John Carpenter


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John Carpenter

Assault On Precint 13 (1976) e` un poliziesco di violenza esasperata e raccapricciante, ma anche realista. E` anche uno studio psicologico sulla paura (il nemico non si vede quasi mai).

Periferia squallida di Los Angeles. Quattro giovani invasati uccidono a sangue freddo un gelataio e una bambina. Il padre della bambina li insegue, li raggiunge, uccide l'assassino. Gli altri delinquenti lo inseguono. Lui si rifugia in un posto di polizia in corso di smantellamento, affidato a un comandante nero, un posto in cui sono ospitati tre condannati a morte in transito e i loro accompagnatori. E` notte. I delinquenti crescono di numero e sono sempre piu` invasati. Accerchiano il posto di polizia, staccano luci e telefoni, sparano con i silenziatori a chi tenta di uscire. Quando i delinquenti attaccano, fanno una strage. Fra i sopravissuti ci sono due detenuti (un bianco e un nero), due ragazze e il comandante nero. Il padre della bambina e` sotto shock e non si muove piu`. I superstiti sono completamente isolati, impossibilitati a chiedere aiuto, soli contro nemici invisibili. Gli invisibili nemici prima spano all'impazzata sfracellando tutti gli oggetti, poi attaccano in massa, e finalmente si fanno vedere, ma sono sempre figure amorfe. Il comandante fa liberare anche i due detenuti e tutti insieme riescono a respingere l'orda, uccidendone decine e perdendo soltanto la piu` fragile delle ragazze, ma nessuno arriva in loro soccorso. Gli assedianti fanno sparire i cadaveri cosicche` tutto sembri normale. Il detenuto nero tenta invano di andare a chiedere aiuto. I tre si preparano all'ultimo assalto barricandosi e preparando una bomba alla nitroglicerina. Mentre l'orda salta in aria, arrivano finalmente i rinforzi (perche' un poliziotto ha trovato cadaveri sugli alberi). La desolata solitudine della megalopoli e` co-protagonista del dramma di questi individui abbandonati a se stessi, che devono difendersi da un nemico immane e invisibile. Gli assalitori sono fanatici del voodoo che compiono i loro riti senza rispetto per la vita umana, che non temono la morte e anelano soltanto alla vendetta. Nella metropoli che dovrebbe rappresentare l'apice della civilta` umana, regna in realta` un abisso morale, i valori morali sono praticamente nulli. L'unica speranza e` nella solidarieta` che si crea fra gli assediati, un po' come nel Stage Coach di Ford.

Halloween (1978) e` un classico del genere horror.

Nel 1963 il giorno di Halloween qualcuno penetra in una casa e uccide una ragazza (la scena e` ripresa attraverso i due buchi della sua maschera). All'uscita due persone trovano un bambino in maschera con un coltellaccio da macellaio e lo riconoscono: Michael. Le autorita` decidono di rinchiuderlo in un'istituzione psichiatrica. Non lo ritengono pericoloso, in quanto e` caduto in uno stato catatonico. Ma uno degli specialisti e` convinto che Michael stia fingendo e sia in realta` pericolosissimo. 25 anni dopo in una notte di temporale lo stesso specialista e un'infermiera sono incaricati di trasferirlo a un altro ospedale. Lo specialista si allontana un attimo e tanto basta perche' il ragazzo aggredisca l'infermiera e fugga sulla loro auto. Nella cella ha lasciato una scritta rossa: SISTER. Intanto Jamie Lee Curtis e` a scuola. Lo psicopatico (di cui non viene mai mostrato il volto) e` andato a una scuola elementare e segue un bambino. Lo specialista sta seguendo le tracce dello psicopatico e avverte lo sceriffo del paese di Michael. Lauree torna a casa con due compagne di scuola. Si sente pedinata. Anche la sua amica ha la stessa impressione. Lo specialista e` al cimitero, dove scopre che la bara della sorellina di Michael e` stata dissotterrata. Lo sceriffo sta investigando il furto di due coltellacci e una maschera da un negozio. Lo specialista porta lo sceriffo nella casa in cui avvenne il delitto. Lo sceriffo pensa che lo specialista esageri, ma lo psicopatico comincia a uccidere. Un'amica viene strangolata mentre sta parlando al telefono con Lauree. Lauree si precipita e trova i cadaveri. Fa appena in tempo a fuggire, inseguita dallo psicopatico. Si barrica in casa con due bambini. Lo psicopatico irrompe, e sta per prevalere quando lo specialista arriva pistola alla mano.

