Weekly Top Five: The best of John Carpenter

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They Live
  • They Live
This week, there are two, count 'em, two John Carpenter films screening in Chicago. The Gene Siskel Film Center has They Live, which plays as part of its ongoing tribute to 80s American cinema, while the Music Box has midnight screenings of Escape From New York. Despite a less-than-stellar recent output, Carpenter remains a uniquely flamboyant film stylist, known for his genre alchemy, penchant for the metaphysical, and strong sense of allegorical storytelling. His films are richly detailed and brimming with personality, so much so that his work has distinguished itself from virtually every comparable piece of 80s genre cinema. What more can we ask of a filmmaker? Check out my five favorite Carpenter films after the jump.

5. The Thing (1982) More of a nostalgia pick than anything else, but I find a lot of value in Carpenter's reappraisal of not only 50s sci-fi movies, but Hawksian ideals of male group dynamics.

4. In the Mouth of Madness (1994) The final installment of Carpenter's "Apocalypse" trilogy, and perhaps his bleakest film. The twofold narrative technique and overall metaphysical quality stand as testaments to Carpenter's formal techniques.

3. They Live (1988) Much has been said and written about the satirical elements of this wondrously bizarre sci-fi horror—such wide-ranging topics as Reaganism, class segregation, and government surveillance work their way into the narrative—but I'll be damned if its most enduring quality isn't the five-minute fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David, noted for its spatial cohesion and calibrated, almost elegant choreography.

2. Big Trouble in Little China (1986) Carpenter's exceedingly clever deconstruction of Hollywood, western myth, and American heroes. Unfairly written off by many as hokey genre fare (Dave Kehr called it "fake Spielberg"), this is easily one of Carpenter's most eclectic films.

1. Halloween (1978) A resilient and truly singular work, whose reputation has only solidified as countless sequels, remakes, spin-offs, and rip-offs have proliferated. Like all great horror films, Halloween is rife with allegory and symbolism in addition to being genuinely frightening and entertaining. Over the years, the character of Michael Myers has been said to represent everything from repressed sexuality to suburban malaise, but the film stands on its own as a moody and altogether frightening midnight movie. Timeless.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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