Film Review – THE FOG (1980)

THE FOG (USA, 1980) ****
PRODUCTION: Distributor: AVCO Embassy Pictures; Production Company: AVCO Embassy Pictures / EDI / Debra Hill Productions; Release Date: 1 February 1980 (USA), 6 November 1980 (UK); Filming Dates: May 1979; Running Time: 90m; Colour: Metrocolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 15 – strong horror.
CREW: Director: John Carpenter; Writer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill; Executive Producer: Charles B. Bloch; Producer: Debra Hill; Associate Producer: Barry Bernardi, Pegi Brotman; Director of Photography: Dean Cundey; Music Composer: John Carpenter; Film Editor: Charles Bornstein, Tommy Lee Wallace; Production Designer: Tommy Lee Wallace; Art Director: Craig Stearns; Set Decorator: ; Costumes: Stephen Loomis, Bill Whitten; Make-up: Rob Bottin; Sound: Ron Horwitz; Special Effects: Richard Albain Jr.; Visual Effects: James F. Liles.
CAST: Adrienne Barbeau (Stevie Wayne), Jamie Lee Curtis (Elizabeth Solley), Janet Leigh (Kathy Williams), John Houseman (Mr. Machen), Tom Atkins (Nick Castle), James Canning (Dick Baxter), Charles Cyphers (Dan O’Bannon), Nancy Kyes (Sandy Fadel), Ty Mitchell (Andy Wayne), Hal Holbrook (Father Malone), John F. Goff (Al Williams), George ‘Buck’ Flower (Tommy Wallace), Regina Waldon (Mrs. Kobritz), Jim Haynie (Dockmaster), Darrow Igus (Mel), John Vick (Sheriff Simms), Jim Jacobus (Mayor), Fred Franklyn (Ashcroft), Ric Moreno (Ghost), Lee Socks (Ghost), Tommy Lee Wallace (Ghost), Bill Taylor (Bartender), Rob Bottin (Blake), Charles Nicklin (Blake), Darwin Joston (Dr. Phibes), Laurie Arent (Child), Lindsey Arent (Child), Shari Jacoby (Child), Christopher Cundey (Child), John Strobel (Grocery Clerk).
SYNOPSIS: A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths.
COMMENT: A fine example of economic filmmaking, this is a creepy and atmospheric ghost story with more than its fair share of thrills. Carpenter nicely ratchets up the tension and a game cast keep the viewer engaged. Holbrook gives the standout performance as the guilt-laden priest who is a descendant of a clergyman instrumental in creating the events that come back toi haunt the community. Curtis and Atkins make strong everyday characters and Leigh enjoys herself as a community leader. The unsettling mood is enhanced Carpenter’s eerie electronic score, which heklps to ratchet up the fear factor.
NOTES: Remade in 2005.

Film Review – THEY LIVE (1988)

