(Today's post is by a special guest author, Jared Hill)
The director John Carpenter was behind several of the most iconic movies released during the 1970s and 80s, which was something of a golden era for horror cinema. Some notable films were Halloween, The Fog and The Thing, and these horror flicks still represent the hallmark of his work, even after a few decades without a new Carpenter film. But, the director’s work extends beyond the horror genre and has made its mark on the film industry as a whole.
Starting out with Carpenter’s big hits, Halloween has to rank near the top of the list. The first film of this series pretty much set the tone for a huge onslaught of 80s horror films yet to come. Just the sheer power of the character of Michael propelled studios to come up with a number of similar characters for the horror film genre, such as Jason in the Friday the 13th series, among others.
While Halloween did get inspiration from scary movies from the past, Carpenter’s movie The Thing basically re-envisioned a classic horror movie in a new setting with a more psychological bent. This time, scientists in Antarctica slowly lose their grip on reality while dealing with an unknown creature that makes them doubt each other as much as they fear their dark, desolate surroundings. This added psychological horror surpassed the typical jump-out-of-your-seat antics of many horror movies.
A final highlight in Carpenter’s filmography is The Fog. Carpenter decided to embed this story in the tradition of scary stories told by the campfire to make it come to life a little more. This background imbues the movie with a sense of supernatural forces from the past coming to wreak havoc in the present day. The original idea stemmed from Carpenter's visit to Stonehenge, which evoked ideas about the strange, lifelike fog there.
Movies from the later part of Carpenter’s career met with mixed success and made financiers turn a cold shoulder to his projects. Escape from L.A. touched on some social commentary in a sci-fi context and Memoirs of an Invisible Man tied comic undertones into a tale of government wrongdoing in a sci-fi context. Both films failed at the box office and neither managed to gain a fan following after the fact.
That being said, a few of his movies didn't get the praise they truly deserved upon release and have now achieved cult status. In They Live, Carpenter leads viewers on a satirically self-aware romp through the more conspiratorial edges of the sci-fi genre. Two other underestimated Carpenter movies cap off his Apocalypse Trilogy and focus on mass psychology and vulnerability of the mind. First, The Prince of Darkness merges occult themes with sci-fi ideas to concoct a terrifying evil force that is set on overtaking an entire population for its malevolent purposes. The final installment, In the Mouth of Madness, examines how ideas from books or other media might horribly alter the behavior of those who consume them.
Most recently, Carpenter contributed to the Masters of Horror series on Showtime with Cigarette Burns, the eighth installment of the series. The series, despite . In this episode, he again takes on the idea of how something larger than a single person, like a movie, might affect large numbers of people. The 2011 movie The Ward takes viewers directly into a mental institution, but with a supernatural twist to add to the torment of the protagonist and the viewer alike. The film continues to carry on Carpenter’s tradition of psychological thrillers and is easily available through platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix and Direct TV.
While neither of these last few efforts really spoke to fans or critics, John Carpenter’s place in the history of cinema remains significant. The memorable scenes from his horror movies continue to send chills down spines. But, it is his ability to blend deeper social, psychological and even existential questions into multiple genres will define his legacy as a filmmaker.