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John Carpenter Double Features
Double these movies with flicks from this master of horror.
The man that brought us Michael Myers and Snake Plissken and Christine and Jack Burton and Starman and Laurie Strode and Precinct 13 and The Thing.
The man that synthwaved your body and scared you out of your wits with his music.
The man who gave us the line, “In France, I’m an auteur; in Germany, a filmmaker; in Britain; a genre film director; and, in the USA, a bum.”
He's been making movies and making music for over 50 years.
Let's talk about those huge hits, cult classics, box-office bombs, fun failures, and more - and let's make some double features out of them.
The Thing (1982) / Dead Space: Downfall (2008)
Carpenter has long made clear his love of video games and his interest in adapting the Dead Space series to the big screen.
“The only one I can think of [adapting], and I’ve mentioned it before, is Dead Space. That would make a real great movie. I could do that.”
And let's be honest for a minute, he thinks that because Dead Space is so clearly The Thing in video game form - a story where shape-shifting aliens invade a team of scientists and take them out one by one.
So let's double them!
When I was a kid, I would stay up late watching Dead Space play-throughs and then I would have nightmares all night long. It really scared the hell out of me. And that's the same way The Thing gained its cult status. After a lukewarm reception in 1982, it was watched by way too many kids way too late at night. Those kids grew up to be adults that loved the movie. And I grew up to really dig the video game prequel film Dead Space: Downfall - making this the easiest pairing on this list.
They Live (1988) / Under the Skin (2013)
Two films about how the most non-suspect of alien invasions can make us realize how confused we are about ordinary life.
You'll start with They Live, Carpenter's political-statement sci-fi-action-comedy about what it means to really open your eyes. The most unlikely of actors, Rowdy Roddy Piper, plays a drifter who stumbles upon a pair of sunglasses - sunglasses that don't shield, but instead let in the truth: the world has been taken over by aliens, living amongst (and pretending to be) humans, while doing things like buying magazines and shopping for groceries. They've been here the whole time. At that point, his eyes are truly opened to classism, consumerism, and the Reagan era. “It figures it would be something like this," he exacerbates after he puts on the glasses.
It's silly, it's over the top, it's great satire.
Then you'll double it with Under the Skin, director Jonathan Glazer's sci-fi drama that will feel totally different than the They Live romp, but will be the perfect pairing.
Under the Skin follows Scarlett Johansson, an alien sent to Earth to seduce and kill men who are attracted to her. So...everyone she comes across. Those men are played by the most unlikely of actors, non-professional actors and real people filmed by hidden cameras, as Alien Scarlett drives around Glasgow preying on her victims.
Very disturbing, quite unsettling - not at all the same vibe as They Live. But this is the second feature in a double and that means, in this case, putting together two movies that ask a lot of the same questions.
How clueless are we? What are we blind to? What do we pretend to be blind to? What is true loneliness - and how do we as humans come together? Are we just hopeless?
The questions that John Carpenter loves to ask.
Halloween (1978) / Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Two holiday-themed horrors, sure.
But also two movies that messed me up as a kid.
Halloween is the movie that my mother showed me (probably way too young) that got me into horror movies. It opened me up to this world that has scared me, made me check my locks, made me look over my shoulder late at night. It's also made me laugh, cheer, and have a blast. None of that would have happened without being a horror fan and that wouldn't have happened with that young exposure to Halloween.
As for Silent Night, Deadly Night, I wrote the following last year in my Staff Picks: Winter (Not So) Wonderland:
As soon as I started this movie, I realized that I definitely watched this as a kid. As soon as it started, I got this weird, tingly-like déjà vu feeling in my body. It didn’t let up for the entire movie. Although I didn’t think that I had seen it and even if I had I definitely didn’t remember it — my body definitely did. And it clearly messed with me.
To be honest, it still messes with me as an adult. Yes, partially that déjà vu feeling, but also because the first half or so of this movie is very dark and particularly unsettling. I must admit that it goes off the rails a bit after that and a few key sequences save the ending from being a flop, but if you’re anything like child me — this will mess you up.
