John Carpenter's Most Iconic Filming Locations In L.A.
Who is L.A.'s preeminent film director? John Carpenter, that maestro of spills and thrills, deserves consideration. He often gets buried in the discussion because his films weren't always ostensibly about Los Angeles. But the fact remains that Carpenter has made good use of the terrain. He's played upon the city's sprawling highways, its dusty back alleys, its bedraggled buildings, and even its leafy suburbs. And, even when Carpenter had the backing of major studios, there was always a kind of guerrilla approach to his filmmaking. While everyone else aimed for an idealized version of L.A., Carpenter shot at any location that suited his needs. As a result, we got a more eccentric (and perhaps more representative) travelogue of the Southland in his body of work.
Here are some of Carpenter's most iconic shooting locations in Los Angeles. As Halloween nears, you may want to make a game of visiting these locations firsthand. Though we advise that you keep an eye out for any masked men who may be lurking in the shrubbery.
The humble abode of Michael Myers. (Via YouTube)
Jason Voorhees resided at Camp Crystal Lake, but he also ventured out to Manhattan, and even into outer space at one point. Freddy Krueger had Elm Street, but the whole dream motif allowed him to materialize in some far-flung settings. It's Michael Myers who is so inextricable from his homebase of Haddonfield, Illinois.
You could hypothesize that this is intentional on Carpenter's part. While both Jason and Freddy lust for vengeance, Myers has no other motive than his innate psychopathy. As such, the Midwest, with its good manners and militant cheerfulness, serves as the perfect foil to the maniac. If Haddonfield is the ego, then Myers is the (knife-wielding) id.
The actual setting of Haddonfield, however, wasn't in Illinois. It wasn't even in the Midwest, for that matter. It's actually South Pasadena that you're looking at. Myers' house, where he'd started his lifelong murder spree, can be found today by 1000 Mission Street. It'd been re-located from its original filming location, but the home is still largely intact. Also, "Haddonfield High" was actually South Pasadena High School. And the school where Myers stalks the hapless Tommy is Garfield Elementary School in Alhambra.
Myers' house can be found at 1000 Mission Street, South Pasadena.
Moochie's in a spot of trouble. (Via YouTube)
Whereas the team up of Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King (i.e. The Shining) was a stroke of inspiration, the partnership of Carpenter and King seemed predestined. The weird part is that Carpenter had chosen Christine as his gateway into King's funhouse of horrors. The book, about a murderous Plymouth Fury with a mind of its own, doesn't appeal to Carpenter's best traits. Which is to say that the novel lacks a rogues gallery of creepy crawlies, and it doesn't offer an incisive statement about society at large. It really is just about a car that wants to off people.
Still, Christine still delivers on the scares. Carpenter's keen direction gives us a creeping sense of the car as a sly and calculating psychopath. The car notches its first kill by the confluence of Mission Road, North Soto St., and Huntington Drive at the border of Montecito Heights. The brooding buildup—when the poor "Moochie" realizes that something's wrong—happens beneath an overpass in that area.
Also, let's take a moment to appreciate L.A.'s wonderful offerings of overpass structures. From Repo Man to Terminator 2, they're one of L.A.'s most iconic film motifs. The looming concrete, the windswept litter, the puddles of murky water—they strike a certain mood that you can't find elsewhere.
The site of Moochie's run-in with Christine can be found by the intersection of Mission Road and North Soto St. in Montecito Heights.
The former Union Church. (Via YouTube)
PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987)
At first glance, it seems like Prince of Darkness is toying with some novel ideas. Carpenter said that he'd wanted to explore evil from the standpoint of quantum physics, and the premise of the movie promises just that: a group of scientists are sent into a basement of a church to do tests on a canister of mysterious green goo that seems to be causing some sort of, uh, disturbance.
The resulting movie, however, was swamped with too many disparate ideas. There's a secret brotherhood that guards the substance. There are mirrors that lead into the netherworld. There's Victor Wong (you might remember him from 3 Ninjas) playing a physicist who's clad in tweed. And that green substance? Well, that's satan in liquid form. Yup.
What helped tie the movie together (kind of) was the location. The church was comprised of creaky floorboards and dimly-lit corridors. Stuffy and labyrinthine, it provided the movie with a feeling of claustrophobia. The building, erected in 1923, was formerly known as Union Church, which had housed three separate Japanese-American congregations. During World War II, Japanese-American locals were rounded up in front of the building, with some of them getting shipped off to internment camps. The space is now the Union Center for the Arts in Little Tokyo, the home of LA Artcore and the East West Players.
The church can be found at 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Little Tokyo.
THEY LIVE (1988)
In They Live, the late professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper plays a wandering construction worker who happens upon an extraterrestrial plot to brainwash the world. Basically, the aliens have encoded all of our material goods (from our cereal boxes, to our billboards, to our paper currency) with hidden messages that render us docile. At some point, Piper's character obtains a pair of sunglasses that lets him see through the guise, and he later wants to share this discovery with an acquaintance played by actor Keith David.
Piper tells David to put on the sunglasses, but David waves off the offer. Inexplicably, this disagreement then leads to a punishing, bare-knuckled, six-minute fight that has cemented itself in cinema folklore. The punches are visceral, landing with a kind of flesh-and-bone percussiveness. Piper brought in his experience as a professional wrestler to give the scene a sense of verisimilitude—David later said in interviews that the realism was a work of timing. The fight was filmed by Pershing Square, in an alleyway called Mercury Court. It's between 6th and 7th Streets.
You can enter Mercury Court at 425 7th Street, Los Angeles.
Snake sinks a half court shot. (Via YouTube)
ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996)
Kurt Russell came back to reprise his role as the rugged Snake Plissken, who'd first made his appearance in the dystopian Escape From New York.
In Escape From L.A., the Southland has broken off from the rest of California (like, literally) after a massive earthquake devastates the area. Now an island, L.A. is turned into a sort of maximum security prison where "sinners" are deported to. The president tosses Snake into this Australia Part Two to recover an apocalypse device from a group revolutionaries, and the adventure takes our hero on a series of far-fetched scenarios. At one point, Snake goes surfing to chase down Steve Buscemi, who's in a Cadillac, driving along a cliff that's by the sea. In another scene, Snake's has to win a game of basketball to avoid being executed. This game, which is presided over by a Che Guevara knockoff, was shot at the Memorial Coliseum.
Seeing as how the Coliseum recently faced its own (real-life) dilemma of privatized law enforcement (LAPD officers were pulled from their duties to oversee Rams games), you could say that Escape From L.A. was prescient in some respects.
The Memorial Coliseum is at 3911 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976)
Is there a director out there who hasn't, at some point, fantasized about doing a Western? Carpenter is certainly no exception; 1976's Assault On Precinct 13 was a loose adaptation of the Howard Hawks' classic Rio Bravo.
In Carpenter's take, the Wild West has been swapped out for the asphalt roads of South L.A. A roving street gang has set its sights on a police station, forcing the inhabitants—both law enforcement and prisoners alike—to team up for a defensive front. The movie is tightly-wound and at times shocking in how matter-of-factly it treats its violence. And, being only his second feature-length film, the movie would help establish Carpenter as a master of pacing and action set-pieces.
While the interior shots of the titular police precinct was shot at a studio, the exteriors were of the former Venice Police Station on 685 Venice Blvd. The Art Deco building, which was built in 1929, has all the burnished charms of a past era. As such, it looms as the fortress of a forgotten time—the gang members trying to break in are performing a crime of sacrilege, not just something petty.
The building has been described by the LAPD the only Art Deco police station in the city. In 1994, it was designated as a historic-cultural monument by the City Council. Today, the space is home to the Social and Public Art Resource Center.
The police precinct is at 685 Venice Blvd, Venice.
THE THING (1982)
Of Carpenter's nearly 20 feature films, The Thing is perhaps the most beloved among his legions of adoring cinephiles. As a movie about an unseen alien contagion, it had all the paranoia of a typical Carpenter romp. The premise also gave make-up artist Rob Bottin full rein to go wild. Ever seen a human head sprout legs and scamper away like a snow crab? Well, now you have. The 2011 remake only reinforced what we'd suspected for a long while—that computer-generated effects can't replicate the kind of viscous, hair-raising grossness of analog effects.
The Thing is set in the tundras. So no, you're not going to spot a craftsman bungalow in this feature. But portions of the film were, technically, shot in L.A. in a film studio. Are we cheating a bit here? Maybe. But it's worth noting that the "studio" was the famed Stage 27 at Universal Studios. This was the same space where the mechanical shark for Jaws was given a trial-run. Spielberg's connection with the stage went even deeper, as he shot parts of Jurassic Park and War of the Worlds (among others) here. Other high-profile knockouts to have been shot at Stage 27 include The Sting, Die Hard 2, and Apollo 13.
Universal Studios Hollywood is at 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City.