Collins’ Crypt: Scream Factory Can’t Escape John Carpenter

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK gets a new Blu, and BC makes guesses as to which Carpenter film will get the SF treatment next.

This week, Scream Factory will release a new special edition Blu-ray of John Carpenter's Escape From New York, and it will be the rare one of their releases that has to spill its supplemental material onto a second disc. The original special edition DVD in 2003 also had two discs, but that wasn't uncommon for DVD, which had much less storage space than its successor - though it was a bit unusual that so many bonus features could be created for a film that existed long before the idea of "special editions" was a thing. In other words, it was already pretty exhaustive, but as always Scream Factory has made sure that they make a double dip worth your while - not only does the release sport a new 2k transfer but they've put together several new bonus features that are worth a look (particularly Kim Gottlieb-Walker's interview, loaded with great photos she took on set and are available in her book), as well as a new commentary by Dean Cundey and Adrienne Barbeau to go along with the two it already had.

Suffice to say, I don't think at this point there can ever be a better release of this particular film. I know I probably said that about the old DVD at some point, but I'm pretty sure between all of those extras (which are all present here, of course) and the new ones, just about every living person from the film has been interviewed or done a commentary for it - they even got Joe Unger to sit down for a solid interview about his scene, and it was cut! Tom Atkins and Charles Cyphers are among the only exclusions worth suggesting, but neither of them are in the movie all that much and probably wouldn't have much to say. However, it'd be great to have one or both of them sit down and discuss their time as Carpenter regulars in general, as both appeared in several of the filmmaker's projects during this period.

And if such a thing ever happened, it'd likely be on a Scream Factory release, as the company seems hellbent on eventually presenting Carpenter's entire filmography on their label (which, if you recall, kicked off with two films he produced/co-wrote: Halloween II and III, with his 1988 classic They Live following shortly thereafter). If you count those two Halloween sequels, they have NINE Carpenter releases in their lineup*, tripling his nearest competitors (George Romero and Tobe Hooper have been given the treatment three times each). And while they've already done most of the big draw titles, I'm sure they wouldn't hesitate to put together something for his others - his name alone is enough for genre fans to pull out their wallets, and many of the ones they haven't done don't have proper special editions as of yet anyway, making it an even easier sell. If they can get him to sit down for a commentary, they've got my 20 bucks.

Of course, it's not as easy as merely picking a name out of a hat and putting it out. Scream/Shout Factory has to license the rights from the owning studio, and that's where things get tricky (and expensive). While they have a really solid relationship with some studios like MGM, others seem to be less willing to potentially be upstaged by this independent company. If you take the time to look at the releasing studios for their films, you'll notice that the bulk of them are from either MGM or Universal, while they have yet to release a single one from, say, Paramount or Warner Bros. There's also the rights issues - sometimes they simply can't track down who actually owns the damn movie anymore, and it halts any forward movement on releasing a new edition of it. People ask them every day for Fright Night Part 2, but it's never going to happen until someone can figure out who can actually make that call.

Luckily, none of Carpenter's films fall into that territory. Most of them were studio releases, and the marquee value of his name on that poster has kept said studios from letting their rights expire. That's not to say they can or will all get Scream Factory releases someday, but since it seems like they're trying to do just that, I thought it'd be fun to list the ones they haven't done yet, using educated guesses to rank them in order of likelihood, using their history with the studios involved and the potential draw of the film itself to guide me.

1. Dark Star
Because it's his first film and currently owned by a fellow independent (VCI), it seems to me this would be one of the easier ones for them to acquire and promote. Sure, it's not a great film, but it's got a quirky appeal and there's nothing else like it in Carpenter's filmography. As they seem to be focused on the early films, this has to be on their "checklist" - if they put that out, they'd have all of his non-television features from 1974 to 1981. After MGM and Universal, SF's biggest "partners" are independent places like this, who control the films that kind of drift around from studio to studio.

2. Village of the Damned
Carpenter has made four films that were released by Universal. Two of them they've already done: They Live and Prince of Darkness. The other will be much further down on this list because it's an A-list title. That leaves Village as the next likely one, given their tradition of putting out Uni films (they've exhausted the Carpenter films that were controlled by MGM). Sure, it's no one's favorite movie from the master, but it's not THAT bad, and the existing DVD is a bare-bones affair. Carpenter actually likes doing commentaries and it's pretty rare that he doesn't do one for a film, so even if they got him to do that and maybe threw in an interview with Mark Hamill or Michael Paré, it wouldn't be hard to convince fans to give it another shot.

3-6. Christine/Vampires/Ghosts of Mars/Starman
Every now and then SF puts out a Sony film (such as Lifeforce, originally released by their Tri-Star label), so they must have SOME connection there even if it's not as strong as it is for MGM and Uni. And Sony has lent out the rights to Christine in the past, allowing Twilight Time to release it for a short period in a limited edition. So while I wouldn't hold my breath for any of them, if they can manage to get ONE and both parties are happy with how it turns out, the others would probably follow suit. Starman might be trickier though; it's a bigger hit than any of those (and an Oscar nominee!) and the Blu-ray is currently out of print. Perhaps Sony is planning a new edition of their own to coast on Jeff Bridges' late career resurgence, or the rights are currently in limbo for whatever reason.

7. Big Trouble In Little China
Scream Factory has released a few Fox titles, such as Bad Dreams and Terror Train, and with the new comic series (and a looming 30th anniversary) it wouldn't be surprising to see SOME sort of new edition of this one, even though there's already a pretty thorough special edition on the market. Since Fox has already given it their best (seriously; for a movie that lost them money they went all out for the DVD/Blu - much obliged), I'm sure if SF wanted to do it they probably would get the OK.

8. The Ward
Like Dark Star, this one's an indie that never got sapped up by a bigger studio for home release (like The Fog, which was released independently as well but is now part of MGM's library), so it might be easier to acquire. WHY they'd do it I don't know, but in terms of how likely it is that they COULD, it's got a better chance than any of the ones below.

9. In The Mouth of Madness
As I mentioned, they've never done a Warner release (which includes New Line), but Warner and MGM's histories often blend, and given SF's strong MGM partnership maybe the Lion can put in a good word for them over in Burbank. OK, I know that's not how this stuff works, but it'd still be a pretty nice 'get' for SF, and hopefully the start of a nice partnership with the giant studio. I'm sure they have their sights set higher (Exorcist III would be a nice one, if they can do what they did for Nightbreed and Halloween 6), but ITMOM is a much loved entry in Carpenter's filmography (many consider it his last great film), and the current release has a commentary but nothing else, so I'm sure they could work their magic and produce something far more worthy of the film's value.

10. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
...and if that works out they can do this too. It's the only other WB film Carpenter did, and while it's sort of a "rogue" JC film (his name isn't even above the title!) it might be fun to see them try to get him to do a commentary. The nice thing about SF releases compared to their studio counterparts is that they're independent of them, and thus participants are free to be a bit more candid. It's been rumored that Carpenter did not get along with star Chevy Chase (shocking, I know), but those stores have been rather vague - a SF release could be a bit more frank. That alone would make it more enticing to the many who don't think much of this underrated (but not great) comic thriller.

11. The Thing
Despite their strong partnership with Universal, I don't see SF getting this one soon. I hope I'm wrong, but even though the film was a dud when first released, it's been reevaluated and is now considered by many to be Carpenter's masterpiece (I still put Halloween on top, but Thing is a close 2nd). Even if Uni was willing to part with it for a while, I'm sure they'd price themselves out of SF's budget range. Given that the film has a terrific special edition already (including a nearly feature length retrospective doc), SF might end up in a rare instance of fans not wanting to double dip - a disastrous outcome for what would likely be an expensive endeavor for them.

12. Escape From LA
Same with Warner, they've never done a film for Paramount. But unlike In The Mouth of Madness, which continues to find new fans, time hasn't changed LA's fortunes all that much - for the most part, the folks who liked it then are the ones who like it now. The only thing going for it would be the fact that the current release is completely bare-bones, which would make it an easy upgrade decision for those fans... everyone else would probably still be OK with letting it pass them by. However, we DO love our complete sets, so if by some miracle I was right on the money and it came down to the fact that this was the last film of Carpenter's for them to acquire and release, we'd all buy it for completion's sake.

And then there's his television stuff. Someone's Watching Me was released by Warner a while back, so you can put that around the same odds as Memoirs as it's not exactly anyone's top choice. Elvis was actually a Shout Factory release (predating the Scream Factory label's existence), so if it ever came to Blu I doubt they'd give it a misleading "Scream Factory" logo just because Carpenter was involved. And his Masters of Horror stuff is tied up with Anchor Bay, who partnered with SF for the Halloween boxed set but probably wouldn't want to break up the series (and in turn, I doubt SF - or anyone else - would want those mostly lousy mini-movies; even Carpenter's aren't exactly slam dunks).

Of course, this is all speculation. One can't deny that they obviously have an affinity for Carpenter (who else would bother to create a special edition for Body Bags?), but it's possible that EFNY is the last of his films to get that treatment. There's a lot of "IF" in the piece above, and even the ones at the top of the list aren't exactly a sure thing. With a few exceptions like The Thing, the films above are the "fans only" entries of Carpenter's output, and none are MGM (they're clearly the easiest studio for SF to work with). So every title is either from a studio that they don't have a strong partnership with, or a film that isn't well loved, or both. I hope I'm wrong and they can at least get the ones that lack a Carpenter commentary, but even if EFNY proves to be the last, as a die-hard fan of the filmmaker's I can happily say they've done an exceptional job with the ones they've done. I haven't bothered upgrading much of my collection to Blu (I'm still on DVD with The Usual Suspects and that's one of my top 5 favorite movies), but their existing releases are exceptions, and I doubt I'd hesitate to do the same for any of the above titles.

*They are: Assault on Precinct 13, They Live, Prince of Darkness, Body Bags, Escape From New York, The Fog, and thanks to their work on the boxed set we can count the original Halloween. Plus, again, its first two, Carpenter produced/co-written sequels.