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John Carpenter – Part 2

John Carpenter_Movie Banner 2Carpenter followed up the success of Halloween with The Fog (1980), a ghostly revenge tale (co-written by Hill) inspired by horror comics such as Tales from the Crypt. Completing The Fog was an unusually difficult process for Carpenter. After viewing a rough cut of the film, he was dissatisfied with the result. For the only time in his filmmaking career, he had to devise a way to salvage a nearly finished film that did not meet his standards. In order to make the movie more coherent and frightening, Carpenter shot additional footage that included a number of new scenes. Approximately one-third of the finished film is the newer footage.

Escape from New York_Kurt RussellCarpenter immediately followed The Fog with the science-fiction adventure Escape from New York (1981). An American cyberpunk action film, starring Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasance and Harry Dean Stanton, it is set in the near future in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island into a maximum security prison. Ex-soldier Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is given 24 hours to find the President of the United States, who has been captured after the crash of Air Force One.

His next film, The Thing (1982), is notable for its high production values, including innovative special effects by Rob Bottin, special visual effects by matte artist Albert Whitlock, a score by Ennio Morricone and a cast including Carpenter regular Kurt Russell and respected character actors such as Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart and Keith David. The Thing was made with a budget of $15,000,000, Carpenter’s largest up to that point, and grossed about $20,000,000.

Kurt Russell_John Carpenter_Escape from New YorkCarpenter’s film used the same source material as the 1951 Howard Hawks film, The Thing from Another World, Carpenter’s version is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr. novella, Who Goes There?, upon which both films were based. As The Thing did not perform well on a commercial level, Carpenter has stated that E.T.’s release could have been largely responsible for the film’s disappointment. The movie has found new life in the home video and cable markets, and it is now widely regarded as one of the best horror films ever made.

Shortly after completing post-production on The Thing, Universal offered him the chance to direct Firestarter, based on the novel by Stephen King, but when The Thing was a box-office disappointment, Universal replaced Carpenter with Mark L Lester. Ironically, Carpenter’s next film, Christine, was the 1983 adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The story revolves around a high-school nerd named Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) who buys a junked 1958 Plymouth Fury which turns out to have supernatural powers. As Cunningham restores and rebuilds the car, he becomes unnaturally obsessed with it, with deadly consequences. Christine did respectable business upon its release and was received well by critics; however, Carpenter has been quoted as saying he directed the film because it was the only thing offered to him at the time.

John Carpenter_The ThingStarman (1984) was critically praised but was only a moderate commercial success. The film received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Jeff Bridges’ portrayal of Starman. Following the box office failure of his big-budget action–comedy Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Carpenter struggled to get films financed. He returned to making lower budget films such as Prince of Darkness (1987), a film influenced by the BBC series Quatermass. Although some of the films from this time, such as They Live (1988) did pick up a cult audience, he never again realized his mass-market potential.

John Carpenter_portraitCarpenter was also offered The Exorcist III in 1989, and met with writer William Peter Blatty (who also authored the novel on which it was based, Legion) over the course of a week. However, the two clashed on the film’s climax and Carpenter passed on the project.

His 1990’s career is characterized by a number of notable misfires: Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Village of the Damned (1995) and Escape from L.A. (1996) are examples of films that were critical and box office failures. Also notable from this decade are In the Mouth of Madness (1994), yet another Lovecraftian homage, which did not do well either at the box-office or with critics and Vampires (1998), which  starred James Woods as the leader of a band of vampire hunters in league with the Catholic Church.

2001 saw the release of Ghosts of Mars. 2005 saw remakes of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog, the latter being produced by Carpenter himself, though in an interview he defined his involvement as, “I come in and say hello to everybody. Go home.” In 2007 Rob Zombie produced and directed Halloween, re-imagining of Carpenter’s 1978 film that spawned a sequel two years later.

Carpenter returned to the director’s chair in 2005 for an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series as one of the thirteen filmmakers involved in the first season. His episode, Cigarette Burns, aired to generally positive reviews, and positive reactions from Carpenter fans. He has since contributed another original episode for the show’s second season entitled Pro-Life, about a young girl who is raped and impregnated by a demon and wants to have an abortion, but whose efforts are halted by her religious fanatic, gun-toting father and her three brothers.

John Carpenter_Movie Banner 3The Ward (2009), starring Amber Heard, was his first movie since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. Carpenter narrated the video game F.E.A.R.3. On 10 October 2010 Carpenter received the Lifetime Award from the Freak Show Horror Film Festival.