Image result for they live 1988THEY LIVE (USA, 1988) ***
     Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), Guild Film Distribution (UK); Production Company: Alive Films / Larry Franco Productions; Release Date: 4 November 1988 (USA), 23 June 1989 (UK); Filming Dates: March – April 1988; Running Time: 94m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo (4 channels); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18 – strong violence, language.
     Director: John Carpenter; Writer: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage) (based on the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson); Executive Producer: Andre Blay, Shep Gordon; Producer: Larry Franco; Associate Producer: Sandy King; Director of Photography: Gary B. Kibbe; Music Composer: Alan Howarth, John Carpenter; Film Editor: Gib Jaffe, Frank E. Jimenez; Art Director: William J. Durrell Jr., Daniel A. Lomino; Set Decorator: Marvin March; Costumes: Robin Michel Bush; Make-up: Francisco X. Pérez; Sound: Jeffrey L. Sandler; Special Effects: Roy Arbogast.
     Cast: Roddy Piper (Nada), Keith David (Frank), Meg Foster (Holly), George ‘Buck’ Flower (Drifter), Peter Jason (Gilbert), Raymond St. Jacques (Street Preacher), Jason Robards III (Family Man), John Lawrence (Bearded Man), Susan Barnes (Brown Haired Woman), Sy Richardson (Black Revolutionary), Wendy Brainard (Family Man’s Daughter), Lucille Meredith (Female Interviewer), Susan Blanchard (Ingenue), Norman Alden (Foreman), Dana Bratton (Black Junkie), John F. Goff (Well Dressed Customer), Norm Wilson (Vendor), Thelma Lee (Rich Lady), Stratton Leopold (Depressed Human), Rezza Shan (Arab Clerk), Norman Howell (Blonde Haired Cop), Larry Franco (Neighbor), Tom Searle (Biker), Robert Grasmere (Scruffy Blonde Man), Vince Inneo (Passageway Guard), Bob Hudson (Passageway Guard #2), Jon Paul Jones (Manager), Dennis Cosmo Michael (Male News Anchor), Nancy Gee (Female News Anchor), Claudia Stanlee (Young Female Executive), Christine Anne Baur (Woman on Phone), Eileen Wesson (Pregnant Secretary), Gregory J. Barnett (Security Guard #1), Jimmy Nickerson (Security Guard #2), Kerry Rossall (2nd Unit Guard), Cibby Danyla (Naked Lady), Jeff Imada (Male Ghoul), Michelle Costello (Female Ghoul).
     Synopsis: A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.
     Comment: John Carpenter’s take on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS taps into the cold war paranoia of the day of a US government led by Ronald Reagan. References to mass manipulation are woven into its action-packed narrative. Ex-wrestler Piper is cast in the lead role and whilst his acting is adequate at best, his physical attributes help the film’s many fight sequences. David, impressive in THE THING, co-stars as his sidekick. After a promising start, the film descends into a familiar violent shoot-em-up scenario. Moments of tongue-in-cheek humour help us to not take it too seriously.
     Notes: Because the screenplay was the product of so many sources—a short story, a comic book, and input from cast and crew—Carpenter decided to use the pseudonym “Frank Armitage”, an allusion to one of the filmmaker’s favorite writers, H. P. Lovecraft (Henry Armitage is a character in Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror)

Film Review – ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Related imageEscape from New York (1981; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 99m) ***½  d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Nick Castle; ph. Dean Cundey, George D. Dodge; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, John Stobel, Bob Minor, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower. In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant max. security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue. Cult classic may have dated, notably in the visual effects, but still has much to enjoy. Russell deftly essays Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of Snake Plissken. Good support cast of oddball characters and some nice tongue-in-cheek touches from director/co-writer Carpenter. Grimy and decadent representation of Manhattan as a prison city is well realised. Followed by ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996). [15]

Film Review – HALLOWEEN (2018)

Image result for halloween 2018Halloween (2018; USA; Colour; 106m) ***  d. David Gordon Green; w. David Gordon Green, Danny McBride; ph. Michael Simmonds; m. John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel A. Davies.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Miles Robbins, Haluk Bilginer, Jefferson Hall, Andi Matichak, Christopher Allen Nelson. Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago. Whilst this ignores much of the HALLOWEEN legacy, including H2O, it recalls some of the themes of that twentieth-anniversary sequel by concentrating on the impact of the events of the 1978 original on Curtis’ character. Green lacks Carpenter’s artistic vision and use of camera and lighting, but still conjures up a solid chiller with some nice nods to the original. [18]

Film Review – HALLOWEEN II (1981)

Image result for halloween iiHalloween II (1981; USA; Metrocolor; 92m) ***  d. Rick Rosenthal; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Pamela Susan Shoop, Tony Moran, Lance Guest, Dick Warlock, Hunter von Leer, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, Tawny Moyer, Ana Alicia, Ford Rainey, Cliff Emmich, Jeffrey Kramer. Following the events of HALLOWEEN, Michael Myers finds Laurie (Curtis) at the Haddonfield Hospital. More formulaic and bloody continuation, but makes effective use of the hospital setting. Curtis gives a physical performance requiring little dialogue, whilst Pleasence manically tries to convince others that Myers lives. Most effective moments are those that mirror set-pieces from the classy original. Followed by HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982). [18]

