John Carpenter turns 75 years old on January 16, 2023. Happy birthday! Let’s look at some reasons Carpenter is such an ironic director and composer, shall we? Oh, and here’s a trailer in case you’ve lived under a rock and have no idea who John Carpenter is:
Surely, you have all heard of Halloween (1978), which didn’t quite invent the slasher genre, but definitely reinvented it. In many ways, it created the formula for the near-invincible, quiet, stalking, masked slasher villain. Many of Carpenter’s films – particularly Halloween and Starman – were considered by critics and fans alike as some of the best films of the 1970s and ’80s.
Other films, like The Thing (1982) and Prince of Darkness (1987) were not as well-liked by critics but have become cult classics over time. The Thing particularly evolved to become some people’s all-time favorite horror/creature feature, to the point where stuffy know-it-all critics likely feel pressure to re-evaluate their initial sneers and jeers (seriously, it’s absurd how much some critics missed the mark on that one!).
At times, John Carpenter shifted his focus to the action genre, directing the action-thriller Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), the action-adventure Escape from New York (1981), the action-comedy Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and the sci-fi action thriller They Live (1988). Carpenter has an interesting ability to blend almost otherworldly “slow burn” elements with action and the ordinary and mundane, which he does impressively in Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13. Assault is ostensibly a gang violence movie, yet the gang members almost seem otherworldly, like an inevitable, looming, alien presence or force. It is almost a horror movie like The Thing, in tone.
Though some of his films were major critical and commercial successes, there was a perceived decline, commercially and creatively, and Carpenter went on to primarily focus on composing music. His most recent directorial effort was 2010’s The Ward, a supernatural horror film starring Amber Heard. That was more than a decade ago. Time will tell if he’ll come back to direct at least one last full-length film.
The Music and Many Other Roles of John Carpenter
John Carpenter began his career as a composer of music for his own film Halloween and has also been prolific with releases of synthesizer music. Throughout his career, Carpenter often took on more than one job on a film project, including producing, directing, writing, and, on a few occasions, editing. Even some of his less well-received films tend to get some appreciation. For example, the film Vampires (1998) received mixed reviews, but it nonetheless earned a Saturn Award for Best Music. Many fans would agree that Carpenter’s scores are a big part of what sets the mood.
In fact, as perhaps a huge testament to his music’s greatness, even a Carpenter fan might forget that Ennio Morricone had scored The Thing, This is, by no means, an insult to either composer. When an all-time great like Morricone realized he had to create a Carpenter-like score for that film, it tells you 2 things: (1) Morricone was, himself, 100% professional, knowing what The Thing needed and did not let his own creative style get in the way; and (2) John Carpenter’s music is as big as his movies, and people should definitely give it a listen.
To give you an idea of how stupid the “Razzie Awards” are, The Thing, of all films, was nominated for a Razzie Award for “Worst Musical Score!” Really? They couldn’t have found a score that was actually kind of bad, maybe something less iconic? They say people did a lot of cocaine in the ’80s, but I’m not sure even that explains this decision.
John Carpenter also acted, usually in minor roles, in over a dozen films from 1974 to 2022. Yes, in 2022, Carpenter appeared in the Foo Fighters-centric horror-comedy Studio 666. Acting is something John Carpenter has done more often than one might think. His most memorable performance is probably Body Bags (1993), which also had a memorable cameo from fellow horror maestro Wes Craven.
Carpenter has been a frequent collaborator with Adrienne Barbeau, Nick Castle, Jamie Lee Curtis, George “Buck” Flower, Nancy Loomis, and Donald Pleasence. Carpenter is probably most often associated with Kurt Russell and his longtime creative partner Debra Hill (who unfortunately died in 2005).
Check Out His Other Stuff!
Though remembered substantially for 1978’s Halloween, John Carpenter’s other, lesser-known films are typically also worth checking out. For example, if I’m trying to be a dick of a critic, I’ll say the sci-fi spoof Dark Star (1974) is the worst Carpenter film I’ve seen. I’ll go so far as to say it’s even a little cringy. That said, it’s still worth seeing because it’s drastically different from his other movies.
It’s intentionally corny and goofy, and that is, perhaps, a bit refreshing if you want to see something of Carpenter’s with a less bleak, austere tone. Admittedly, it’s no Starship Troopers (1997), but it’s a movie that’s almost too silly to hate, even if you don’t love it. And who knows? Maybe you will even like it!
Though I personally haven’t seen it, his short film The Resurrection of Broncho Billy (1970) actually won the Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film. It’s absurd he’s never won an Oscar for Best Original Score or Best Director for any film. Surely he should have won Best Original Score for Halloween, at the very least?
Badass music has been Carpenter’s primary creative focus for the last decade or so. He may never direct another movie, which is fine. At 75 years of age, he recently said this describes an ideal day for him: “Get up late, watch a little news, play a video game, watch some basketball, go to bed.” For most people, that doesn’t sound too bad, and he’s certainly earned his retirement as much as anyone has!
What are your thoughts on John Carpenter? What’s his best movie or album? Let us know in the comments!