7 John Carpenter Films That Actually Merit Sequels and/or Prequels

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?To badly paraphrase Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter fans are reasonable people who have experienced some very unreasonable things over the past couple of years. First there was Carpenter’s semi-retirement. Then came his signing off on a string of misguided remakes — including a blasphemous re-envisioning of Escape from New York that was to have starred Gerard Butler (a casting move that aggravated many, including Kurt Russell). While the Butler version of the film went into turnaround, another attempt is currently in pre-production for release next year. Also arriving in theaters in 2011 is a massively unnecessary and unwanted prequel to The Thing, This futile endeavor will feature Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton as scientists who join a Norwegian research expedition in the Antarctic. Yes, the scientists from the very beginning of The Thing who die in the first five minutes as a prologue. Which isn’t to say that the prequel won’t have some (probably lame) twists of its own, but knowing the final outcome kind of ruins the whole point of the exercise.

What further makes this 2011 Thing, um, thing so aggravating is that there are plenty of other John Carpenter properties that fans would actually like to see a return to instead…or at least handled differently. With that in mind, here’s a look at seven Carpenter classics that would be worth revisiting in one form or another. Since most of the films on this list failed financially the first time around, there’s slim to no chance that any of these entries will actually come to be. So think of this Daily List as a bit of Carpenter fanboy wish fulfillment. As ol’ Jack Burton always says, what the hell…

7) Prince of Darkness
Even though it features Jameson Parker rocking the greatest porn stache this side of the Wonderland murders and co-stars Alice Cooper as a bum, 1987’s Prince of Darkness is a jumbled and largely joyless film. To simplify the plot a bit, let’s just say that Satan exists in the form of green slime inside of a Los Angeles church. (Sadly, at no point in the movie does Donald Pleasance say “I don’t know” and then become doused with the goop while Barth cooks up some burgers for Moose). Thusly, the various misfit characters — mostly portrayed by actors who previously worked with Carpenter on much better films — attempt to figure out how to stop Old Scratch from taking over the world. The movie’s most intriguing moments are the brief “Brotherhood of Sleep” dream sequence segments, which are supposed to be futuristic transmissions being broadcast into the brains of our heroes. These subconscious messages are warning the characters that if they don’t stop the events that are unfolding around them, mankind is way screwed. Or something. Again, it’s all pretty jumbled, and the bizarre video message concept was done way better two years earlier in Mark Romanek’s Static. I’m being pretty hard on the film, but you do warm to its goofy and creepy charms with repeat viewings. So much so that you may find yourself wondering about the future society from which the broadcasts originated. What does a world in which Satan won look like? And how can a band of resistance fighters possibly survive long enough to send a message backwards through time? These are questions that are worth exploring in a sequel, And although I’m usually staunchly against any remake of a Carpenter film, this one may actually be worthy or a retelling to fully flesh out some of the original’s ideas about temporal causality and evil devil jars. Just as long as whoever gets cast as the male lead has as sublime of a lip caterpillar that Parker was sporting back in ’87.

6) Dark Star

John Carpenter’s debut feature was this sci-fi comedy that pre-dated Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Fat Men from Space and Red Dwarf (though its influence can be clearly felt on the latter). Dark Star has retained a solid cult for 35 years, yet it is a true pop culture oddity — a property whose devotees seem perfectly fine with the fact that all there is to enjoy is the original movie. There are no follow-up novels, no comics, no festivals devoted to the flick, no merchandising, etc. All that exists is the original short film, the expanded theatrical version and a novelization written by go-to sci-fi guy of the 1970s, Alan Dean Foster. I suppose this is more than okay given how most prequels/sequels turn out, but I can’t help but wondering what other ennui-laden adventures Doolittle and Pinback could have had before the events of this movie. As you doubtlessly know, co-writer Dan O’Bannon went on to explore outer space menace much more terrifyingly in Alien. But does that movie’s acid-blooded xenomorph have the charm of Dark Star‘s beach ball E.T.? Not even close.

5) Starman

As you can see and hear above in the above video, Dan Black’s “Symphonies” utilizes elements of Jack Nitzsche’s romantically yearning score for Starman. Terrible though it may be, the song illustrates how John Carpenter’s 1984 sci-fi love story continues to resonate with people. Starman fans — or, Starfans if you like — got to see the story continue with the underappreciated Robert Hays series that ABC aired in 1986. Yet a film sequel has never materialized, largely because the story was so perfectly told the first time around. On the audio commentary for the import DVD of the film, Carpenter and Jeff Bridges briefly mention an idea for a possible follow-up. Tron: Legacy is proof that Bridges has no trouble reprising iconic roles decades later, so perhaps someone can convince him to dust off whatever the sequel concept is, throw on some flannel and return to Karen Allen for another intergalactic lovefest.

