Five Favorite Films with John Carpenter

The horror icon chats about the Coen brothers and his love for Westerns.

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Writer-director-producer-composer (and occasional actor) John Carpenter is a modern horror icon whose keen sense of tension and terror has helped establish his work as some of the finest genre filmmaking to hit the big screen. His best known work is probably the 1978 slasher classic Halloween, but the '80s -- Carpenter's most critically and commercially successful decade -- brought forth other beloved gems like The Thing, Escape from New York, Starman, and the cult classic They Live. After 2001's Ghosts of Mars capped off a rather less than auspicious decade of films for him, Carpenter fell silent for several years, choosing instead to work on smaller projects like Showtime's Masters of Horror series.

This year, however, Carpenter returns to the director's chair for his first feature film in ten years, helming the Amber Heard-powered psychological thriller The Ward, which opens in theaters on July 8th but becomes available on Video On Demand on June 8th. While it's not quite a "return to form," per se, The Ward echoes some of Carpenter's earlier efforts, in that the bulk of the film takes place almost entirely within a confined space (an old mental institution) and makes use of the setting's claustrophobic elements to develop tension. RT recently got the opportunity to speak with Carpenter, who not only gave us his Five Favorites (and then some; more on that below) but also went on to chat about his deep love of Westerns and his opinion on the Coen brothers.

When asked specifically about his Five Favorite Films, Carpenter had this to say: "I have two different categories of favorite films. One is the emotional favorites, which means these are generally films that I saw when I was a kid; anything you see in your formative years is more powerful, because it really stays with you forever. The second category is films that I saw while I was learning the craft of motion pictures. That's a whole different ball game. I fell in love with them as a mature person."

Since we only have room for one list, we'll let you read about John Carpenter's "mature" Five Favorite Films below. But before we get there, here's what he said about his "emotional favorites," which he rattled off in quick succession: "When I was a kid, I loved The Curse of Frankenstein, The Creeping Unknown, X: The Unknown. I love Forbidden Planet, The Thing from Another World. They were science fiction/horror movies, generally. A lot of them were Hammer films, and the music on those movies... One of my heroes is a composer named James Bernard, and oh my god... I can still listen to his music today and be stirred and moved by it. But I think that you fall in love with... Well, again, when you're young, it really is more powerful. Much more terrifying."



Only Angels Have Wings (1939, 100% Tomatometer)

Now, my favorite films as a more mature person, when I was learning about what the director is and does, probably a lot of them were Howard Hawks movies, like Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo. In Hawks's world, Only Angels Have Wings and Rio Bravo are his visions of adventure stories with male groups, and men and women's relationships, and life and death and danger. He's developed that idea throughout his career. Those are just his beliefs.




Rio Bravo (1959, 100% Tomatometer)

See Only Angels Have Wings above.




Citizen Kane (1941, 100% Tomatometer)

I'd have to say, jeez... Citizen Kane is a great film. Like Hawks, this movie is a vision, primarily the director's vision, of something that is whole and complete.




Vertigo (1958, 98% Tomatometer)

Vertigo is a perfect nightmare. Perfect. It's a dream, and it's stunning. It's so dark and obsessive, and it came from this director who claimed to only want to entertain the audiences. But that's not true; it's a masterpiece.




Blow-Up (1966, 86% Tomatometer)

And let me throw in an oddball here: Blow-Up. That is a brilliant film. It's kind of a perfect enigmatic example of a film. I just love that movie. I can't get enough of it. It's so strange! [laughs]



Next, Carpenter engages RT in a discussion about the repopularizaton of the Western, as well as his opinions on the work of the Coen brothers.

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