In 2011 at the Fright Night Film Festival Carpenter revealed that he is currently working on what he described as a “gothic western” movie and hopes to get it off the ground soon. He went on to say that he is unsure of the film’s fate as it is harder to sell westerns these days… although the success of Tarantino’s Django Unchained may help…


John Carpenter – Part 1

John Carpenter_Movie Banner 1John Howard Carpenter (born January 16, 1948) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, editor and composer. Although Carpenter has worked in numerous film genres, he is most commonly associated with horror and science fiction films from the 1970’s and 1980’s.

JOHN_CARPENTERAlmost all the films in Carpenter’s career have garnered cult followings, particularly: Dark Star (1974), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), Halloween (1978), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986) and They Live! (1988), while Carpenter has been acknowledged as an influential filmmaker.

Carpenter was born in Carthage, New York, the son of Milton Jean and Howard Ralph Carpenter, a music professor. He was captivated by movies from an early age, particularly the westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford, as well as 1950’s low budget horror films, such as The Thing from Another World and high budget science fiction like Forbidden Planet and began filming horror shorts on 8mm film even before entering high school. He attended Western Kentucky University where his father chaired the music department, then transferred to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in 1968, but later dropped out to make his first feature.

Halloween_Jamie Lee CurtisHe collaborated with producer John Longenecker as co-writer, film editor and music composer for The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970), which won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. The short film was blown-up to 35mm, and the film was theatrically released by Universal Studios for two years in the United States and Canada.

His first major film as director, Dark Star (1974), was a science fiction black comedy that he co-wrote with Dan O’Bannon (who later went on to write Alien, borrowing freely from much of Dark Star). The film reportedly cost only $60,000 and was difficult to make as both Carpenter and O’Bannon completed the film by multitasking, with Carpenter doing the musical score as well as the writing, producing and directing, while O’Bannon acted in the film and did the special effects (which caught the attention of George Lucas who hired him to do work on the special effects for Star Wars). 

Halloween_Michael MyersCarpenter’s next film was Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), a low-budget thriller influenced by the films of Howard Hawks, particularly Rio Bravo. As with Dark Star, Carpenter was responsible for many aspects of the film’s creation. He not only wrote, directed and scored it, but also edited the film under the pseudonym “John T. Chance” (the name of John Wayne’s character in Rio Bravo). Carpenter has said that he considers Assault on Precinct 13 to have been his first real film because it was the first movie that he shot on a schedule. The film also marked the first time Carpenter worked with Debra Hill, who played prominently in the making of some of Carpenter’s most important films.

Working within the limitations of a $100,000 budget, Carpenter assembled a main cast that consisted of experienced but relatively obscure actors. The film was originally released in the United States to mixed critical reviews and lacklustre box-office earnings, but after it was screened at the 1977 London Film Festival, it became a critical and commercial success in Europe and is often credited with launching Carpenter’s career. The film subsequently received a critical reassessment in the United States, where it is now generally regarded as one of the best exploitation films of the 1970’s.

Carpenter both wrote and directed the Lauren Hutton thriller Someone’s Watching Me!. This TV movie is the tale of a single, working woman who, shortly after arriving in L.A., discovers that she is being stalked. However, it was his next film which changed the horror landscape, and for which he will be mostly remembered.

Halloween_postersHalloween (1978) was a commercial hit and helped give birth to the slasher film genre. Originally an idea suggested by producer Irwin Yablans (titled The Babysitter Murders), who envisioned a film about babysitters being menaced by a stalker, Carpenter took the idea and another suggestion from Yablans that it take place during Halloween and developed a story. Carpenter said of the basic concept: “Halloween night. It has never been the theme in a film. My idea was to do an old haunted house movie.” The film was written by Carpenter and Debra Hill with Carpenter admitting that the music was inspired by both Dario Argento’s Suspiria (which also influenced the films surreal colour scheme) and William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. 

Debra Hall_John Carpenter_HALLOWEENCarpenter again worked with a relatively small budget, $320,000, and a young cast of unknowns, headed by Jamie Lee Curtis. The film grossed over $65 million initially, making it one of the most successful independent films of all time. In addition to the film’s critical and commercial success, Carpenter’s self-composed “Halloween Theme” became recognizable apart from the movie.

Carpenter has described Halloween as: “True crass exploitation. I decided to make a film I would love to have seen as a kid, full of cheap tricks like a haunted house at a fair where you walk down the corridor and things jump out at you.” The film has often been cited as an allegory on the virtue of sexual purity and the danger of casual sex, although Carpenter has explained that this was not his intent: “It has been suggested that I was making some kind of moral statement. Believe me, I’m not. In Halloween, I viewed the characters as simply normal teenagers.”

In 1979, John Carpenter began what was to be the first of several collaborations with actor Kurt Russell when he directed the TV movie Elvis. The made-for-TV movie was a hit with viewers and critics, and was also released as a feature film in cinemas outside the U. S. and revived the career of Russell, who was a child actor in the 1960’s.