The Fog (1980) e` un horror film minore che dimostra pero` l'abilita` di Carpenter nel creare suspense.

In una cittadina nei pressi della costa si susseguono morti misteriosi. Un vascello fantasma vaga avvolto in una nebbia fosforescente. I suoi mostruosi marinai sgozzano tutti coloro che incontrano lungo il loro cammino. A capire cosa sta accadendo e` la sensuale disc jockey di mezzanotte, che sente morire per telefono il suo amico e lancia un appello radio perche' qualcuno corra a salvare suo figlio. In effetti l'anziana baby sitter e` gia` stata sgozzata quando i due salvatori, un uomo e la sua amante occasionale, arrivano a strapparlo all'uncino dei fantasmi. La dj continua a lanciare appelli alla popolazione, descrivendo i movimenti del banco di nebbia. Alcuni superstiti si rifugiano nella vecchia chiesa sulla collina, proprio dove il sacerdote conserva un antico diario di bordo. La nebbia intanto e` arrivata al faro da dove trasmette la dj, e i mostri sono entrati dentro l'edificio. Il prete scopre cosa vogliono: vogliono l'oro che uno di loro, nonno del prete, rubo` e trasformo` in una croce. Il prete esce e la consegna al capo dei fantasmi, mentre nel faro la donna e` ormai braccata. I fantasmi si prendono la croce d'oro e scompaiono. La dj e` salva.

Escape from New York (1981) e` un fantapolitico altrettanto apocalittico quanto Precint 13.

In un futuro non precisato, il presidente degli USA sta volando verso l'Unione Sovietica, dove si deve svolgere un summit, ma l'aereo viene dirottato dai terroristi e precipita su Manhattan, che e` stata trasformata in un gigantesco carcere isolato dal resto del mondo. Bisogna liberare il presidente in 24 ore e la sceltqa cade su Snake, un detenuto che fu eroe, che e` l'unico a poterci riuscire. Gli promettono la liberta` se riesce, la morte se entro 23 ore non ce la fa. Snake si infila nell'inferno di Manhattan, un dedalo di macerie popolato da orde di teppisti feroci. Snake, trasformatosi in James Bond dei bassifondi, si fa largo fra i caseggiati diroccati e nelle strade allagate da detriti. Un taxista, Cabbie, l'ultimo degli indipendenti, lo aiuta a mettersi in contatto con una coppia di criminali: il maschio e` in realta` un suo ex complice, che lo tradi`, e la femmina e` la sua ex ragazza. Snake chiede di incontrare il capo supremo della delinquenza. I due lo accompagnano a un treno, dove il presidente e` tenuto prigioniero. Snake riesce a liberarlo, ma i teppisti gli saltano addosso a decine. Si ritrova di fronte al capo, un nero che si fa chiamare Duke e sta facendo il tiro a segno sul terrorizzato presidente. Mentre Snake viene costretto a battersi contro un feroce gladiatore, in un'arena gremita di squilibrati (una scena che ricorda Mad Max), l'amico e la ragazza liberano il presidente e si avviano verso l'auto di Cabbie. Snake scopre che il nastro che il presidente custodisce gelosamente contiene il segreto di una nuova arma e lo sostituisce con una musicassetta. Inseguiti da Duke fra le immondizie, i rottami, le carcasse, del ponte di Brooklyn, sono quasi in salvo, ma Cabbie salta in aria e il gangster viene ucciso. La ragazza si ferma a vendicarlo: non ci riesce, e muore a sua volta. Duke viene infine crivellato con un mitra dal presidente. Snake e il presidente riescono a scavalcare il muro di cinta, appena due secondi prima che la bomba trapiantata nel cranio di Snake esploda. Violento e barbaro, ambientato fra le macerie come Precint 13, e nell'assenza di valori morali. Anche questa volta la tragedia e` dominata dallo spirito di vendetta. Gli esseri degradati di Carpenter non conoscono altro stimolo che quello di vendicare la morte di un membro del loro gruppo.

