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Thursday, October 9, 2014

“All Outta Bubblegum?” Two John Carpenter Movies You Should Watch This Month that aren’t Halloween

It’s that season once again, boils and ghouls — that season when bloggers throw around lines like “boils and ghouls.” Film enthusiasts everywhere are dusting off the seasonal staples from their VHS/DVD/Blu Ray/Beta/Laserdisc rack: movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and of course, John Carpenter’s Halloween. While Halloween is easily Carpenter’s best known film, it’s hardly his greatest. In fact, despite everything that makes the film significant in the annals of the horror genre, it hasn’t aged exceptionally well — a lot of awkward cuts, and scenes that are supposed to be scary that ultimately come off as awkward and cheap.
If you’re looking for a few new titles to spice up your seasonal viewing, why not try these two other John Carpenter outings? Both are rich with social commentary and engaging (if not altogether believable) performances. And while genre purists might not classify either of the following films as horror strictly speaking, both contain elements of the supernatural, and both will provide a nice supplement to whatever other tripe you watch between now and November 1st.

Starman (1984)
There are a couple of ways you can integrate this one into your Halloween playlist. You might think of it as a sentimental antidote to whatever other barf-bag fare you watch throughout the course of the month. The film is a sort of science-fiction twinged romantic road dramedy. And really, how many movies out there can you say that about?

Here’s the story: Voyager 2 is sent into orbit in 1977, and within the orbital, there is a record playing in a loop which offers greetings in virtually every language on earth inviting alien lifeforms to establish contact with earth-dwellers. An alien tourist from an undisclosed planet receives the message and decides he wants to pay earth a visit. As soon as government officials see his U.F.O, they attempt to blow him out of the sky.

The U.F.O. crashlands outside the home of mournful widow Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). We then see a beautifully executed segment where the alien lifeform flies into Hayden’s house, and finds a scrapbook containing a hair-lock of Scott (Jeff Bridges) the widower’s hair. The alien uses Scott’s DNA to generate an exact replica of the adult Scott. Bridges delivers one of the most compelling performances of his career as an alien inhabiting his own body. He moves like a bird, and his speech patterns are stilted.

The alien decides, after his “welcoming committee” attempts to blow him to smithereens, that he will make his mothership connection at the Winslow Crater in Arizona. Jenny is reluctant to help him at first, but becomes smitten as government officials begin trailing them, with the hope of capturing the alien and autopsying him. The film, for all of its science-fiction underpinnings, focuses on the relationship between characters. There are some stunning visual effects, but the film does not rely upon them in quite the same way that Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) does.

The film is also reminiscent of those cold-war era b-movies, where the aliens are benevolent, and humans are bloodsucking bastards.

They Live (1988)
Here’s the one line summary: A former professional wrestler moonlights as an action star in this film about a drifter finding sunglasses that enable him to see the alien-reptiles who have enslaved the human race on planet earth. In other words, stop reading this article right now and pop it in!

When Nada (Roddy Piper) first dons the sunglasses, he begins to see the world around him for what it “really is.” Billboard advertisements, when viewed with the sunglasses, feature nothing more than one word commands like “OBEY.” There is an alien race amongst us, he discovers, who have settled on earth to deplete its natural resources, render humans mindless consumption units, and perpetuate filth and propaganda through mass media outlets.

While Starman offers a surprisingly sentimental spin on science-fiction tropes, They Live embroils itself in science-fiction and action movie cliches, while also offering its own unique commentary about the illuminati, and the corporations that run the world and use it, selfishly, towards their own ends. The film didn’t exactly score high amongst critics upon its release, but we’re living in a different time now. Conspiracy theorists abound on the internet, and not only are people becoming generally more conscientious about their energy consumption but there are also many websites now that cater to consumers’ interest in information on going green. What I’m getting at, is that They Live is being re-embraced by a younger generation of cult movie fanatics, whether they engage with it as a goofy popcorn movie, or as a poignant comment about the pervasive influence of the illuminati.

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