Dark Star (1974)

Dark Star
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter, Dan O’Bannon
Cast: Brian Narelle, Cal Kuniholm, Dre Pahich, Dan O’Bannon
Seen on: 22.5.2016
[I saw the 83 minute cinematic version.]

Plot:
The Dark Star is a scout ship, sent out with its remaining crew of four – Doolittle (Brian Narelle),  Pinback (Dan O’Bannon), Boiler (Cal Kuniholm), and Talby (Dre Pahich) – to ready the universe for human colonization. That is achieved by blowing up unstable planets that could get in the way, something that they’ve been doing for 20 years now. But time hasn’t been kind neither to them, nor their sanity nor their equipment, and so things are really starting to go to shit.

Dark Star was fantastically absurd. It’s a wonderfully strange and absolutely funny film – and the only one of the Carpenter movies I saw that gives In the Mouth of Madness serious competition for the position of my personal favorite. I loved it.

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Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jameson Parker, Victor Wong, Lisa Blount, Dennis Dun, Susan Blanchard, Anne Marie Howard, Ann Yen, Ken Wright, Dirk Blocker, Jessie Lawrence Ferguson, Peter Jason
Seen on: 22.5.2016

Plot:
After the death of a priest, Father Loomis (Donald Pleasence) goes to his church and finds a weird container full of a green liquid in the basement. Nonplussed, he asks university professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) for help in analyzing whatever that liquid is. Birack packs up equipment and a group of grad students from various fields. They set up camp in the church and get to work. But it seems the liquid isn’t something that science can deal with, but evil itself.

Prince of Darkness didn’t impress me much, I have to admit. While I enjoyed the science and religion blend at first, I just thought that it all got a bit much – and I wasn’t really able to go along with a lot of it.

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Elvis (1979)

Elvis
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Anthony Lawrence
Cast: Kurt RussellRonnie McDowell, Shelley Winters, Bing Russell, Robert Gray, Season Hubley, Pat Hingle, Melody Anderson, Ed Begley Jr., James Canning, Charles Cyphers
Seen on: 22.5.2016
[During the Carpenter retrospective, they did show Elvis as well, but unfortunately, they were only able to get a print of the German version that was cut from a length of 160 minutes down to a sleek 100 minutes. And since Maynard does own the DVD with the entire film in English, we decided to do a private screening instead – so that’s the version I saw.]

Plot:
Elvis (Kurt Russell, with Ronnie McDowell singing) dreams of becoming a musician. Born in poor circumstances and without connections, he doesn’t stand that much of a chance. But when he goes to record a song for his mother (Shelley Winters), the studio is impressed by his voice, hearing the gospel background he comes from (and that comes without him being black). From there, his rise is quick and very high, but it does come with its dark sides as well.

The film was made only very shortly after Elvis’ death and it shows in its unfiltered adoration of Elvis that doesn’t really dare to go near the darker chapters of his biography – like the drug use. That means that the film becomes overly sweet and remains oddly flat in places. Nevertheless it wins with the amazing performance by Kurt Russell and Ronnie McDowell’s great singing.

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Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Big Trouble in Little China
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, W.D. Richter
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor WongSuzee Pai
Seen on: 21.5.2016

Plot:
Jack (Kurt Russell) and Wang (Dennis Dun) might be different, but they’re friends. And when Wang’s fiancée Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) is supposed to finally arrive in the USA, they go to the airport together to collect her. But while they wait for her, they witness an attempted abduction of another Chinese woman who is there to be collected by Gracie (Kim Cattrall). Jack intervenes and saves the woman, only to have Miao Yin be abducted instead, landing all of them in the middle of an ancient Chinese war.

Big Trouble in Little China is not always unproblematic, but it is a whole lot of fun. It’s silly and stupid and there are even attempts at trope subversion (mildly successful). I enjoyed myself.

