Archive for John Carpenter

Everywhere

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , on October 31, 2018 by dcairns

BEEEEEEP!

I hadn’t seen THE FOG since a screening at my school film society and HALLOWEEN had been viewed since then only on a TV airing, probably in the wrong aspect ratio. I remember as teenagers we found them both utterly unsatisfactory on a story level, and that’s still somewhat true today. HALLOWEEN is the better one in narrative terms: as writers John Carpenter (also director) and Debra Hill (also producer) admit on the audio commentary, their plans for a classic ghost story didn’t come to fruition and they ended up adding more jump-scares, killings and one zombification in order to make a modern horror movie of it.

Still, the atmosphere of both films is very strong (and the jump-scares etc effective). THE FOG in particular begins with weird electronic malfunctionings, alarms going off and lights coming on, a modern take on ghostly manifestations. Later, a character will complain about her dog going mental in the night, which is a more traditional augury of the supernatural, but we never see it happen: what we get is machines reacting.This was in the wake of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, with its toys coming to life, which MUST have been an influence.

Both films are driven by a purely cinematic logic of foreboding phenomena, suspense, atmosphere, tightening and slackening of tension, music… which is to say, not really any logic at all. And the filmmakers are well aware of this and use Donald Pleasence in particular — apparently the voice of sanity, reason, law and order, society — to drip in the idea that Michael Myers is much more than a lone psychopath, is in fact a manifestation or invasion of pure spiritual evil into the world.

Which is what makes the ending of HALLOWEEN so fine. Pleasence goes to the window to look at where Myers’ body has fallen, but it’s not there anymore: the unkillable killer has performed his final, and most clearly impossible resurrection. The actor asked his director if he should look surprised, or merely satisfied, as if what he always knew has been confirmed. What we see in the film is Pleasence looking at the empty patch of ground, and then up into the night, the dark neighbourhood in general, almost up into the sky.And as Carpenter’s synth tune plays us out, he cuts to the hallway, to the stair, a series of static, empty shots taking us out the door and into a wide shot of the house, a sort of fragmented reversal of the movie’s opening shot, which had taken us indoors and upstairs (in a different house, admittedly) through the killer’s POV. (A minor cheat: though the killer is a little kid in scene one, his viewpoint is definitely at adult height to begin with.)

And then to other houses, ending with the now-shuttered house from scene one. (“The night HE came home,” is the tagline.) And through this sequence, in another exercise of pure movie (il)logic, we hear Myers’ breathing — a terrific piece of recording, the close, cramped effect perfectly evoking the sensation of wearing a mask, which is disturbing and uncomfortable in itself. From being a POV fixed to a defined character, he has now become omnipresent yet invisible. Like God. Or the movie camera.

As Carpenter & Hill’s key invention, the unstoppable knife-wielder, heads out into the movie landscape to be adopted by generations of imitators, it feels, in retrospect, incredibly apt that Myers’ first movie ends thus, with him expanding beyond his mere physical form and becoming everywhere. He’s no longer a man, more an atmosphere, a fog, no longer what the writers called him, “the Shape.” He is now “the Presence.”

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The Sunday Intertitle: Your sins shall find you out

Posted in FILM, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2018 by dcairns

The reassuring smile of Boris Karloff

Weird coincidences. We have a great view of the moon from our front window, in the early evening. During the full moon, we had a double bill of John Carpenter’s THE FOG, which turned out to take place during the full moon, a fact we had forgotten (fun, and I hadn’t seen it since the days of my school film society) and PRINCE OF DARKNESS (not so hot), whose very first shot is the full moon.

Last night, looking for a spooky silent film to cull an intertitle from, I plumped for THE BELLS (James Young, 1926). Which turned out to have a much more disturbing contemporary relevance. I sort of thought I knew the story from having watched Bill Morrison’s THE MESMERIST, which is based around decayed fragments of the movie, but I’d forgotten, if I ever knew, that the plot (by fantasy writers Erckman-Chatrian, a sort of second-string ETA Hoffmann), centres on the murder of a Jewish traveler. The film’s attempt to find sympathy for the guilt-tormented murderer played by Lionel Barrymore fell on somewhat deaf ears, since I was preoccupied with thoughts of the anti-semitic terror attack in Pittsburgh.

The film attempts to enlist compassion for Barrymore from the start, even though he’s attempting to ingratiate his way into political office by giving away free beer. When this leads his finances to a desperate state, he murders the traveler on New Year’s Eve in order to steal the money belt full of gold the guy rather injudiciously shows off. Now, Barrymore has been depicted explicitly as NOT anti-semitic, as he welcomes the traveler at his inn when others are more hostile. But that sort of kindness only goes so far. With my sensibilities perhaps heightened by the day’s tragic and horrible news story, I couldn’t escape feeling that while Barrymore doesn’t hate the Polish Jew for who he is, he is able to see his way to murdering the guy because he’s Not One Of Us.

So I’m afraid I couldn’t really get behind his quest for redemption.

But my, it’s a beautifully made movie. And features an early exploitation of Boris Karloff’s unique physiognomy. And Barrymore is good. There’s also an early iteration of that trick with filters made famous by Mamoulian in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (and also used in SHIT! THE OCTOPUS!), where Lady Macbeth-style phantom bloodstains appear and disappear on Lionel’s hands, all in one shot (revealed and concealed by a red filter. If you ever carried a Coke can into a dark room and watched half the design disappear when the red light made the red and white parts of the can look the same, you’ve seen this rather uncanny effect in action).

 

But a creeping discomfort about the film’s attitudes remains, and the intercession of a plaster Virgin doesn’t alleviate it.

Crossing the Line

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 11, 2018 by dcairns

It’s not worth getting into any lengthy comparison of John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED with Wolf Rilla’s. Why kick a film when it’s down? “It’s not his worst film,” observed Fiona, kindly, but the only response to that one are not kind, so I’ll refrain. Although writer David Gerrold did come up with a put-down that’s so acid and perfect I can’t not quote him.

“Carpenter (n): one who works with wood.”

It was Ambrose “Bitter” Bierce who remarked that for each of us there exists an insult so apposite that, once applied, it will stick forever. “Our enemies have but to find it.”

In fact, the film has numerous nice touches, it’s just that whenever you look at the way the original movie (or the book) handled things, the nice touches aren’t as nice as the earlier ones.

A key moment early on illustrates the weaknesses running through Carpenter’s vision. The town of Midwich has been knocked unconscious by some mysterious force. The authorities, headed by Kirstie Alley, determine the perimeter of the strange knockout bubble, and draw a line on the rad marking the border. A bold soldier in gas mask steps forward, with a rope around him so he can be dragged back to safety if overcome.

 

He walks slowly forward. Topples. Is dragged back to the point of safety, and revives.

In terms of incident, this is much like what happens in the Wolf Rilla show. But Rilla keeps his camera on the safe side of the line. With the observers, we watch the pointman proceed forward, our anxiety synchronised with theirs. By respecting the line, Rilla makes the threat seem more real. We feel, in a way, that if he tried to film from OVER THERE, the operator and focus puller would collapse into coma, the lens tilting slowly down to gaze at the road surface until the magazine ran out. Even though in other scenes he’s swooped all over Midwich in a camera crane, recording the plague of narcolepsy. For THIS scene, the line matters.

And of course, Carpenter is all over the place, following the lone soldier as he walks into danger, as if he were a character or something, jumping back to the actual characters, just shooting the shit out of the scene but without the strong focus that comes from a strong idea, or from asking (drum roll) Mike Nichols’ Three Questions.

What are the Three Questions? Any of you know?