Photo: Stefanie Keenan (Getty Images)
The new Halloween comes out this week, which seems like the perfect time to honor John Carpenter, the man who birthed the Michael Myers franchise. “The Master of Horror” has earned his title with an iconic career that spans five decades. Carpenter was Quentin Tarantino before Tarantino, a tour de force who brought ingenious filmmaking to genre films, giving “B-movies” the respect they deserved.
Although the 70-year-old Carpenter has now transitioned to a new career as a touring musician, the living legend did compose the score for director David Gordon Green’s Halloween reboot. Before we look forward to Jamie Lee Curtis’ return as Laurie Strode, let’s look back on the career of the man who started it all.
Carpenter earned his moniker as the “Master of Horror” with this hallowed classic that is arguably the most influential work in the beloved, bloody genre since Psycho.
This prophetic take on the socio-political climate is just as relevant in the age of MAGA as it was back in the Reagan era. That it stars a WWF wrestler (Roddy Rowdy Piper) is a testament to Carpenter’s genius.
Escape From New York
Carpenter’s highly successful collaborations with actor Kurt Russell kicked off with Escape From New York, a movie that’s often been imitated but never duplicated. Most associate Russell with the iconic Snake Plissken, but the rebel with a clue is Carpenter’s true alter ego: a smart ass man on a mission who will do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Arguably Carpenter’s best film, The Thing failed at the box office when it was released just two weeks after Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The tense, taut creature feature finally got the love it deserved on cable and home video and now ranks at the top of sci-fi horror lists. It set the standard for special effects with amazing monster work by the legendary Stan Winston.
Big Trouble in Little China
Russell and Carpenter team up again to cook up an instant cult classic that combines an Eastern chopsocky with a supernatural Western. Big Trouble in Little China is as weird and kooky as it is fun. Let’s just hope they don’t remake this one as has been rumored.
Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s demonic car classic is not as good as the source material, but watching the “Master of Horror” leave skid marks on the high school coming-of-age genre is still wicked fun.
Assault on Precinct 13
Carpenter’s homage to Howard Hawks’ cowboy classic Rio Bravo shows his mean and lean skills as a DIY filmmaker while kicking off his Hollywood career.
Carpenter stretches his wings in this off-beat, tender, sci-fi romance that seems more at times like a Steven Spielberg movie. Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of an alien on the run who falls in love with doe-eyed widow Karen Allen.
Carpenter’s feature directorial debut is a stoner spoof on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that was written by fellow USC film school grad Dan O’Bannon (who would go onto write Alien).
The Resurrection of Broncho Billy
Although Carpenter has enjoyed a long, prodigious career, only one of this films has ever won an Academy Award. Carpenter didn’t direct this 1970 Best Live-Action Short Film Oscar winner (film school buddy James R. Rokos did), but his prints are all over this recently unearthed USC film school project: he was the screenwriter, editor, and music composer.