John Carpenter: Filmography of a horror icon
Legendary director John Carpenter returns next month with The Ward, a ghostly chiller set in one of the spookiest locations – an asylum. To celebrate his first film for years, we take a look back at the career of a filmmaker who has become synonymous with horror, well-known in sci-fi, and responsible for some genuine cult classics. Horror film today really would not be the same without Carpenter, with influential films such as Halloween and The Thing to his name. As well as being justly famed for his directing skills, Carpenter scored many of his films himself with his oeuvre including the famous Halloween theme. Recovering time and again from critical and studio backlash thanks to his dedicated fanbase, The Ward is a highly anticipated comeback from the man himself; we are proud to present a selected filmography of a genre icon.
Dark Star – 1974
Carpenter’s expansion of his own student short in collaboration with legendary sci-fi writer Dan O’Bannon, this space comedy has become a real cult classic. With its makeshift visual style (Beachball aliens and cardboard sets), dark sense of humour and focus on the more mundane aspects of space travel, there is a lot to love about Dark Star. There are even echoes of O’Bannon’s later works Alien and Total Recall in some of the visual themes, making this one to pick up for sci-fi completists.
Assault On Precinct 13 – 1976
Inspired by Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, Assault On Precinct 13 follows the inhabitants of a closing-down police station under siege from a ruthless street gang, as they try to survive the onslaught. Taking ideas typically shown in western films and transplanting them to a modern setting, Carpenter created an exciting siege movie with despicable villains and some excellent action scenes, making Assault On Precinct 13 one of the films that put the director on the map.
Halloween – 1978
Widely regarded as the film which inspired a generation of slasher horror, the original and best Halloween movie introduced the iconic villain Michael Myers, and is a tightly-shot, suspenseful experience that has aged exceptionally well. Although Halloween may not have been the first film of its type (Black Christmas is generally considered the first pure slasher), it was certainly the first to perfect the formula. Eschewing out and out gore for a more subtle, creepy approach to horror, Halloween is one of the most influential horror films of all time.
The Fog – 1980
Another Horror classic which has been shamelessly remade – the 2005 version is awful – This creepy tale of a seaside town besieged by supernatural forces under the cover of the titular fog is an iconic setting within the genre. An intense atmosphere and a classic Carpenter soundtrack make this one of the director’s best known movies.
Escape From New York – 1981
Kurt Russell takes the lead as Snake Plissken in a role that would become synonymous with bad-ass antiheroes. The year is 1997 (The future… right?), and New York has been converted into a huge city-prison to combat the out of control crime rate in the United States. The city is a lawless danger zone, and when the US President crashes down in the maximum security hell hole Snake is sent in to extract him. A decent sci-fi/action crossover with a tense atmosphere and some memorable characters (Isaac Hayes as ‘The Duke’), this is a slightly dated, but still enjoyable 80s thrillride.
The Thing – 1982
A critical and commercial failure when it was first released, The Thing has recovered to become a beloved cult classic and is now regarded as one of Carpenter’s best films. Longtime Carpenter collaborator Kurt Russell takes the lead in the story of a group of scientists in the North Pole, battling an unseen enemy which is able to imitate them perfectly. The special effects have perhaps not aged as well as some, but the themes and tense plot remain as terrifying as ever. With nail-biting suspense in scene after scene, and memorable characters throughout this stands tall with the best sci-fi and horror pictures ever released. Carpenter has recently given his blessing to the proposed prequel, although we are yet to be convinced – although is it worth bearing in mind that this ‘original’ was itself heavily based on Howard Hawks-produced The Thing From Another World.
Big Trouble In Little China – 1986
Unashamedly fun romp in which Kurt Russell (who never gets boring) does battle with the villainous Lo Pan deep in San Francisco’s Chinatown. With kung fu, mystical powers, a trucker with an Uzi and Victor Wong, what’s there not to like? Cheesy and silly, this is still a classic six-pack movie for a Friday night in.
Prince Of Darkness – 1987
Possibly Carpenter’s most underrated movie, Prince Of Darkness is a genuinely chilling tale of archaeology students finding a mysterious artefact which unleashes its demonic powers on their group. With Carpenter regular Donald Pleasence making yet another appearance, fan favourite Victor Wong and a cameo role from Alice Cooper (yes!) some of the scares here really do get under the skin. Absolutely worth a look for horror fans, this does not deserve the harsh criticism it received on release.
They Live – 1988
Inspired casting – ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper in the lead. For all the special effects and the famously lengthy fight scene between Piper and the excellent Keith David (who also featured in The Thing), They Live is actually a hugely entertaining and satirical piece of sci-fi. With a dark sense of humour and a strong sense of paranoia throughout, They Live is one of the most polished works of Carpenter’s career. Stylishly shot in a mix of colour and black-and-white, the film also includes the fantastic line “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all outta bubblegum!”