Book Review – DARK WINTER (2001) by William Dietrich

DARK WINTER  by WILLIAM DIETRICH (2001, Warner Books, 388pp) ∗∗∗

Blurb: At America’s base at the South Pole, 26 “winterovers” complete the yearly ritual of waving good-bye to the “last plane out,” then summon their energies for that season’s battle with constant darkness, total isolation and murderous cold that can dip well beneath 100 degrees below zero. Little does the group guess that in succeeding days and weeks, they’ll be tested not just by unimagineable weather extremes, but by a murderer intent on gradually eradicating them. Jeff Lewis, as the latest to arrive, becomes the chief suspect when staff members begin to go missing. But he’s hardly alone in attracting suspicion. As the death toll mounts and the camp’s communication with the outside world is all but extinguished, the fault lines that always lie below the surface of any co-operative effort split open. As hysteria develops and scientific jealousies, romantic entanglements and class bitterness intensify the friction, the polar habitat itself – a football-field-sized dome holding temperatures at tolerable levels – becomes compromised. What’s left is a stark choice: root out the psychological contaminant, stop the murderer and the dissent he has sewn, relearn co-operation – or slide down a dark tunnel of everlasting cold.

The Antarctic setting is the star of this book. Dietrich has a feel for the isolation and absolute cold and having personally visited the location, the author is very capable at desribing the environment in which this psychological mystery is set. There are problems though. Dietrich spends a good third of the book establishing the setting and introducing his large cast of twenty-six characters. This slows the pace to a crawl in the book’s early sections and less patient readers may abandon ship. But, once the murders begin the pace quickens. The McGuffin is a priceless rock from a meteor, which has been disovered in the ice and becomes the motive for the murders. The characters all have their own reasons for being at the Pole and their suspicion of Lewis, as a late addition to the party, coincides with knowledge of the meteor becoming public and the first of the deaths. Howeber, as the murders increase, credibility becomes stretched. This is ultimately something that would make a passable movie adpatation – with its references to John Carpenter’s The Thing, betraying its inspiration of an isolated group gripped with paranoia. As a book it is diverting enough, despite its uneven pacing.

Film Review – HALLOWEEN (1978)

Halloween (1978; USA; Metrocolor; 91m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter.  Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, Arthur Malet, Tony Moran, John Michael Graham, Nancy Stephens, Mickey Yablans, Robert Phalen, Brent Le Page, Adam Hollander. A psychotic murderer institutionalized since childhood for the murder of his sister, escapes and stalks a bookish teenage girl and her friends while his doctor chases him through the streets. Carpenter’s landmark slasher movie spawned many sequels and imitations, but none can better this masterclass in building tension through visuals and tight editing. Carpenter also contributed the eerie soundtrack. Curtis’ first feature film. Extended version runs 101m featuring footage shot during the filming of its sequel HALLOWEEN II in 1981. Remade in 2007. [18]

Film Review Round-up – THE EIGER SANCTION (1975); THE FOG (1980) and LAST MAN STANDING (1996)

119934094Eiger Sanction, The (1975; USA; Technicolor; 123m) ∗∗∗  d. Clint Eastwood; w. Hal Dresner, Warren Murphy, Rod Whitaker; ph. Frank Stanley; m. John Williams.  Cast: Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy, Jack Cassidy, Thayer David, Vonetta McGee, Heidi Bruhl, Reiner Schone, Michael Grimm, Jean-Pierre Bernard, Brenda Venus, Gregory Walcott, Candice Rialson, Elaine Shore, Dan Howard, Jack Kosslyn. A classical art professor and collector, who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend. Lame spy story is not one of Eastwood’s best efforts but is rescued by spectacular and thrilling mountain-climbing scenes. Eastwood did all of his own stunts. Based on the novel by Rod Whitaker (as Trevanian). [15]

images (2)Fog, The (1980; USA; Metrocolor; 90m) ∗∗∗∗  d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; ph. Dean Cundey; m. John Carpenter.  Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, Janet Leigh, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Tom Atkins, Nancy Kyes, Charles Cyphers, George “Buck” Flower, Jim Haynie, James Canning, Ty Mitchell, John F. Goff, Regina Waldon, Darrow Igus. A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths. Creepy, atmospheric and with more than its fair share of shocks. Carpenter nicely ratchets up the tension and a game cast keep the viewer engaged. Eerie score by Carpenter heightens the fear factor. Remade in 2005. [15]