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Ghosts of Mars (2001) / Jason X (2001)
Two universally-panned sequels in beloved franchises.
Didn't know that Ghosts of Mars was originally "Escape from Mars"? With Kurt Russell reprising his role as Snake Plissken? Well, now you do.
And that film's DNA is all throughout this one. A cavalier attitude to the scariest of circumstances. A fully-realized made-up world that feels parallel to our own. And a circus of characters.
Dangerous fugitive James Williams (Ice Cube as the Plissken stand-in) needs to be caught, but not until the intergalactic police force uses his skills and fighting ability to destroy the dangerous invaders of the planet.
Needless to say, it has some complicated relationships with the idea of indigenous peoples - Carpenter is doing his best "Cowboys and Indians".
This movie is often considered Carpenter's worst. Yes, it is truly terrible, but I found so much to love in it. It's got Ice Cube doing his N.W.A. persona, Pam Grier as a badass military woman, and an early-career (and head of hair-ed) Jason Statham - and it has all of these things IN SPACE. Carpenter gets to do what he loves to do, making westerns disguised in other genres, and he does it here with giant interstellar sets, over-the-top Martian makeup, and did I mention Pam Grier? When Carpenter "fails", he does it with so much more discharge than anyone else. I think this deserves a second look from the masses. There is such a thing as "so bad it's good."
It's up to you to decide if Jason X, the tenth installment in the Friday the 13th series that sees Jason escape Hell(?) and end up in space(?), is so bad it's good.
But here are some things it definitely is: More action than horror (aside from the infamous face-smashing scene). More ridiculous than serious. More 2001 than 2455. More good than bad? That's up to you - but there's no doubt that both of these cult classic '01 flicks would pair so well together.
Body Bags (1993) / Drag Me to Hell (2009)
I have always loved horror anthologies. From reading "Velcome" by Kevin O'Malley in grade school to getting into Stephen King in the tween years and watching Creepshow to seeking out some of the more serious entries to the canon in adulthood - I think it's a great way to tell stories, especially horror stories.
I have made my love of Body Bags clear before.
In fact, as recently as last week.
It's no secret that Body Bags was intended to be a horror anthology series on Showtime, but when they couldn't get past the pilot, they sewed it all up exquisite corpse style into this feature film.
It's also no secret that it was Showtime's answer to HBO's Tales of the Crypt, so let's pair it with a movie many people believe to be just like the Cryptkeeper tales: Drag Me to Hell.
While Body Bags relies on some horror tropes (like slashers or body horror) for the outlines of their stories to focus more on the fun and the suspense rather than the twists and turns, Drag Me to Hell does the same. It's an "ancient curse" story. That's all that matters. The fun is in the ride.
It felt right to pair this film with work from another horror icon, Sam Raimi, as he returned to the genre after nearly a two-decade absence. It's disgusting, it's atmospheric, it's dark, it's grimy. It turns all the things that were so much fun about Body Bags up a notch in terms of gore or effects. It's definitely the darker of the two, making it a solid second feature.
Escape from New York (1981) / Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
One set in the near future (now the recent past of 1997), while the other is alternative fantastical history - both involving the President of the United States.
Escape from New York is the sci-fi action half: New York City is a high-security prison, nuclear warfare, explosions, guns, helicopter crashes, 80s synth, testosterone, anarchy, Snake you-wish-it-wasn't Plissken.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the fantasy action half: 19th century, vampires, supernatural forces, politics, axe-wielding, blood-sucking, freedom-setting, Abe "The Babe" Lincoln.
Both silly, bloated, effects-filled nonsense. Both tons of fun.
I can’t watch it because I’m too critical of the things I’ve done. Once the movie’s cut together and I’ve seen the print, that’s it. I don’t want to look at it again. Because it’s over. The movie is just a silly adventure in the future, but it’s fun. It’s dark and fun. And that’s lived on, so I’m really proud of the film. - John Carpenter on Escape from New York