Dark Star (1982) e` un raro esempio di fantascienza comica.

Quattro astronauti in servizio di pattuglia alle prese con la monotonia del viaggio. Il piu` estroverso tenta invano di sollevare il morale con i suoi lazzi. Si e` portato dietro una mascotte, un alieno a forma di palla che squittisce. Quando va a dargli da mangiare, gli scappa, e dopo un rocambolesco inseguimento l'astronauta si trova in un grosso pasticcio, appeso a un ascensore con decine di metri di vuoto sotto di se`. Appena tiratosi fuori dai guai, punisce l'alieno con una pistola sonnifera, che pero` lo sgonfia, cioe` l'uccide. Una bomba suscettibile e testarda non obbedisce a un comando e soltanto un discorso da uomo a uomo la convince a recedere dall'aidea di esplodere e a rientrare nell'arsenale dell'astronave. Ma alla fine la bomba esplode e i due superstiti naufragano nello spazio. Uno viene catturato da un grappolo di astroidi, l'altro surf-eggia verso il pianeta piu` vicino.
Christine (1983) Cars being manufactured in a big plant. A worker gets injured while working ona car. Later another worker is found dead in the same car.
Twenty years later, a nerdy boy named Arnie goes to school with a popular handsome Dennis, who defends him from the school's juvenile delinquents who persecute him. The guys are all excited by a new pretty girl. Arnie, instead, gets excited when he sees an old abandoned car, the wreck of "that" car. Arnie is so fascinated by it that he buys it right away from an old man, whose brother just died in it. The car, "Christine", changes Arnie's life. From meek and shy, Arnie becomes very determined and rebellious.
Arnie devotes his life to repairing Christine. Dennis is suspicious and asks the old man about the car, and learns that other people have died in or around the car.
Dennis gets seriously hurt during a football game when he sees Arnie kissing the new, mysterious girl that Dennis tried in vain to get a date with. Arnie's transformation is unbelievable, it seems to mirror the progress of the car, that soon looks like brand new again.
During a date with his girl, she vents her jealousy for the car that absorbs all of his time. Minutes later, something is strangling her while the radio goes on by itself and Arnie can't help her because the doors won't open. She almost dies and blames the car for it. Arnie does talk to the car like she's a human being, and the car seem to respond to his attentions.
That night the juvenile delinquents demolish Christine. Arnie is paralyzed by pain and fury: insults his girlfriend and scorns his parents. Arnie behaves like he is possessed. Arnie, alone with Christine, has the revelation that the car is alive: she repairs herself.
That night Christine (with or without Arnie?) chases one of the bullies and crashes him against a wall.
A police detective is spying on him, curious that he could rebuilt the car so well.
Another bully is burned alive when Christine runs into a garage and crashes into his car, thereby setting off a huge fire. Then Christine, enveloped in flames, chases the boss of the bullies on the highway and runs him over, leaving the corpse to burn in the night.
The owner of the garage where Arnie parks Christine sees Christine come in smoking, but there is nobody behind the wheel. He makes the mistake of sitting in the car. The radio goes on, the door locks and something kills him. The radio is switched off.
The girl tells Dennis her suspicions on Christine, then sees Arnie pick up Dennis for a late-night drive. Arnie drives like a possessed madman and Dennis decides it is about time to do something. Helped by the girl, who is getting friendlier and friendlier, Dennis sets a trap for Christine in the garage. Christine attacks the girl and crashes into the office. Arnie crawls out of the car and dies in front of his girl. Using the girl as bait and a caterpillar as a weapon, Dennis crashes Christine. But the car repairs itself and restarts. Dennis runs over it again, over and over again, until only a pile of junk is left of it.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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John Carpenter's Village of the Damned (1995) is a remake of Wolf Rilla's 1960 film which was based on John Wyndham's novel "The Midwich Cuckoos".

Vampires (1998) is a very minor vampire film that doesn't even leverage Carpenter's usually stunning visual tricks.

