John Carpenter Classic Collection Boxset directed by John Carpenter, StudioCanal, 2018
Reviewed by Matt Barber
Spanning subtly different genres but each with a combination of black comedy and fantastical bleakness, STUDIOCANAL are re-releasing four John Carpenter movies from the 1980s: The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), Prince of Darkness (1987) and They Live (1988).
The Fog is a simple, if bloody, ghost story involving a crew of spectral pirates inflicting a bloody revenge on a modern day Californian town. Escape from New York is set in the then near future (1997) when Manhattan has been turned into a maximum security prison. Prince of Darkness is centred on the discovery and scientific analysis of a mysterious substance in the basement of an abandoned church. Finally, They Live follows the story of an unemployed drifter who discovers that aliens have taken over the world and are disguising themselves with subliminal advertising.
Of the four, Escape from New York, a dystopian action adventure starring Kurt Russell is possibly the most accessible and the most famous, but the other three are certainly worth a look-in. Prince of Darkness, a homage to Nigel Kneale’s techo-ghost stories, is, for my money, the most accomplished and the most interesting of all of the films. Eerie, claustrophobic and inventively shot, it draws you in and then spits you out presenting you with a genuinely unsettling story. The highlights of this underrated movie are undoubtedly the recurring dreams experienced by the protagonists, visions projected from the future filmed in such a way that gives them a disjointed, abstracted quality.
In many ways The Fog, a basic ghost story with Halloween influenced shocks and gore bolted on, is the odd-one-out. There is little substance here, with only a few of Carpenter’s characteristic touches. The other three films all have a dark sense of the future, positing it as a nihilistic, lonely and fractured place. In many ways, this trilogy of films, culminating in the excoriating satire of They Live narrates Carpenter’s experience of living through Reagan’s America, from the chilling of the Cold War to the gradual abandonment of the blue collar workers to the profit of the white collar middle classes. All four are worth watching purely for the technical skill Carpenter displays in building tension and handling action, but skip The Fog if you want more satirical depth.
All four movies have been digitally restored and are re-released in cinemas in October and November. For more information about which cinemas are showing these movies and to watch the trailer go to: