More Films to See Before You Die: #99 They Live

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They Live (1988)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Roddy Piper, Keith David, Meg Foster and Peter Jason

Synopsis: An unemployed drifter Nada (Roddy Piper) arrives in Los Angeles and finds a job at a construction site. While working construction he befriends fellow worker Frank (Keith David) who is a conformist and invites Nada to camp in the homeless settlement where he lives. Nada observes that there are odd disruptions on the television from a pirate transmission of a man that belongs to an underground movement and notes a strange moving of people in the church on the other side of the settlement. Nada sneaks around the church and finds a box with pairs of sunglasses. When he wears the glasses, he discovers that the human race is being dominated and subdued by subliminal messages and several persons are aliens indeed. Further, the elites are corroborating with the invaders, receiving financial support in return. Nada forces Frank to wear the sunglasses and together they seek other humans aware of the situation to organize a resistance against the powerful aliens from Andromeda and their associates.

Trivia: The fight between Nada and Frank was only supposed to last 20 seconds, but Piper and David decided to fight it out for real, only faking the hits to the face and groin. They rehearsed the fight for three weeks. Carpenter was so impressed he kept the 5 minute and 20 second scene intact.

Why Should You Watch This?: I am a huge fan of John Carpenter’s and own a number of his films. This particular entry into his canon is especially fun to watch. Roddy Piper gives a really solid performance as the rugged lead character and is convincing enough to make you wonder why the wrestler never had a more successful film career. This film also contains one of the funnier macho man one liners – “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” which was ad-libbed by Roddy Piper. This is a very fun movie to watch and recommend it to anyone that like movies with an underlying conspiracy theory in their films.

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The Thing

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The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur

Synopsis: An American scientific expedition to the frozen wastes of the Antarctic is interrupted by a group of seemingly mad Norwegians pursuing and shooting a dog. The helicopter pursuing the dog explodes, eventually leaving no explanation for the chase. They decide to go to the Norwegian camp to see what is going on over there, they send the camp doctor and helicopter pilot R.J. Macready (Kurt Russell). They find that the camp has been mostly destroyed and all of the other inhabitants are dead in quite a gruesome fashion, they also find a strange burned mash up of two men. They arrive with the specimen and they start to do an autopsy. That evening the dog begins to act strangely and then mutates into an alien creature that starts to consume the other dogs, they quickly learn that this thing is afraid of fire. They realize that this thing is able to perfectly copy the person or animal it consumes and looks to be setting its sights to other parts of Earth. In order to stop this thing they must all work together to stop it before it is able to escape.

Trivia: The Norwegian dog in the film was named Jed. He was a half wolf/half husky breed. Jed was an excellent animal actor, never looking at the camera, the dolly or the crew members. Jed, however, is NOT the dog seen in the beginning chase scene, where the Norwegian is trying shoot him. Per Carpenter’s commentary, this was another dog painted to look like Jed. This film is considered a benchmark in the field of special makeup effects. These effects were created by Rob Bottin, who was only 22 when he started the project.

How scary is this really?: This movie pretty scary and is incredibly freaky. This is my favourite John Carpenter film and it is also his best collaboration with Kurt Russell. The visual effects are amazing in this film setting the standard for new generation monster films. This is a great film to watch in October or in the middle of a snow storm.

Films to See Before You Die: #43 The Thing

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The Thing (1982)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur

Synopsis: An American scientific expedition to the frozen wastes of the Antarctic is interrupted by a group of seemingly mad Norwegians pursuing and shooting a dog. The helicopter pursuing the dog explodes, eventually leaving no explanation for the chase. They decide to go to the Norwegian camp to see what is going on over there, they send the camp doctor and helicopter pilot R.J. Macready (Kurt Russell). They find that the camp has been mostly destroyed and all of the other inhabitants are dead in quite a gruesome fashion, they also find a strange burned mash up of two men. They arrive with the specimen and they start to do an autopsy. That evening the dog begins to act strangely and then mutates into an alien creature that starts to consume the other dogs, they quickly learn that this thing is afraid of fire. They realize that this thing is able to perfectly copy the person or animal it consumes and looks to be setting its sights to other parts of Earth. In order to stop this thing they must all work together to stop it before it is able to escape.

Trivia: This film is considered a benchmark in the field of special makeup effects. These effects were created by Rob Bottin, who was only 22 when he started the project. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell both admit that after all of these years they still do not know who has been replaced by the creature and when.

Why I think you should see this: This is the second and by far the best collaboration between Kurt Russell and John Carpenter. This has to be one of the scariest films ever made it still gives me chills even though I know whats going to happen. One of my favourite horror films and also just a really good film. Kurt Russell is great in this film but this is a film that thrives mainly because of it’s claustrophobic environment and superb visual effects for its time. Check this one out especially if you are a horror buff.

Films to See Before You Die: #81 Escape From New York

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Escape from New York (1981)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Isaac Hayes, Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton

Trivia: In the future the city of New York has been turned into the only maximum security prison in the United States once you come in you don’t get out. On its way to a very important international summit Air Force One has been hijacked and the President has been able to escape but his pod lands in New York. The police commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) running the penal colony enters the city with some men to retrieve the President. They are met by a man who tells them that if they don’t leave the city immediately the President will die and if they return the President will die they want to be freed in return for the President. In a desperate act Hauk “enlists” Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) by putting explosive charges in his next that will detonate in 24 hours unless he gets the President back and the suitcase containing an important document for the summit. Now Snake only has a short time to slip in and out of New York with the President before the Duke (Isaac Hayes) the leader of the penal colony can stop them.

Trivia: The shot where the helicopter flies over Central Park was actually filmed in San Fernando, California. The buildings in the background were matte-paintings by future director James Cameron. Kurt Russell has stated that this is his favorite of all his films, and Snake Plissken is his favorite of his characters.

Why I think you should see this: This is the first movie that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell worked together on and it is a great chase film. This is a very different role for Kurt Russell but you can tell he loves it because it come as naturally to him as any of his other roles. This a very entertaining film that any action fan should see it and is a very strange look at a future that never materialized. I am a huge fan of the Kurt Russell/John Carpenter teaming and recommend this one very highly.

Films to See Before You Die: #90 Big Trouble in Little China

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Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong

Synopsis: Trucker Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) arrives in San Fransisco’s Chinatown to play some cards with his best friend Wang (Dennis Dun) after playing all night Jack has taken everyone’s money including Wang’s. In order to get paid Burton must first go with Wang to the Airport to pick up his fiancee Miao Yin where she is eventually kidnapped by a dangerous Chinatown gang. After they go to resue her they run into David Lo Pan (James Hong) a 2000 year old cursed sorcerer then Jack’ truck is stolen. They continue to try and rescue her with the help of Gracie Law ( Kim Cattrall) and and old mystic Egg Shen. In order to stop Lo Pan they must break into his factory and stop him from marrying Miao Yin.

Trivia: The Brides of Lo Pan must have green eyes. Yet both Kim Cattrall and Suzee Pai had brown eyes in real life. Both wore green contacts for the movie. This is very obvious in the hi-def version of the movie.

Why I think you should see this: This is the third pairing of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell and it is by far the most fun a semi spoof of the old martial arts films. In my opinion some director actor combos just work and  that is true of Kurt Russell and John Carpenter they did four films together and three of them are spectacular where as one (Escape from L.A.) isn’t great its still fun to watch. This movie is very fun to watch and I recommend this to any Kurt Russell or John Carpenter fan.