Jack leads a team that looks like marines but actually use stakes to kill vampires. It's the old fashioned way but enhanced with high-tech tools and transportation. These vampire slayers have found a nest in a small town and think they have cleansed it, but the vampires take revenge: while the team is resting in a motel and some are being entertained by prostitutes in the bar, the master vampire, Valek, attacks and destroys all of them except Jack and his second-in-command Tony. The two escape taking with them the prostitute Katrina, who has been bitten. Jack burns the motel, while Tony drives away with Katrina.
Jack visits a cardinal, who turns out to be his boss. Jack reports that he met with the most formidable vampire ever. The cardinal tells him that the entire European team of vampire slayers has been destroyed by the same vampire: Valek. The cardinal gives him a new escort: father Montoya, who is in of archives and knows everything of vampires. Valek was the very first vampire, and he was a priest: this makes him particularly dangerous. The cardinal orders Jack to recruit new team of slayers and resume the chase, but Jack refuses to obey, renounces the Vatican's money and, before he walks out, says that he would rather like to find out how Valek learned his name. The cardinal orders Montoya to stay close to him.
Katrina wakes up in a motel room, completely naked and tied to the bed. Tony tells her that she has been bitten by Valek and that now she is part of Valek, and the link will grow stronger, and that's why he has tied her up. She can be saved only if they destroy her master before she turns into a full-fledged vampire.
Jack and father Montoya drive together. Jack does not like the freshman and Vatican valet, whereas Montoya seems to be truly in awe of the veteran. We learn that Jack was raised by the Church to be a master slayer.
At the motel the prostitute, who is beginning to have hallucinations and sees what Valek is doing (killing and killing), tries to free herself and bites Tony in the arm and Tony has to disinfect his arm with fire. Jack and the priest arrive at the motel. Tony does not tell Jack that he has been bitten. Jack and Tony use the girl to see what Valek is doing: he has forced a priest to show him a map and then killed him. The girl helps them pinpoint where he is.
New vampires emerge from the earth and follow their master. The pack of vampires kills and kills and kills.
Jack is tough (he had to kill his own father when his own father turned into a vampire) and does not hesitate to torture father Montoya to find out what is truly happening: Montoya tells him that Valek is after a black cross that would make him truly invincible, able to strike in the sunlight too. The girl can see the relic: a black cross. Valek found it in a mission, after slaughtering all the friars.
The girl leads Jack and Tony to the mission. Jack treats the girl like an animal and Tony defends her. They almost fight over her. Jack is only using her, but Tony really wants to save her.
Following the girl's directions and the priest's tips about Valek's strategy, Jack, Tony, the priest and the girl reach the ghost town where he is hiding. They pull out their bows (a high-tech version of the stakes) and set out through the eerie buildings of the abandoned town.
The trio, outnumbered by vampires who come out from everywhere, manages to kill several of them. Montoya has now gained Jack's trust.
The sun is setting. The vampire slayers decide to call it a day. Bu the sinister Valek appears in person, and he challenges Jack. Dozens of vampires begin walking towards the vampire slayers. Katrina herself is being overwhelmed by Valek's power and and bites Tony.
Jack is captured and (surprise) the cardinal is standing next to Valek. Valek makes a point of showing Jack the beautiful Katrina with a bloody mouth, a sure sign that Tony has now become one of them. The vampires prepare a giant cross and a pyre. The cardinal recites a reverse exorcism. They are ready to burn Jack at the stake.
But father Montoya is still free and has a gun. He shoots and kills the cardinal. Tony has burned his wound and is coming to the rescue. He literally arpoons the cross that Jack is tied to. The sun is rising. The priest, Tony and Jack can now shoot at the vampires who are running scared from the light.
When Jack finally kills Valek (who literally explodes), Katrina returns normal. The priest, who is now on a rampage, would like to kill Tony too, because he has been bitten, but Jack grants him a vacation with Katrina. As Tony leaves, Jack promises he will hunt him down and then kill him. Tony and Katrina take off for their vacation, while Jack takes Montoya as his new partner.

They Live (1988), derived from Ray Nelson's story "Eight O'Clock in the Morning" (1963), has one of his most original plots, despite a couple of ridiculous "action" scenes and wildly below-standard psychological analysis (basically, the characters are just generic types).

