Grimm Up North follow up their celebration of Guillermo Del Toro at Stockport Plaza with another day-long dedication to one of the titans of genre cinema. This time it’s John Carpenter’s turn. The director, who helped define the slasher movie with Halloween, and delivered one of the pillars of science fiction cinema with The Thing, has an obscene catalogue of riches to pick from and there’s not a dud amongst the four chosen by Grimm.
Toiling in the margins of the industry, Carpenter’s cinema is characterised by a knack for narrative economy and an unpretentious formal mastery: he knows exactly where to place his camera, how to play with point-of-view, how to build and release tension through the cut, and, above all, how to conjure beautiful images from the ugliest of scenarios. Not hampered by his largely small working budgets – as evidenced by the iconic electronic scores the director writes and records himself – Carpenter’s disreputable thrillers, expressive horrors and atmospheric sci-fi movies are the very definition of what critic Manny Farber termed ‘termite art’.
The marathon begins with a bang as Assault on Precinct 13 reworks Howard Hawks’ classic prison siege western Rio Bravo into a lean and mean L.A. gang story that showcases Carpenter’s snappy writing and first-rate set piece skills. Then, The Prince of Darkness takes that single location setting – this time a neglected Los Angeles church – and adds a transcendental high-concept, religio-apocalypse angle that results in one of the genre-master’s most underrated works.
Continuing the supernatural theme is The Fog – a pirate-leper-ghost-slasher that’s as absurdly outlandish as it sounds – which mines its small town setting for a gorgeous, pacy horror in the tradition of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Lastly, Christine demonstrates Carpenter’s range as he engineers a movie that effortlessly shifts gears from what begins as a first-rate high-school drama, into a terrifying study of maniacal ego – all via a possessed muscle car realised with some astonishing practical effects.