A few months ago I watched Ghosts of Mars for the first time and mentioned that I hadn’t seen about half of legendary horror director John Carpenter’s filmography. I caught a lot of flack for that in the comments so I decided to take it upon myself to do my duty as a horror fan and watch all of his films, including re-watching some of the ones I hadn’t seen in a while (and yes, I bought them all). It certainly made me realize that growing up in the late 70s and early 80s must have been wonderful (I was born in ’89) because Carpenter was on a hot streak that few directors have been able to match, delivering a top notch film nearly every year. That being said, someone has to compare them to each other and rank them,* and it might as well be me!
*Obviously no one has to rank them, but I wanted to.
24. Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)
Good Lord, what happened here? A lot, apparently. It’s no wonder Carpenter opted to leave his name off of the film’s title (the film is just called Memoirs of an Invisible Man as opposed to John Carpenter’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man). The special effects are spectacular, but the rest of the film is an incoherent bore. The behind-the-scenes drama (original director Ivan Reitman clashed with actor Chevy Chase over the tone of the film, leading to Reitman departing the project and Carpenter being brought in) shows on screen, with everyone in front of and behind the camera seemingly devoid of passion. It lacks a memorable score and has no emotional core (the romance between Chase and Hannah has its moments, but doesn’t ring true). It would be something if the film was bad and entertaining, but it’s not, which brings me to the next film on this list.
23. Ghosts of Mars (2001)
I’ve already established that Ghosts of Mars is not a good movie, but it’s so laughably bad that you can’t help but at least be entertained by it. Originally planned to be the third Escape From…… film (aptly titled Escape From Mars), Carpenter changed the film to Ghosts of Mars at the request of the studio when Escape From L.A. failed to make a desirable amount of money at the box office. The dialogue is laughable, the flashbacks within flashbacks within flashbacks are silly and the sets look like they belong in a high school theater production. It’s not a total loss though. Carpenter’s collaboration with Anthrax for the film’s heavy metal score is a new and inspired direction for the director/composer.
22. Escape From L.A. (1996)
Carpenter’s long-in-development sequel the his critically acclaimed Escape From New York was a complete shift in tone from its predecessor. Essentially a remake of that film, Escape From L.A. is campy, mindless fun. It’s also a sloppily edited film that doesn’t work as a satire of the action genre. Russell is the main draw here, and supporting turns from Steve Buscemi, Bruce Campbell and Pam Grier are entertaining distractions, but it’s mind-boggling that a film with a $50 million budget in 1996 can have effects that look this bad (just watch the surfing scene and tell me it’s not bad). Still, the film has its supporters (even Carpenter prefers it to Escape From New York) and remains one of the director’s more passionate efforts.
21. Dark Star (1974)
Carpenter’s directorial debut Dark Star is not an overtly bad film. It is just very much a student film and it shows. Written by Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon (of Alien fame) while attending the University of Souther California, the kooky sci-fi comedy succeeds in many areas. From an alien shaped like a beach ball (the MVP of the film) to a bomb that keeps trying to deploy without receiving an order to, Dark Star has several laugh-out-loud moments and its low budget effects are part of it’s charm. That charm can’t prevent the film from being far too long and drawn out, even with it’s brief 83-minute runtime. It has a tendency to feel like a short film stretched out to feature length.