Tag Archives: They Live

Rocks In The Attic #746: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Prince Of Darkness (O.S.T.)’ (1987)

RITA#746It’s a sad state of affairs when a horror film provokes not terror, but boredom. The first hour of this film easily qualifies as the worst of John Carpenter’s work up to that point. The audience is just as confused as the students in the film, as they try to understand who the central protagonist is (answer: there isn’t one), and why they’re setting up equipment in a creepy old church (answer: nobody knows, not even Carpenter).

Sandwiched between the director’s mainstream hit (Big Trouble In Little China) and his – in retrospect – return to form (They Live), Prince Of Darkness is an odd film. It’s clear that Carpenter is trying to revisit themes that have worked for him before – a band of individuals in a locked-off location (Assault On Precinct 13) slowly get picked off one by one (The Thing) – but this time, it just doesn’t work.

I admit that things do start to pick up in the second half of the film with some rip-roaring special effects, as the students are finally confronted by their possessed classmates (essentially zombies without the makeup), but by that point any emotional investment in the characters has dried out. Even a cameo appearance by the Godfather of Shock Rock, Alice Cooper, can’t make it right.

As always, the score by Carpenter himself, working alongside his now-regular collaborator Alan Howarth, is the film’s saving grace. A slow-burning synth workout.

Hit: Opening Titles

Hidden Gem: Hell Breaks Loose

RITA#746a

Rocks In The Attic #707: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘Big Trouble In Little China (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#707.jpgAcross the space of four years in the late ‘70s / early ‘80s, John Carpenter directed three of the strongest genre films ever to hit cinema screens. The mainstream success of low-budget horror Halloween (1978) awarded him with bigger budgets, which he used to depict dystopian cityscapes in Escape From New York (1981) and sci-fi paranoia in The Thing (1982). Over the same period he also directed 1980’s The Fog and produced the first two Halloween sequels. This was very much Carpenter’s golden period.

Success always attracts attention, and Carpenter was courted by the major studios. As a result, his films of the mid-1980s – Christine (1983), Starman (1984) and Big Trouble In Little China (1986) – all feel like they’re missing something. All of the ingredients are there, but the end results just aren’t as satisfying as his earlier work.

RITA#707d

I’ve written about Christine before, and I’ve always been a big fan of Starman (despite it feeling like the least Carpenteresque of Carpenter’s films). But the real disappointment was Big Touble In Little China. After its commercial failure, Carpenter continually struggled to get films financed, and the rest of his work is patchy. Only 1988’s They Live could be considered as strong as his breakthrough successes.

Big Trouble In Little China should be great. It has a tried and tested Carpenter leading man in Kurt Russell, awesome optical effects, and a terrifically grimy underworld feel. But the plotting is loose, the script is poor, and the performances of the principal actors leave a lot to be desired. Only the soundtrack music – always one of the stronger elements of Carpenter’s work – is up to standard, even if it’s nowhere near his best.

RITA#707cI first saw the film far too young (which is becoming a common theme of this blog). I can vividly recall the first showdown in the alley between Kurt Russell’s character and the Three Storms. This was scary enough, but the appearance of James Hong’s villain – and particularly the light emitted from his mouth and eyes – proved too much and the film was swiftly turned off.

In retrospect, it’s the best part of the film, and one of the great cinematic showdowns of the 1980s. It’s just a shame the rest of the film couldn’t live up to its promise.

Hit: Pork Chop Express (Main Title)

Hidden Gem: Tenement / White Tiger

BTiLC_12in_GATEFOLD

RITA#707a

Kicking Ass & Chewing Bubblegum – Rowdy Roddy Piper (1954-2015)

Roddy0Yesterday I came home to the heartbreaking news that one of my childhood heroes had kicked the bucket. In fact, Roddy Piper was probably the last of my childhood heroes before I turned my back on anything that wasn’t music. Even saying the word ‘childhood’ seems a bit of a stretch – I was eleven years old when I first watched WWF (now WWE).

I remember being sat down, watching a swimming gala with a school friend who was telling me about WWF. Wrestlemania VI was taking place that week, and taking his advice I recorded it. I’m guessing it was shown live in the UK – overnight probably – as I recall there was issues with the satellite feed in the first couple of matches.

Roddy2From my first experience watching him, fighting against Bad News Brown, he was instantly my favourite. He was painted half in black, in a bold and dangerous move to prove that he wasn’t racist – something that could have easily backfired as he was essentially dressed in semi-blackface.

