Have You Ever Seen...
Prince of Darkness (1987)
The second installment of Carpenter's Apocalypse trilogy is one that I really like for its tone and its play with existential horror, but it lands flat in regard to characters so it doesn't stick with me as much as some of Carpenter's other works. I actually like the majority of the actors in this too, it's just there's really never much meat for them to delve into for anything to stick. Still, it's visually captivating and Carpenter keeps the suspense high.
The core premise focuses on the a priest finding a cylinder of goo in the basement of an LA monastery that pretty much houses the essence of Satan. The priest calls up a quantum physicist (as ya do), who in turns brings his students to study the jar o' Satan (as ya do). Wackiness, people melting into puddles of bugs, and Alice Cooper ensue.
Besides the fluid camera work and fun horror gross-outs, the film excels at its Grant Morrison-esque exploration of the essence of evil being tied to anti-matter and 'Satan' being an alien child of some horrible anti-god that is trying to pass into our world. It's a little goofy at times but at its core is a depressing sense of nihilism and ambivalence that carries a nice Lovecraftian tone with it.
All of that is very much my jam, it's just like I said, we hit a flat wall when it comes to characters. That isn't to say that Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong's performances aren't fun, but the film wastes time with its younger romantic leads who just don't give you anything to care about even though the decisions of Lisa Blount's character Catherine sort of have a major impact on our level of existences' survival.
I'd say it's well worth watching, just invest more in the ideas Carpenter is tossing around and stick around for the horror kills.
Black Moon Rising (1986)
I love how the trailer is all 'From the mind of John Carpenter', and in interviews Carpenter is all, "It was my 'my car is stolen and I'm going to get it back' story," and "I have never seen the final film."
So yeah this is basically like three separate movies that keep tripping into each other. Movie one is Tommy Lee Jones breaking into a dirty corporation to get incriminating files for the government. He escapes but is chased with said dirty files, and accidentally trips into movie #2 which is about some scientists who have built a really fast car. Jones hides the files in the car, and then has to track down the car, which then trips into movie #3 and is stolen by Linda Hamilton (fresh off of Terminator) who is an auto thief who works for a dirty corporate mogul who also operates a stolen car syndicate. It's all fairly well laid out though and isn't terribly convoluted, but it really doesn't have one personality as a movie. Other than Tommy Lee Jones is tired of this bullshit, but he has to put up with all of it anyway. And in its own way, that's sort of worth it alone.
The performances are solid and it's a competently put together film, it just doesn't leave much of an impression afterwards. Unless you think cars are cool and maybe you like the car?
That interview with Carpenter was from 2016, so I am left wondering if maybe since then and with the pandemic if he ever got bored enough to finally check out the film.....
Bagdad Cafe (1987)
A German tourist is stranded in the Mojave Desert after getting into a fight with her husband and finds sanctuary in a beat down little truck stop and motel. Initially greeted with suspicion by the owner of the establishment, the film slowly shows the various relationships of the people living there and how all of their lives are changed by the introduction of this stranger.
There's no real plotline to the movie, and instead it's entirely character centric and built on the strengths of the performances of all the actors. I'm a big CCH Pounder fan and she's utterly fantastic as the truck stop owner Brenda, and Marianne Sägebrecht's performance as the newcomer Jasmin steals much of the show. Jack Palance is pretty great as well as a new age hippie who is enchanted by Jasmine.
There's a mixture of magical realism injected into the fabric of the film. It plays a very subtle role but it enhances the tiny sense of wonder that the film wants to instill in the beauty of people just being people. There's also a fairy tale element to the storytelling that's framed through the perspective of Jasmine as she has a sort of innocence to her as she's rediscovering herself in this environment that's very far from home. Often times we see things from her eyes, so we see her misconceptions as well as her recognition of the common day beauty that's ignored by others in the film.
It's very much a story of empathy, and it's tough to always pull those off without being too sappy or overdramatic. This hit just the right balance for me where the innate charm of the storytelling and cast fused together perfectly. So if you're ever in the mood to feel good about humanity, and we can all use a good dose of that these days, then do yourself a favor and hunt this down.