298841-lastmanstandingLast Man Standing (1996; USA; DeLuxe; 101m) ∗∗½  d. Walter Hill; w. Walter Hill; ph. Lloyd Ahern II; m. Ry Cooder.  Cast: Bruce Willis, Bruce Dern, William Sanderson, Christopher Walken, David Patrick Kelly, Michael Imperioli, Karina Lombard, Ned Eisenberg, Alexandra Powers, Ken Jenkins, R.D. Call, Ted Markland, Patrick Kilpatrick, Luis Contreras, Leslie Mann. A drifting gunslinger-for-hire finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between the Irish and Italian mafia in a Prohibition era ghost town. Cartoon violence abounds in this tale of cross and double-cross. Willis is effective, but it is difficult to connect with any of the characters. Re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961) (story by Ryûzô Kikushima and Kurosawa), which in turn was remade as FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964). [15]

Film Review – ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976, The C K K Corporation, USA, 90 mins, Colour, 2.35:1, Mono/DTS 5.1, Cert: 15, Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗
      Starring: Austin Stoker (Lt. Ethan Bishop), Darwin Joston (Napoleon Wilson), Laurie Zimmer (Leigh), Martin West (Lawson), Tony Burton (Wells), Charles Cyphers (Starker), Nancy Loomis (Julie), Peter Bruni (Ice cream man), John J. Fox (Warden), Marc Ross (Patrolman Tramer), Alan Koss (Patrolman Baxter), Henry Brandon (Chaney), Kim Richards (Kathy).
      Producer: J. S. Kaplan; Director: John Carpenter; Writer: John Carpenter; Director of Photography: Douglas Knapp (Metrocolor); Music: John Carpenter; Film Editor: John Carpenter (as John T. Chance); Art Director: Tommy Wallace.

AssaultOnPrecinct13-blu-ray-814x1024The film that provided the light to the touch paper on the career of its writer and director, John Carpenter (who also handled the music score and editing duties). Carpenter had enjoyed some cult success with his comic sci-fi debut DARK STAR in 1974, but it was this film and its follow-up HALLOWEEN (1978) that cemented the deal.

Much has been said of the movies two major influences. The law under siege coming from Howard Hawks’ RIO BRAVO (1959) and the dialogue-free portrayal of the LA gangs as single-minded and almost zombie-like a nod toward NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). Carpenter’s use of a pseudonym for his editor credit and Zimmer’s character name acknowledged the former.

The result is an economical and highly entertaining B-movie, which moves at a fair clip. Whilst the cast lacks a certain star wattage, Carpenter gives the actors some memorable dialogue – most notably to Joston, whose running gag “Got a smoke” is another nod to Hawks and westerns in general. Carpenter adds to the tension with his electronic score, which through its simplicity of structure and phrasing heightens the atmosphere. The ice cream van scene is still talked about today for its shock value and is a prime example of how the director could keep an audience on its toes in the early films of his career. The first gun assault on the closed down precinct house was all the more effective for the gang’s use of silencers to avoid their assault being reported from the nearby neighbourhood. The pinging ricochet of bullets and the flutter of papers conveying the sense of danger in a different and more effective way.

Initially dismissed in the US, the film gained its reputation in Europe the year following its release. This led to a re-appraisal by American critics and a re-release when Carpenter’s reputation was sealed with HALLOWEEN. The film itself became the subject of a less effective remake in 2005 and Carpenter would re-work the siege theme in his remake of THE THING (1980) and the later GHOSTS OF MARS (2001).