Roddy1But he had a big, goofy smile on his face throughout. And I think that’s what it was. Most wrestlers were stone cold (Steve Austin) serious, both in their pre-match patter and in the actual act of wrestling. But not Hot Rod – he acted as though it was all a big joke, as though he was sharing the knowledge that yes, wrestling might be fake but let’s have some fun with it while we’re here. The fact that he’s Canadian may also have helped – existing almost as an outsider in an industry mainly populated with Americans.

Roddy3From Wrestlemania VI onwards, I was obsessed with the ‘sport’ for a few years. Unfortunately, Piper seemed to take a sabbatical from actual wrestling after Wrestlemania VI – but he was still around, turning his hand to commentating and reprising his Piper’s Pit interview segment.

It wasn’t long until I found his appearance as Nada in John Carpenter’s They Live. Released in 1988, it truly is a hidden gem of 1980’s science-fiction. It still stands as one of my favourite John Carpenter films, and Piper’s makes a great performance alongside Keith David – another favourite, no matter what film or television show he shows up in.

Roddy4Of course, I went back and found as much Roddy Piper as I could in the WWF archives – fighting against Hulk Hogan in the first Wrestlemania, boxing against Mr. T at Wrestlemania II and generally being an obnoxious nuisance wherever he went. His deeply racist interview of Superfly Jimmy Snuka during one Piper’s Pit segment was typical of his antagonistic behaviour (and odd considering how the WWE have recently distanced themselves from Hulk Hogan, despite the multiple occasions when the organisation appeared to turn a blind eye to racism).

Roddy5I remember reading an interview with Piper when he said he regretted playing a heel (or villain) for so much of his wrestling career. I’m guessing the black / white approach to his match as Wrestlemania VI was his way at addressing that distasteful element of his past, a shot at redeeming his character. It seems strange that he was a heel for so long – considering how effortless he seemed to be as a hero / good guy. He was just a naturally ebullient character – a great attribute for a role model to young kids.

It’s always said that you shouldn’t meet your heroes, as the experience could disappoint, but I’d always held some vague hope that I’d get to meet him one day – at a Comic-Con style convention or something. He’s off kicking ass and chewing bubblegum someplace else now, and I bet he’s still got a big goofy smile on his face.

Thanks for the laughs.

Roddy6

Thanks for the laughs.

Rocks In The Attic #373: John Carpenter & Alan Howarth – ‘They Live (O.S.T.)’ (1988)

RITA#373This night not be my favourite John Carpenter soundtrack, but it’s definitely one of my favourite John Carpenter films. It’s the antithesis of all those happy-go-lucky, optimistic ‘80s films – where the subtext was that in America, everything was yours for the taking. In They Live, we find that America belongs to somebody else and the sleeping majority are majorly asleep.

I probably first saw the film in 1990. I had been rapidly consuming American films around that time, and I had already started watching John Carpenter’s back catalogue – pretty much starting at the beginning with Dark Star and Assault On Precinct 13, and moving on through Halloween, The Fog and Escape From New York.

In April of1990, on the advice of a school friend, I watched the live broadcast of Wrestlmania VI. I was in the right place at the right time – my family had just got Sky TV, and the flashy, new WWF wrestling was one of its big draws. My favourite wrestler, ever since I saw him pitched against Bad News Brown at Wrestlemania was Rowdy Roddy Piper. He didn’t seem as fake as all the others and he seemed genuinely pleased to use humour to defeat his opponents.

So when the next John Carpenter film on my list came along, and I found out that Roddy Piper was the star, it just seemed like a great combination – films and WWF, it couldn’t get any better. I didn’t have any reservations that Piper couldn’t act – because, well, they’re all actors at the end of the day aren’t they? – I just accepted him as Nada, the loner hero of the film. I’d seen a film – No Holds Barred, starring Hulk Hogan – around the same time, and while that film wasn’t anything to write home about, They Live had the mark of a great director.

It’s probably one of my favourite films of the 1980s. There are many popular classics of that decade – The Blues Brothers, E.T., Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Back To The Future – but They Live wins points because it flew under the radar. To this day, I still meet people well versed in half a dozen of the more well known Carpenter films, but who have never seen They Live.

I have to get me some more of these fantastic John Carpenter soundtrack reissues. This particular one is a lovely transparent vinyl.

Hit: Coming To L.A.

Hidden Gem: Wake Up