4) The Thing

Surprise! As I mentioned in my introduction, this entire article was inspired by the superfluous nature of The Thing prequel. Yet the potential for a sequel intrigues me just as much as having the demise of the Norwegian camp spelled out for audiences tasks my very soul. Don’t get me wrong, the movie’s ending is a nihilistic affair that is absolutely perfect. Still, it sure is fun to think about what happens after the fade to black without cheapening that moment. So when The Thing PS2 came out a few years back, I was surprised to find it to be a fine continuation of a story that, frankly, didn’t seem to have much more life in it. Mixing elements from the game with story ideas borrowed from Dark Horse’s comic sequels could have really made an interesting big screen continuation. Instead, we’ll get to see Owen Lars and Ramona Flowers do battle with the alien in what is being referred to as a “companion piece” to the 1982 Thing. Since Carpenter’s film was itself a remake, maybe I should l lighten up on the prequel. Even though it doesn’t have Wilford Brimley, Kurt Russell, T.K. He’s My Girl Carter or Rob Bottin’s mindfuck effects, it still can be good right? There’s a better chance that Carpenter will quit smoking, but some harmless delusion may take the sting away. Speaking of harmless delusion…

3) Escape from L.A.

I’m completely ignoring the existence of the Escape from New York remake. Even with the not-terrible rumored casting possibilities of Timothy Olyphant and Josh Brolin, I still refuse to believe that such an atrocity should be thrust upon the viewing public. To quote Eric Stoltz in Mr. Jealousy, “it can’t be good, I won’t have it.” The remakes of Halloween and The Fog were one thing, but Snake Plissken is sacred ground that should not be trod upon by anyone not involved with his two previous cinematic endeavors. Escape from L.A. didn’t exactly do the character any favors, yet it still had some really terrific moments and a crowd-pleasing ending that begged for another Plissken adventure. Unfortunately, the movie came out and underperformed and fans were left wondering if Snake would ever get a chance to Escape from Earth like Carpenter and Russell promised. Adding insult to injury was a truly terrible Plissken comic book and canceled video game and anime projects based on the character. (There was going to be a TV series early last decade as well, though it seems like we dodged a bullet on that one). So if Snake makes his return how should he do it? Carpenter doesn’t seem especially interested in making Escape from Earth, so why not let Robert Rodriguez take over the franchise? If memory serves there was some whispering about such an occurrence around the time Grindhouse hit theaters. You know Rodriguez could get it done on the cheap, and I personally can’t think of a better adversary for Russell than Danny Trejo. Sigh. Instead of getting an ulcer about the remake, I will dream of a perfect world where Machete fights Snake.

2) They Live

I’ve already documented the 8 Reasons Why They Live Is Cinema’s Greatest Achievement on this site, so clearly I think the film is worthy of a sequel. The thing is, we almost got one. Frequent Starlog readers may remember seeing a listing for They Live 2: Hypnowar in the magazine’s Film Fantasy Calendar sidebar for awhile. The rumored synopsis had Rowdy Roddy somehow surviving his wounds from the end of the film and traveling to the aliens’ home planet of Andromeda (where he would have likely restocked on bubblegum and kicked more ass). The fact that this movie never came to be proves once again that life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat.

1) Big Trouble in Little China

To date their have been three unsuccessful — and legally dubious –stabs at furthering the adventures of Jack Burton and company on the comic page (from small publishers Across the Pond, BarkIT and, most recently, CrankLeft). Carpenter has gone on record as saying that he has no desire to make a sequel, so if there’s ever a future for Big Trouble in Little China, it’s going to be in comic books. This sucks, but its better prospect than the More Trouble in Little China telefilm that was to have been made without either Carpenter or Russell’s involvement. Besides, the recent comics based on The Muppet Show and Buckaroo Banzai have been stellar. There’s no reason why a Big Trouble one can’t be as well, provided the license makes its way into the right company’s hands — unlike the Snake Plissken Chronicles comic that stunk up stores a decade ago. So until next we meet him again, just remember what ol’ Jack Burton does when the Earth quakes, and the poison arrows fall from the sky, and the pillars of Heaven shake. Yeah, Jack Burton just looks that big ol’ storm right square in the eye and he says, “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”