The master of horror
John Carpenter remains one of the most influential filmmakers on the planet. This is the man that brought us Assault on Precinct 13, Big Trouble In Little China and Escape From New York to name just three. And then there's the horror flicks...
Carpenter has made 11 films that could be said to fit into that genre. So, with Halloween fast approaching, we decided to rank them in order of their scariness...
11. Vampires (1998)
Hired by the Catholic Church, vampire slayer Jack Crow (James Woods) goes on a gory adventure in New Mexico to take on the evil Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith and not, in turns out, a vampire Dalek). Badass Crow is no Snake Plisskin, but Woods puts in a solid performance and there's some decent gore, but this is easily Carpenter's weakest horror flick. Neither scary or exciting enough to be schlocky Ghosts Of Mars-style fun it's a reminder that even genius directors have their off days.
10. Village Of The Damned (1995)
John Wyndham's novel, The Midwich Cuckoos had already been adapted in the 1960s as Village Of The Damned. This remake transfers the "action" to California and brings together a cast that included Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, to tackle the mysterious threat posed by a clutch of psychic children. As with the original version, this is a film that derives its chills from a sense of creeping dread and unknown, potentially apocalyptic, menace. Sadly, it's not a patch on the book and its scares are rather toothless. The kids aren't an especially worrying lot and it never quite captures the paranoid tone of the original.
9. Ghosts Of Mars (2001)
Calling this a horror film is slightly misleading. Ghosts Of Mars is more an sci-fi action movie with a dash of Western thrown in. Set (surprise!) on the red planet in the 22nd Century, it's a daft old tale of terraformers becoming possessed by Martian spirits and going on a decap-happy rampage. There are plenty of moments that echo Carpenter's better works (some of the action scenes recall the not-scary-but-ace Assault On Precinct 13) and it's entertainingly gory, but this is far from a classic. Unsurprisingly, given it's hilarious bad promotional campaign, it tanked.
8. The Ward (2010)
The Ward marked Carpenter's first film for nearly a decade but, sadly, wasn't the return to form we'd all hoped after Ghosts Of Mars. Set in 1966, this flimsy psychological ghost story stars Amber Heard as Kristen a young woman who is institutionalised after setting fire to a farm. Once inside, she finds herself haunted by a sinister figure, but all is not what it seems. Yes, there's a painfully obvious "twist" to this tale that's more eye-rolling than jaw-dropping. Still, there are a couple of nicely atmospheric moments and it's no disaster. It's just a bit dull.
7. They Live (1988)
They Live has endured far more than even Carpenter could have foreseen. It's story about Roddy Piper's down and out drifter who discovers that humanity is controlled by skull-faced alien enforcers has become iconic for conspiracy theorists everywhere. The fear in this film isn't of being hacked to death by a maniac or bitten by a zombie, but the paranoia that our lives our out of out hands and that malign forces rule the world. To be honest, that doesn't seem all that unlikely, does it?
6. Christine (1983)
Based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, this killer car flick is a lot of fun. Christine is a red '58 Plymouth Fury that nerdy Arnie (Keith Gordon) is working on restoring. It soon becomes clear, however, that the car has an appetite for destruction when it starts working its way through the local population. It's goofy and silly, but there are a few spooksome moments. Still, it's hard to make a car frightening and arguably the most sinister element of the film is Carpenter's typically synth-heavy score.
5. In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)
Carpenter's most underrated movie? In The Mouth Of Madness starts out as a surreal quest to find the missing horror writer, Sutter Cane and rapidly unravels into a halluciantory bad trip as people and places from Cane's books start to bleed into reality. Sam Neill is terrific throughout and the whole film is touched with a sense of delirium. Heavily influenced by the works of horror godhead HP Lovecraft, it's a genuinely strange and unsettling piece of work.
4. Prince Of Darkness (1987)
It may not match the quality of Carpenter's late '70s/early '80s golden years, but there's a lot to love in this eerily apocalyptic tale. A vial of liquid has been discovered that may just be the physical embodiment of Satan himself. Kelly (Susan Blanchard) absorbs it and tries to bring about the end of the world.
Where Prince Of Darkness really chills is in its authentically weird imagery. It's a film where mirrors become portals and people receive messages from the future in the form of an eerie, recurring dream. It's also a film where Alice Cooper memorably kills a random guy using half a bicycle. Disjointed it may be, but there's a lot of good stuff in Prince Of Darkness.
3. The Fog (1980)
Analyse The Fog for a few minutes and it starts to fall apart. The ghostly leppers' abilities seem to vary from one scene to the next and all the bloodshed could have been easily avoided if people had simply got in their cars and left town. But ignore logic and consistency, for this is Carpenter's most wonderfully atmospheric tale. Set in the sun-drenched Californian coastal town of Antonio Bay, it's a film of silent beaches, remote lighthouses and unfathomable terrors from the sea. It's also blessed with another spine-tingling Carpenter score. We've still no idea what a stomach pounder is, though. Anyone?
2. The Thing (1982)
The first and, most would agree, the best of Carpenter's loose Apocalypse Trilogy is a sci-fi-tinged horror masterpiece. In a remote Antarctic research station, a shape-shifting alien entity wreaks havoc, consuming and copying the scientists there. Much imitated in the years since, it's a claustrophobic shocker that uses its explosively gruey practical effects to fantastic and frightening effect. Yes, it's technically a remake (of 1951's The Thing From Another World), but this is a very different sort of picture. And while it didn't fare particularly well at the box office, it's gone on to be a monster cult hit. You can ignore the recent prequel, though.
1. Halloween (1978)
Halloween is a masterpiece. It's one of those rare movies where everything works. It may be a twist on the tale that Psycho started, but there's no denying it has an enduring power that puts it streets ahead of most other slasher movies and it's influence is still felt today in movies like last year's It Follows.
Part of its brilliance was the change of location. Suddenly horror wasn't in a haunted house or remote hotel it was on nice suburban streets. Michael Myers is a frightening boogeyman because, unlike Freddy Krueger, he could be real (ignore the many improbable hoops the non-Carpenter directed sequels jump through to keep him alive). His boiler-suit and unreadable mask (actually based on William Shatner!) is a haunting visual and his weapon of choice a simple kitchen knife is terrifying. It has the best score too, with a wonderfully haunting theme that sounds like it's been composed by naughty goblins. Halloween isn't just Carpenter's scariest movie it's arguably his best full stop.