3. Escape from New York (1981)
Escape from New York is action movie gold. It has inspired texts from Neuromancer to ‘Metal Gear Solid’.
Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell), crook and all round badass, is sent into the walled-off prison of New York in a dystopian future to rescue the President of the United States, who has ended up trapped inside after hijackers crashed his plane.
Everyone fires on all cylinders to create a cult classic action movie.
The script doesn’t just move; it hauls its rear end. Kurt Russell is in his element as his second-best role in film history, dispatching his enemies and talking tough as the anarchist antihero we all wish to be deep down. The New York of the film (actually St. Louis), feels dank and gritty and grimy, and Carpenter and the art department have worked absolute wonders to create an atmosphere of grungy paranoia. It’s not clean, it’s not fresh, it is pure escapist cinema where we live out our fantasies of being the tough guy on a dangerous mission, not giving a damn, living by the seat of our pants.
Escape from New York is an absolute must-see.
2. Halloween (1978)
One of the most important films of all time, it is the original, the one and only… Halloween.
On Halloween night, 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers murders his sister in cold blood. Fifteen years later he breaks out of his mental asylum and returns home to Haddonfield, dons a mask, grabs a knife, and stalks young Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her friends in a film which helped to kickstart the slasher craze, and created one of the biggest horror franchises of all time.
Everything about this film, despite its low budget, borders on perfection. From Nick Castle’s solid performance as the masked man, to Jamie Lee Curtis’ breakthrough performance as one of the original final girls, to Donald Pleasance’s iconic frantic and wound up turn as Dr Loomis, the cast are as spectacular as John Carpenter’s direction and score.
With horrors at every corner, Halloween’s story of a man who is purely and simply evil drips with dread and captures the sheer terror of modern suburbia. Slow, trudging, yet always one step ahead, Myers is the ultimate boogeyman.
Carpenter, with the help of his cast and crew, crafted an immortal film, one that will stand the test of time as one of the most important horror films ever made, and perhaps one of the most important films in the entirety of cinema.
Recommended for you: The ‘Halloween’ Franchise Ranked
1. The Thing (1982)
It could only be one film.
A re-adaptation of John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”, and a remake of The Thing from Another World (which was featured on a TV in Halloween), John Carpenter’s tale of terror in an Antarctic research base takes the top spot as his best film.
After investigating a massacre at a nearby Norwegian research base, the crew of Outpost 51 unleash a shape-shifting alien threat into their midst, and now any one of them could be a monster in disguise, hiding, plotting.
Described by Carpenter himself as Agatha Christie with monsters, the film has everything you could possibly need. Paranoia so tense that you couldn’t grip the arms of your chair any tighter if you tried? Check. Some of the best creature effects ever created? Check. Some of the most memorable, iconic, and downright terrifying scenes in history? Check. Isolation – check. Incredible acting – check. Amazing score by both Carpenter and legendary composer Ennio Morricone – check. Fan theories throughout the decades – check. One of the most nihilistic, bone-chilling, and downright incredible endings ever put to screen? Check.
The Thing isn’t just a film. It’s an experience. It’s a cult. It’s a living, breathing entity, and like the parasitic entity it discusses, it works its way under your skin, burrows there, and slowly takes over your mind. Once watching it, it is utterly impossible to forget. It is one of best sci-fi-horror films ever made, and absolutely proves John Carpenter’s legacy as one of the great masters of our time.
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