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Escape from New York (1981)

Escape from New York
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers
Seen on: 21.5.2016

Plot:
1997. The future. Things have pretty much turned very bad. To get some measure of control, the entirety of Manhattan was walled off and turned into a prison, leaving the people inside to their own devices. It’s there that the USAmerican President (Donald Pleasence) crashes with his plane. There is no official way to get to him, so the prison warden Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) improvises: it just so happens that Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) was supposed to be locked away that day. With his biography, he seems like the most likely candidate to find and bring back the President. And Hauk will find a way to convince Plissken.

Escape from New York is another one of those classics that seem to be ubiquitous in pop culture, but that I had never seen. From what I gathered, I expected to get something along the lines of Mad Max, but unfortunately, Escape from New York just isn’t that, although I wished it was.

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In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

In the Mouth of Madness
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Michael De Luca
Cast: Sam Neill, Julie Carmen, Jürgen Prochnow, David Warner, John Glover, Bernie Casey, Peter Jason, Charlton Heston, Frances Bay
Seen on: 21.5.2016

Plot:
The horror writer Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow), so successful he is said to have driven readers to madness, has gone missing and insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) is hired to find out if he is really gone or if it’s a publicity stunt. Together with Cane’s editor (Julie Carmen) he travels to the town where Cane’s books are said to be set – and that seems to not be quite as fictional as they thought at first.

I very much enjoyed In the Mouth of Madness, although it is at times very cheesy. But of all the Carpenter movies I saw, this might be the one I liked the best.

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Triple 9 (2016)

Triple 9
Director: John Hillcoat
Writer: Matt Cook
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Anthony Mackie, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet, Gal Gadot, Norman Reedus, Teresa Palmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Clifton Collins Jr.
Seen on: 21.5.2016

Plot:
Michael (Chiwetel Ejiofor) used to be in the special forces, but now he works as a private contractor. And currently he’s been contracted by Irina (Kate Winslet) who runs the Russian mob in Atlanta. Although Michael is not particularly happy with his assignment, she forces his hand to pull off an impossible heist. Together with his crew, a mix of dirty cops and professional criminals, they realize that the only chance they have to pull it off is if they kill a cop as a distraction for their heist. But things don’t go as planned.

Triple 9 was one of the quietest releases ever, especially considering cast and crew involved in the film. After having seen it, though, it seems pretty clear that they simply didn’t want to waste any more money on a movie that fails in almost everything.

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The Fog (1980)

The Fog
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John HousemanTom Atkins, James Canning, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Kyes, Ty Mitchell, Hal Holbrook
Seen on: 20.5.2016

Plot:
Antonio Bay is approaching its centennial. The town is said to have been founded on the ruthless murder of a leper colony, a legend that nobody really believes in. But on the evening on the anniversary, a thick fog starts rolling into town. And there is something in the fog that is looking to take its bloody revenge.

I don’t get The Fog’s reputation. With Halloween at least I understood why it was considered a classic [even if I didn’t love it], but The Fog was simply a bad film. Not scary, not impressive, just… bad.

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Halloween (1978)

Halloween
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Nancy Kyes, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, John Michael Graham, Tony Moran
Seen on: 20.5.2016

Plot:
When Michael Myers (Tony Moran) was six years old, he stabbed his sister on Halloween. Exactly 15 years later he escaped the psychiatric institution he has spent his life in and has found his way back to his hometown again. He is ready to strike again and has his eyes set on Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) who plans to spend her Halloween babysitting. Michael’s doctor Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) suspects Michael’s plans and tries to prevent the worst from happening.

When the Gartenbaukino in Vienna announced that they would make a little Carpenter festival, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to finally close some gaps in my cinematic education. Halloween was one of those gaps. Having seen it now, I have to admit that I wasn’t all that impressed with it – although there were some great moments and it is obvious how hugely influential it was (and is).

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Roses

Roses is a “Freak Cabaret” by the Dakh Daughters band, directed by Vlad Troitsky.
Part of: Wiener Festwochen
Seen on: 17.5.2016

The Dakh is a theater in Kiev, out of which grew the Dakh Daughters band: an all-female group that takes existing songs and texts, mix them with each other and new things and give them their own twist. The result is a highly political, emotional cabaret concert that reminded me of The Tiger Lillies, but at the same time is very much its own thing. I was absolutley taken with it.

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