A drifter arrives in town looking for a job. He finds a low-paid job as a construction worker but has no money and no place to sleep. A black coworker, Frank, takes him to a shantytown that is run like a commune. At night, as people are watching television outside their huts, the broadcast is interrupted repeatedly by a man who rants against some kind of dictatorship. The watchers are annoyed because they think that it is just a poorly produced program but at least one man walks away mumbling against some enemies. It happens again during the day. The drifter stumbles into the conspirators meeting in a church nearby and hears them discuss plans of insurrection. A blind priest, who is one of the leaders, catches him eavesdropping but lets him go. At night the police raids the church and the members of the cult try in vain to escape. The police demolish the shantytown. The drifter, who is calmly walking around while panicked crowds are running away, sees he police beat up the blind priest and the leader of the conspiracy. The drifter finds shelter in a house while outside chaos spreads. The following morning crowds wonder around the flattened camp, trying to rescue whatever objects they can. The tvset is intact, though. The drifter inspects the church and finds a box full of sunglasses. He wears one and realizes that the sunglasses allows him to see subliminal signs that somehow show up as harmless adverts if viewed without the glasses. Ordinary people don't realize that each sign in the street is a command to obey the rules of the state. Ditto for books and magazines: the sunglasses reveal that real texts are commands written in capital letters. When the drifter watches people through the sunglasses, he realizes that some individuals are skeleton-like monsters, and typically these are the more affluent people. He walks around marveling at the real world, a world plastered with black and white signs and roamed by weird monsters. Then he makes the mistake of telling a lady that she is one of those monsters. She talks in her watch and all the other monsters in the store start doing the same, broadcasting the news that they found someone who "can see". Suddenly he is confronted by two cops. He has no choice but to kill them using one of their guns. More police officers are summoned. The drifter enters a bank and starts shooting the monsters. He is on the run now. He shoots a drone that is following him. He spares the life of a cop who is a real human. In a parking garage he kidnaps a woman and forces her to drive him to her condo. She coldly obeys him but at the first chance she throws him out of the window. He survives the fall, but she has called the police. He is on the run again and he has lost the sunglasses. He walks back to the alley where he threw away the box of sunglasses and jumps into the garbage truck that is driving away. Equipped with a whole box of magical sunglasses, he forces his black coworker Frank to try them out (after a long and tedious fist-fighting scene). They take a room in a hotel. Now that he believes, the black coworker is determined to find out who builds the sunglasses. It is not clear how, but a member of the underground finds out where they live, and invites them to a secret meeting where they meet old friends from the shantytown. The drifter and Frank learn that the Earth is just one of the worlds colonized by that alien race. They are just using humans. These aliens are also capable of vanishing. The drifter is surprised to see that the woman who tried to kill him, Holly, is a member of the underground. Just when she is explaining to him how she joined the group, an explosion destroys the building and cops advance in military formation shooting everybody. When Frank touches one of the magical watches, a hole opens in the ground. The drifter and Frank dive into it and find a subterranean tunnel. They reach a hall where the monsters are holding a rally. A man in suite and tie, who used to be a homeless bum, recognizes them and thinks they converted to the cause of the monsters, and gives them a tour of the futuristic building. They see the machine that the aliens use to vanish and travel in space. They see the communication control that broadcast messages to the whole planet. The renegade is proud of serving this higher civilization. The renegade makes the mistake of taking them to the studio where tv programs are broadcasted. Frank and the drifter draw the guns and attack the studio, while the renegade pushes a button on his watch and vanishes. Frank and the drifter carry out a massacre of aliens in the offices of the tv station, targeting only aliens. They find Holly, who works there, and take her with them to the roof. But Holly is a traitor who has called the cops on them. Holly kills Frank and the drifter kills Holly. The drifter then blows up the transmitter of the tv station that controls the minds of humans. He is killed by a police helicopter but he has freed the human race, who can now "see": humans everywhere can suddenly see the monsters around them even without using the sunglasses, including a naked sexy blonde who stops when she realizes that her naked sexual partner is a disgusting alien.

Carpenter personally composed the music for Dark Star, Assault On Precint 13 and Halloween. The electronic soundtracks for Halloween II, III, Escape From New York, They Live, Prince Of Darkness (1987) were composed by Carpenter with help from Alan Howarth.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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