Five John Carpenter Movies That Aren’t Halloween or The Thing

If you walk into a room of hardcore horror fans and ask them to name the best John Carpenter film, about 99% of them are probably going to give one of two answers. They’ll say either Halloween or The Thing, and with good reason. Those are hands down his two best and most famous movies, so they deserve to be foremost in fans’ minds.

Let’s not forget Halloween and The Thing are not the only John Carpenter films! His body of work is quite vast. While he did have a few bad days at the office, just like anybody else, the majority of his movies are excellent. In fact, if you erased Halloween and The Thing from history, he would still be one of the all-time greats. The rest of his films deserve a ton of love too.

To that end, I’ve compiled a list of five other fantastic John Carpenter movies. These films run the subgenre gamut from ghosts to aliens, and there’s even a horror-adjacent fantasy flick in the mix. These movies prove Carpenter is way more than a two-hit wonder. If you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into his filmography, these five titles are a great place to start.

Someone’s Watching Me!

A woman being watched through a telescope while she is in her own apartment

You’d be hard-pressed to find a John Carpenter movie more obscure than Someone’s Watching Me!. Most people have never even heard of this film, and for good reason. It’s a small, made-for-TV movie Carpenter wrote and directed before his breakout hit Halloween. Flying under the radar, Someone’s Watching Me! became a footnote in the annals of cinematic history. But what a footnote it is. Someone’s Watching Me! is so well done you’d never know it went straight to television. Despite its low profile, it’s a completely worthy entry in John Carpenter’s legendary filmography.

Someone’s Watching Me! follows a woman named Leigh (Lauren Hutton) who moves to Los Angeles for a new job. Shortly after she arrives, she finds herself the target of a mysterious and malevolent stalker. Initially, the harassment just consists of obnoxious phone calls and anonymous gifts, so it’s relatively innocuous. However, as the movie goes on, the stakes get higher and higher. Leigh eventually realizes that her pursuer lives in the high-rise apartment building across the street, and he’s been watching the poor woman in a creepy Rear Window-esque fashion.

As a made-for-TV film, Someone’s Watching Me! is understandably light on blood and violence, but John Carpenter makes up for that limitation with well-crafted tension and suspense. In fact, it’s a bit like the first half of Halloween in that sense, it showcases a lot of the same filmmaking talent that made Michael Myers a household name. The slow and escalating sense of danger will have you on the edge of your seat for much of the movie’s runtime. And the mystery behind Leigh’s unknown stalker will keep your eyes glued to the screen from beginning to end. In a word, Someone’s Watching Me! is way better than a TV horror film has any right to be, but when you remember that it was made by John Carpenter, you wouldn’t expect anything less.

The Fog

A woman sits in front of a microphone in mid sentence, the windows behind her show a dark night.

If you’re a fan of campfire ghost stories, this next John Carpenter movie is for you. In fact, The Fog starts with an elderly man telling creepy ghost stories to a group of children sitting around a campfire; giving the film a kind of cozy, almost nostalgic vibe. It makes you feel like you’re a kid again, listening to spooky stories late into the night. As the movie goes on, the ambiance just gets stronger and stronger.

The Fog is set in the small town of Antonio Bay. One day an unusual fog starts to make its way from the sea and into dry land. At first, nobody really thinks much of it, but soon enough the townsfolk discover an awful truth about their hometown’s past. The founders they idolized weren’t quite as wholesome as everybody was led to believe, and the people these hypocrites wronged have come back from the grave to take their revenge.

It’s a classic ghost story premise, and unsurprisingly, John Carpenter executes it almost flawlessly. This film is absolutely dripping with atmosphere. Even when nothing particularly terrifying is happening, you always feel like you’re watching a slow descent into hell. It’s exactly what you want from a campfire tale like this, and when the horror really kicks into gear, the movie gets even better. The third act ramps up the tension to 11, and it doesn’t let up until the final scene. The Fog is a great experience all around, so even though it isn’t as well known as Halloween or The Thing, it’s still a worthy entry in John Carpenter’s awe-inspiring filmography.

