake Plissken to save the president in 24 hours in exchange for his criminal record being expunged. EFNY is quite literally 1987 Suicide Squad before 1987 Suicide Squad. Since in making sure Snake doesn’t escape from his task he’s secretly given a formula that will explode in 24 hours if he doesn’t receive the cure. 

Furthermore, the dense and cynical atmosphere of the movie is only furthered when he enters Manhattan, where the audience is shown hints of a deeper societal system in the prison. Sometimes the dark atmosphere of EFNY can be seen as too much, but it is broken up by moments of comedy or music. 

As the movie progresses there isn’t much dialogue, but when there is, their words hold a bit more weight. And you would think the relationships between characters would feel more stilted, but the dynamics of the characters and who they are shine through even with the less frequent dialogue. The action scenes in the movie also don’t have many sound effects, making the movie and Snake’s fights all the more intense and realistic. 

In this dystopian setting, it seems as if Snake will never get out alive with the president; obstacles coming his way continuously creates suspense for the audience. It rings through in the very end that all that comes from the prison won’t escape alive, with characters originally from the prison dying only leaving the president and Snake in the end. 

The movie while at face value doesn’t seem complex, when looking closer there’s an entire ecosystem in the movie. It creates a movie with interesting dynamics and plotlines, making it one that’s worth watching at least once. With this, I give this movie 8/10 stars.   

John Carpenter is able to create a world in a matter of hours with his movies. He creates interesting interactions and plot lines, allowing audiences to immerse themselves more into the story. While I don’t recommend “The Thing” and “Escape From New York” for a younger audience, they truly deserve the title of cult classic. And even if horror, action, and suspense aren’t your cup of tea, their movies that are worth watching at least once for the experience.