I realize that poster isn’t in my native English but I love the graphic. I also figure I should preface this with a few things – let it be known this really is one of my favorite Carpenter movies. I don’t know how well it’s known or unknown outside of the people I run around with or the house I live in but, yep. I vividly remember seeing this on videotape for the first time. I can’t pinpoint the date but I remember it was at my ultra Baptist dad’s house and I just knew I was going to get beat or grounded for having it – but I don’t remember that happening. Maybe he wasn’t looking? There was only one TV in that house and he wouldn’t even let me watch The Smurfs for fuck’s sake so I’m not sure how I got away with it but I did. This isn’t a horror (which is why I go with the maybe less known thing) but this things scared the fuck out of me the first time I saw it – granted, I was probably 12 or so and was scared of everything. Some of you might remember my Teachings: “If God dislikes your actions, young [NAME REDACTED], He will kill your family in front of you, including your dog and then kill you too. Be good and never bother anyone.” Aside from that unfortunate business, I gave this a watch the other day and – yep – still love it.
I guess I could try and talk about this or that and the history behind this thing but – that’s not really what I do in my life. This takes place in what they call a shitty part of L.A. – the street names escape me but I used to roll around some of these areas and, I guess, I didn’t know any better. I mean – true story – one time Mister Pubes and I went to L.A. just to say we had and on the way back we got lost in East L.A. I don’t know if that area’s still as bad as the media used to make it out to be but – THAT WAS NO PLACE FOR A COUPLE OF WHITE TEENAGE BOYS driving around in a rented Daihatsu. But we made it out OK and without harm and live to this day but here – as it goes – Carpenter goes to a good deal of camera work to show how one side of the street may look real nice and clean with green yards and some sort of compact car while, on the other side and behind a building, the walls are covered with graffiti, dirty bums drink hooch out of a paper bag, piles of tires burn and gangs rule the streets. I’m sure it was some sort of artsy take on urban decay this and that – or maybe not – what the fuck do I know – but I can see some magazine making a big deal of it back in the 80s. Or maybe it was just a shitty street JC grew up on.
To set this up further, my original viewing probably went something like: I saw Halloween and never really recovered. I followed that up with The Fog = OMG and then Escape From New York which is arguably the coolest fucking movie ever made. Back in those days, when I was allowed one of those high society portable audio tape playing devices, I used to listen to the soundtrack for Escape, constantly, so that music really did the trick. When I was watching this the other day, I already knew Carpenter did the score but I didn’t realize how MUCH I was going to love it. The thrubbing bum bum bum and the not-synth-pop synthesizer just made me remember how good of a filmmaker he used to be and how much he put into what he did. Plus, the music gave me the creeps and took me back to a time when I would sit alone in a dark room and listen to music from Escape From New York and be scared of everything I did. See above. Never fuck with the Old Testament God.
Aside from that and the stable, static cinematography, there was the writing and the characters.
That’s Tony Burton there – from the Rocky movies. He’s got a plan, see. It’s called “Save ass.” and it involves him leaving that police station and heading to Mexico. Too bad he doesn’t know his gun isn’t loaded. There’s also a bit where the lady in the sweater is offering the new cop some coffee. “Black?” she asks. “For about 30 years.” he answers. There’s no fanfare or schlockyness to it – just some good, dry writing. I was always irritated with that whole ‘Bubble Gum’ line from They live.
What’s this about? Some gangs have stolen some automatic weapons from the cops. The cops have retaliated and killed some thugs. The gangs are pissed! Elsewhere, a new cop starts his new beat and gets assigned to keep watch over a police station that’s closing down for good. Elsewhere, a killer on death row is being transferred to a different facility. Elsewhere a girl riding in a car with her dad just wants an ice cream cone. Elsewhere, sunspots are making everyone crazy. In early (and good) Carpenter writing style, everything is going to converge before too long and then the cholo will really hit the fan. Lots of people will be shot, creative camera work will be used and lots of asses will not be saved.
If you’ve seen all or most of JC’s shit – you’ll notice a lot of his later things are influenced here. Some of that camera work we see again in The Fog, the music that we see again in Escape and, even if some people didn’t like it – there seems to be a lot of Prince of Darkness incubating in this one; old and run down buildings, claustrophobia, homeless, sunspots. If only the god plutonium had shown his face here we might have had an inadvertent sequel.
A couple of other things I’d like to point out here while I’m out here pointing out things. I don’t know if it was just cool movie making or a low budget or just the desire to not mess with sound effects but there are several instances where the folks in the station are looking out windows and they see the gang members running from here to there or hiding behind and under trees or even moving cars and: the people on the outside make no sound whatsoever. No annoying footsteps clacking around or tires screeching for no reason, just silence. I loved it! Great move! I mean, if I’m ever looking out a window I can rarely hear people making noise in the street.
One last thing and then I’ll shut up –
I LOVED the simplicity of the opening and closing credits. Just some music, some red ink on black background. They also only lasted about 90 seconds each. No bullshit or anything. I’m all for mid-credit shit but I hate end-credit scenes. Why does Marvel entice us to sit through another 40 minutes looking at the names of their digital artists for what may or may not be something cool? I think it’s to keep theaters occupied so they can only show four movies a day and use the other theaters to fill more of the same movie and hustle out any competition. But that’s just me… Being a guy who likes to read credits, these worked
To close – this post and my running mouth – I loved this. If I had to pick a JC movie to watch I would probably pick Prince or Escape or even Big Trouble first but this one is right up there so I’ll stick in this in the “Almost Happy Finish” pile.
FILED UNDER: THEY AlMOST MADE IT TO THE HAPPY FINISH