You don’t have to be a fan of John Carpenter to be a fan of his work. The original Halloween circa 1978 introduced Carpenter to the world with a simple, one-handed piano rift that reminded us all of The Exorcist, even if we hadn’t seen it. The Tubular Bells are unmistakable. Armed with a modified William Shatner mask, three-hundred thousand dollars, and an unknown actress from Hollywood royalty, Carpenter set out to define the Halloween horror movie for generations.
But it takes a true John Carpenter fan to know his Apocolypse trilogy. Welcome to the end of the world.
If you have seen the 1982 remake of The Thing starring Kurt Russell, you’ve started the Apocalypse Trilogy. But have you seen The Prince of Darkness with Alice Cooper? Or In the Mouth of Madness with Sam Neill? These three films make up John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy which is named for the bleak endings of the films’ characters … if not the world. My deepest apologies for the unintentional spoiler, but it has been a few years. If you haven’t seen these movies by now, maybe this will give you a little bump. I haven’t revealed any endings so you can enjoy them for yourself.
I have had a crush on Kurt Russell ever since The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes; I love pretty much everything he does so it is impossible for me not to love The Thing. This film is classified as a remake but that is a little bit misleading. Carpenter used the same source material as the 1951 Howard Hawks film, The Thing from Another World but it is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella, “Who Goes There?” upon which both films were based. Carpenter sets the mood for The Thing with music in much the same way as he did in Halloween. The original “Thing” makes a cameo appearance in Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween – an Easter egg for those of you keeping score.
I dressed up as Alice Cooper for Halloween when I was in high school. At that time, we thought Cooper was a snake-eating, devil-worshiping, crazy psycho from the Underworld. The father of shock rock had a concept album entitled “Alice Cooper Goes to Hell,” and he performed live surrounded – literally – by snakes. So it makes sense to find him in a movie entitled The Prince of Darkness, the second film in the Apocalypse Trilogy. Alice Cooper is by no means the main character – nor is he a top billed character. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the film. Cooper had a friend doing some of the effects for the movie and asked if he could watch part of the filming. Carpenter did him one better and cast him as the leader of the soul-less street people and, coincidentally, it’s Cooper’s face we see in the clips and posters. The plot of this movie is a simple one – a mysterious cylinder found in a church is researched by student scientists who unwittingly unleash the anti-God. Carpenter wanted to create a film that was atmospheric and dreadful, which he did. But what I really liked was his juxtaposition of science and religion throughout the film. Donald Pleasance plays Father Loomis a shout out to his role in Carpenter’s Halloween. Expect a lot of 80’s hair, fashion, and effects.
In the Mouth of Madness rounds out the Apocalypse Trilogy. This film takes you on a journey through a real-life horror novel when an insurance investigator looks into the strange disappearance of Sutter Cane, a hugely successful writer of horror stories. The fictional author is a character that is clearly inspired by Carpenter’s friend and horror novelist, Stephen King. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft will argue he is the inspiration for the character because Lovecraft’s quotes are included among the Cane’s fictional work. This movie opens and closes with some rocking heavy-metal that is reminiscent of a Metallica tune in contrast to the rather delicate piano melody that defines Halloween. The film’s score is original John Carpenter. The only credited music from the film is a brief verse by The Carpenters. That can’t be an accident. Sam Neill stars in this, my personal favorite of the Apocalypse Trilogy films.
All three films of the Apocalypse Trilogy carry an R rating, presumably for language and disturbing content. Check these out for yourself and decide which one is your favorite. While you’re at it, decide which John Carpenter film is your favorite. That will be harder.