John Carpenter Movies Ranked

15. Village of the Damned (1995)

Yes, John Carpenter remade/re-adapted this story.

Based on John Wyndham’s incredible “The Midwich Cuckoos”, John Carpenter’s version of Village of the Damned transports the little English village to Northern California, brings in Christopher Reeve (Superman) as its main actor, and fairly faithfully retells the original story.

A town falls asleep all of a sudden and nobody can enter without doing likewise. A few weeks later, everyone capable of giving birth is pregnant, and the kids they bear are all strange, golden haired, and have terrifying powers.

There was no reason for Carpenter to make this film, and he has apparently been on record saying it sounded easy. He did it for purely contractual reasons, he shot it near his home so he could travel from his house to work.

It’s not completely without any kind of merit – certainly its cast is nothing to scoff at – but it is, most certainly, dull and boring. The characters aren’t interesting, the child actors don’t work too well, the film limps along looking for something to do, and although John Carpenter has his moments, Village of the Damned certainly isn’t anything incredible or impressive.

Go watch the 1960 version instead; it’s better in every way.

14. Vampires (1998)

Up until this point, somehow, Master of Horror John Carpenter hadn’t done anything with the bloodsuckers. So, apparently he needed to do a film involving them, and we ended up here.

A strange, bloody western, Vampires sees James Woods’ Jack Crow, vampire hunter, on a crusade to stop an ancient artefact from falling into the hands of an insidious vampire. With lots of blood and gore and showdowns and fighting, it’s surprisingly one of Carpenter’s schlockiest efforts, and it’s one of his most polarising.

The opening sequence is brilliant, and the image of a vampire being dragged screaming and kicking out into the hot desert sunlight to burn is haunting and terrifying in equal measure, one of the best moments in Carpenter’s later career.

That might, unfortunately, be the best moment in the film, however. There’s lots of action and fun and excitement, and it did well enough to get two sequels, but there’s never a feeling that it will last the test of time. You won’t find yourself instantly turning it off if it appears on the TV while you’re scrolling through the channels, but unless it’s a childhood film or you’ve got to complete John Carpenter’s filmography, you won’t sit down of an evening and think ‘You know what I need to watch right now with a burning passion? Something of John Carptenter’s. No, not that film, or that one, or that one. Vampires. That’s what I need.’

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13. Escape from L.A. (1996)

The much awaited sequel to Escape from New York (1981), released fifteen years after the original, saw John Carpenter team back up with one of his favourite actors, Kurt Russell, to return the iconic Snake Plissken to the big screen.

With Los Angeles (L.A.) cut off from the United States thanks to an earthquake turning it into an island, Pliskeen is charged by the new president to go in and retrieve a remote control for an impossibly powerful weapon, which the president intends to use to conquer the world. He has got ten hours to do it, or the poison coursing through his veins will kill him.

Escape from L.A. isn’t an awful film. The trouble is that it is not far off a carbon copy to Escape from New York, only it’s worse.

Snake still teams up with people showing him around the prison city, he still gets captured and has to play a death game to survive, he’s still forced into the mission against his will in the first place, he still has a time limit. It all feels too similar, too safe, to be its own film, and forever stands in the shadow of the previous instalment.

There’s some fun to be found here, some good performances, and a nice ending which sets up further stories with Plissken thanks to a decently set-up final twist. As a sequel, it’s not the worst that’s ever been made. It’s also not the best.

12. Christine (1983)

John Carpenter was once rumoured to have been lined up to direct The Shining (1980). Wouldn’t that be a strange alternate universe? Instead, he turned his hand to another Stephen King adaptation a few years later to bring the classic killer car story to the big screen.

Arnie Cunningham, school joke with pimples and the lot, falls in love with a beat up old Plymouth Fury and descends into madness trying to restore it. Only somehow it feels like the car is restoring itself, its old owner seems to have a ghostly presence lingering around it, and anyone with any animosity towards Arnie ends up dead, even his new girlfriend.

All the movies from hereon in are good; this one just happens to be at the bottom of the good pile.

Christine is a fun thriller, with memorable scenes of the car on a rampage, a damn good poster, and perhaps the best use of a Little Richard song in any movie ever. Carpenter shows his directing skills, mostly in bringing this Plymouth Fury to life, giving her character and emotion and rage and love; something one would have thought almost impossible.

It’s a fun time rocking and rolling and getting spooked, and old cars will never look the same way again.

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