John Carpenters Apocalypse Trilogy

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

John Carpenters Apocalypse Trilogy

Horrorific content by william on April 15th, 2021 | Movie Review | Stephen King, Religion, Lovecraftian, Madness, Body Horror, Apocalypse

Say goodbye to classical reality. Our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows.

The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness were directed by John Carpenter (Halloween, The Fog).

John Carpenters Apocalypse Trilogy Review

The notion that Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft's ideas could bleed into our reality is a terrifying progression of their storytelling. John Carpenter also wanted to explore this idea and presented three apocalypses that seem right around the corner, no matter what decade you live in. And when they're all put together they surpass the usual horror stories, descending into a nightmare all its own. The experience can sometimes get out of Carpenter's hands at times, but that's why we like him. The challenge of making these stories should be just out of reach, even for its creator. It's all meant to be confusing and keeps you one step behind, because one step in front of you is the abyss. The Thing works by genetic assimilation, Prince of Darkness works by religious science, and In the Mouth of Madness brings us a virus from the act of reading. The progression of this overall apocalypse starts with a simple physical transmission and ends with surreal madness and constantly reminds you why these movies are so great.

1982's The Thing works off one of the basest fears we have as humans, not trusting what you see in front of you, the uncanny. When confusion is mixed with terror, that's when everything goes off the rails and we are at the director's mercy. The only safety or hope we feel as an audience relies heavily on Kurt Russell's character not being infected by this alien parasite, but there aren't that many at the outpost and cast members are dropping fast. Disintegrating and re-integrating is more accurate. But the need to stop this virus is seen on the faces of the old timers, who are quickly aware that this is a threat to humanity, not just them. That's exactly when Wilford Brimley loses his sh*t and brings us some fabulous scene-chewing. Ennio Morricone's music score for the film sounds like old John Carpenter initially, but weaves itself into the madness in a way only a seasoned composer can. The steady and unrelenting double beats pave the way to the apocalyptic end the same way the virus takes hold. But when it comes down to history, the visuals of The Thing are the most effective and remembered parts of this visceral experience. Everything was done in front of the camera and it feels that way. The disbelief that this is happening to the characters takes on a thin veil, thus enabling our apocalyptic fear responses. Because The Thing is full of great sequences that fly terrifyingly on to the next, the movie always feels like it's over too soon. But what is left, really? By the end, the two remaining characters make a choice to save the world, but you can sense the futility of their choice. What are they really saving? There might be comfort in delaying this apocalypse, but it's just the beginning of the end.

1987's Prince of Darkness is pure John Carpenter. It has one of his best synth scores that blankets the film's actions and does not push too hard. The inclusion of Alan Howarth, who has worked on previous Carpenter music scores, helps with this layering the same way Ennio Morricone did with The Thing. This apocalypse is already underway, starting in a run-down church in an already broken city. Trying to stave off the end, the archdiocese hires a team of university microbiologists, chemists and theology students to figure out how to destroy a tank of green, swirling Luciferian goo. In this tale a priest, played by Carpenter favorite Donald Pleasance, immediately takes the reigns and guides the actions that will hopefully stop the coming of the Antichrist. Through today's eyes, it's hard not to see the similarities of the modern ghost hunting or paranormal investigation shows, relying on the science of their gadgets and so forth. The metaphysical nature of Prince of Darkness initially blends well with religious aspects and solutions offered up by the ragtag college students, but as more is revealed things go off the rails very quickly. There are many standalone kill scenes that lack expected logic and start to feel like a scientific Friday the 13th, and the script does seem confusing, but we can't expect perfect stories from even our favorite directors. The blending of religious secret history, biology, archaeology, philosophy and science-fiction feel like too many ingredients that muddy up the information we are supposed to use to watch the rest of the film. Yet this is a story you want to love so you keep watching it, trying to finally grasp the filmmaker’s vision for just a moment, but the unrelenting self-defense mechanism of the green fluid just pushes forward, explanations damned. Not that one is necessary, but the lost feeling is almost too much by the end. This apocalypse might still come and the actions of the characters may have helped, but the looming idea of progression is still there. The green, gooey apocalypse will have its day, whether it's the Jesus we know, or someone much darker.

The Thing and Prince of Darkness have the idea that something ancient has been awakened. In 1995's In the Mouth of Madness it is the future that pulls you in, courtesy of your own imagination. Even though The Thing is wall to wall body horror, this later film feels 100% Lovecraft. The universe that slowly bleeds into reality full of very horrific mutants and tentacled things, plus a madman author to give a nod to Mr. Lovecraft or King. But all of this madness is predicated on the fact that you cannot escape. This is the final apocalypse. Not the one in stories, but the one for everyone. A realization that can only come too late for Sam Neill's character. This apocalypse lures in Sam Neill to the worst possible place for an end time. Stephen King's New England prototypical town. Dark and folksy and the last place you want to be when the end is nigh. There is an inter-dimensional terror that comes about when Sam Neill has to question his existence entirely. But we are watching this fictional piece as well. Are we written down somewhere by someone else? This apocalypse is more of the hallucinatory, freak-out kind. Sam Neill is past the characters in The Thing and Prince of Darkness when it comes to his own mind functioning properly. Forget blood tests and mathematical solutions for the the fourth wall has broken down entirely, plus the fifth wall, and all around is madness. In the Mouth of Madness feels more kinetic than some of Carpenter's previous works mostly because it is striving for something just out of reach. The feat of blending worlds into darker worlds, then into unexplainable worlds while trying to satisfy a movie studio is something few can be trusted with. Was this the last great John Carpenter movie? In my book, yes. The later ideas have certainly not come close to daring and experimental nature that set him apart from the other 1980s directors. The horror label helped isolate him and Wes Craven for a while, but scripts like The Thing and Nightmare on Elm Street showed the world that there are no crazy ideas, just crazy directors who need to do things their way.


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