Big Trouble in Little China

Lo Pan looks straight ahead

John Carpenter is, understandably, known primarily for his horror films, but he’s not just a one-trick pony. The man has also done some excellent work in a few neighboring genres, so a list like this has to include at least one of his non-horror movies! They’re an important part of his cinematic legacy, and in my opinion, the best of the bunch is the action-fantasy-comedy Big Trouble in Little China.

In the movie, an ancient sorcerer, Lo Pan (James Hong), kidnaps a beautiful woman, Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), to use her to break an age-old curse. Arrogant truck driver, Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), inadvertently gets pulled into the struggle to Save Gracie. It’s a great story filled with hilarious gags, fun fights, and super cool magic. Big Trouble in Little China is pretty much everything you’d want from a film like this.

On top of that, Big Trouble in Little China also features my all-time favorite Kurt Russell performance. He imbues the role of Jack Burton with so much charisma that you can’t help but love the guy despite his very obvious flaws. “Have you paid your dues, Jack?” “Yessir, the check is in the mail.” Russell is so compelling, finding a way to make those flaws super charming. He’s just an absolute joy to watch from beginning to end. Jack Burton is like the cherry on top of this scrumptious cinematic sundae. If you’ve ever wondered whether John Carpenter can make a good non-horror movie, Big Trouble in Little China shows that the answer is a resounding yes.

Prince of Darkness

A priest and a professor sit across from each other at a desk. The table is covered with scattered papers.

No list of John Carpenter films would be complete without an entry from the filmmaker’s famed Apocalypse Trilogy. The Thing, Prince of Darkness, and In the Mouth of Madness make up this filmic triad. Unlike most trilogies, this one isn’t connected by a single storyline or a recurring character. Rather, these three movies share thematic similarities. As the name “Apocalypse Trilogy” suggests, they’re all bleak films dealing with imminent and unavoidable destruction at the hands of inhuman forces.

All three films are excellent watches, and for this list, I’ve chosen Prince of Darkness, Carpenter’s sci-fi spin on demonic horror. In the film, a Catholic priest (Donald Pleasence) enlists the assistance of a group of theology and quantum physics graduate students to help him learn the truth about a mysterious green liquid hidden away in a monastery. When they figure out what this goo really is, they realize that it could spell the end of the world as they know it.

In typical John Carpenter fashion, Prince of Darkness is a bit of a slow burn. At first, it’s all about the mystery of the green liquid, this part of the movie is saturated with an atmosphere of dread and uncertainty. You feel it in your bones. Even though you’re not entirely sure what you should be afraid of, you’ll know without a doubt that something truly horrible is afoot.

When the horror finally comes to the fore, it does not disappoint. The final act is chock full of creepy scares, fun horror action, and even more of that terrifying atmosphere. You’ll be on the edge of your seat the entire time. It’s the perfect way to close out this unique take on demonic horror, and it makes for yet another great entry in John Carpenter’s illustrious filmography.

They Live

Nada looks over his shoulder on a sunny street, his face is the only object in focus.

Last but not least, we have They Live, a sci-fi horror film with something to say. It stars pro wrestling legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The film follows a man named Nada who one day comes upon a unique pair of sunglasses. Upon first glance, the glasses look like any other pair of sunglasses. When Nada puts them on, they enable him to see the world as it really is. He discovers that society is actually ruled by aliens who are using the media to subdue the human race and manipulate people into maintaining the consumerist status quo.

They Live is a very obvious and on-the-nose metaphor for the dangers of unrestrained capitalism and consumerism, but it’s not all doom and gloom! The film plays into the fun of its ridiculous premise, and the way I see it, that’s the best thing about the movie. Take the unforgettable, and infamous, five-minute-long fight scene that’s unlike anything else you’ll see in the horror genre. Plus They Live gave us the classic line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

Simply put, They Live is a total blast, and that makes the film’s very heavy-handed commentary feel more palatable. This could’ve easily felt more like a video lecture than an actual story, but in the hands of master filmmaker John Carpenter, it ends up being the perfect blend of fun entertainment and real thematic substance.

Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong movie fan, and his favorite genres are horror, superheroes, and giant monsters. You can find him on Twitter @jpnunezhorror.

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