- John Carpenter
birthname = John Howard Carpenter
birthdate = birth date and age|1948|01|16
Carthage, New York, U.S.A.
occupation = director, screenwriter, producer, composer
Sandy King (1990-)
Saturn Award for Best Special Effects
1975 "Dark Star"
Saturn Award for Best Music
John Carpenter's Vampires"
John Howard Carpenter (born
January 16, 1948) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, film score composerand occasional actor. Carpenter has worked in numerous film genres, and is considered one of the most accomplished and influential horror and science fiction directors in Hollywood.
Carpenter was born in
Carthage, New York, the son of Milton Jean (née Carter) and Howard Ralph Carpenter, a music professor. [ [http://www.filmreference.com/film/70/John-Carpenter.html John Carpenter Biography (1948-)] ] He and his family moved to Bowling Green, Kentuckyin 1953.cite book |editor=Kleber, John E. |others=Associate editors: Thomas D. Clark, Lowell H. Harrison, and James C. Klotter |title="The Kentucky Encyclopedia" |year=1992 |publisher=The University Press of Kentucky |location= Lexington, Kentucky|isbn=0813117720 |chapter=Carpenter, John Howard] He was captivated by movies from an early age, particularly the westerns of Howard Hawksand John Ford, as well as 1950s low budget horror and science fiction films, such as " Forbidden Planet" and " The Thing from Another World" [Marco Lanzagorta, "John Carpenter" at [http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/carpenter.html Senses of Cinema] .] and began filming horror shorts on 8 mm filmeven before entering high school. [John Carpenter's profile at [http://www.amctv.com/person/detail?CID=1927-1-EST AMCtv] .] He briefly attended Western Kentucky Universitywhere his father chaired the music department, but transferred to the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts in 1968 and graduated in 1971. [ [http://cinema.usc.edu/alumni/alumni-history/ Notable Alumni, USC School of Cinematic Arts] .]
Academy Award - Live Action Short Film
USC Cinema, one of his projects as a co-writer, film editor and music composer, " The Resurrection of Broncho Billy" (1970), produced by John Longenecker, won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. The short film was blown-up to 35mm, sixty prints were made, and the film was theatrically released by Universal Studios for two years in the United States and Canada.
1970s: From student films to major theatrical releases
His first major film as director, "Dark Star" (1974), was a sci-fi black comedy that he cowrote 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 Lucaswho hired him to do work on the special effects for ""). Carpenter's efforts did not go unnoticed as much of Hollywood marveled at his filmmaking abilities within the confines of a shoestring budget. [ [http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/pages/press/londtimes780308.html The Official John Carpenter, London Times: March 8, 1978. The slow evolution of Dark Star] .]
Carpenter'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. [ [http://www.soundtrack.net/features/article/?id=12 SoundtrackNet article, "Having a Bite with John Carpenter": October 14, 1998] ] The film was also significant because it 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, [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074156/business IMDb.com Business Data for Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)] ] Carpenter assembled a main cast that consisted of experienced but relatively obscure actors. The two leads were
Austin Stoker, who had appeared previously in science fiction, disaster and blaxploitationfilms, and Darwin Joston, who had worked primarily in television and had once been Carpenter's next-door neighbor. [ Q & A session with John Carpenter and Austin Stoker at American Cinematheque's 2002 John Carpenter retrospective, in the "Assault on Precinct 13" 2003 special edition DVD.]
The film was originally released in the United States to mixed critical reviews and lackluster 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 1970s.
A long forgotten, but still very note worthy film that Carpenter both wrote and directed was the Lauren Hutton thriller "
Someone's Watching Me" (aka High Rise) in 1978, a very busy year for the director. [ [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000118/ John Carpenter (I) ] ] This made-for-television movie tells a very simplistic, yet rather effective tale of a single, working woman who, shortly after arriving in L.A., discovers that she is gradually being stalked and constantly observed by an unseen predator in the high rise building across from her apartment. Though a made-for-television film, "Someone's Watching Me!" does stand out from others of the period. Borrowing heavily from Hitchcock classics, Carpenter slowly builds the suspense and intrigue before the final confrontation ensues, making the most out of the theory that what one can't see is far more interesting than what is shown on the screen. Although it has never received much attention, it's interesting to draw some parallels between the story, concept, and visuals in this film with those featured in the director's next immediate production, " Halloween".
"Halloween" (1978) was a smash hit on release and helped give birth to the
slasher filmgenre. Originally an idea suggested by producer Irwin Yablans(entitled "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. [ [http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue339/interview.html Scifi.com, Interview: John Carpenter looks back at Halloween on its 25th anniversary] ] 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." [ [http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/pages/press/rollingstone790628.html The Official John Carpenter, Rolling Stone: June 28, 1979] ] The film was written by Carpenter and Debra Hill with Carpenter admitting that the film was inspired by both Dario Argento's " Suspiria" and William Friedkin's "The Exorcist"Fact|date=May 2008.
Carpenter again worked with a relatively small budget, $320,000. [Audio commentary by John Carpenter and Debra Hill in "The Fog", 2002 special edition DVD] The film grossed over $65 million initially, making it one of the most successful independent films of all time. [ [http://www.houseofhorrors.com/halloween.htm House of Horrors Review: Halloween] ]
Carpenter relied upon taut suspense rather than the excessive gore that would define later slasher films in order to make the menacing nature of the main character, Michael Myers, more palpable. At times, Carpenter has described "Halloween" in terms that appeared to directly contradict the more thoughtful, nuanced approach to horror that he actually used, such 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." [ [http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/pages/press/chic0879.html The Official John Carpenter, Chic Magazine: August 1979, Dr. Terror stalks Hollywood] ] 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." [ [http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue339/interview.html Scifil.com Interview] ] Of the later slasher films that largely mimicked Carpenter's work on "Halloween", few have met with the same critical success.
In addition to the film's critical and commercial success, perhaps its strongest legacy is the film's original score by Carpenter, which remains one of the most recognizable film music themes of all time along with other notable scores such as
John Williams' "Jaws". [ [http://www.furious.com/perfect/johncarpenter.html Killing His Contemporaries: Dissecting The Musical Worlds Of John Carpenter] ]
In 1979, John Carpenter began what was to be the first of several collaborations with actor
Kurt Russellwhen he directed the TV movie "Elvis". The made-for-TV movie was a smash hit with viewers and critics and revived the career of Russell, who was a child actor in the 1960s.
1980s: Continued commercial success
Carpenter 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" [ Interview with John Carpenter in the 2005 documentary film, "Tales from the Crypt from Comic Books to Television."] and by " The Crawling Eye", a 1958 movie about monsters hiding in clouds. [ Audio commentary by John Carpenter and Debra Hill in "The Fog", 2002 special edition DVD."]
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 first and 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 comprised of the newer footage.
Despite production problems and mostly negative critical reception, "The Fog" was another commercial success for Carpenter. The film was made on a budget of $1,000,000, but it grossed over $21,000,000 in the United States alone. [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080749/business IMDb.com Business Data for The Fog (1980)] ] Carpenter has said that "The Fog" is not his favorite film, although he considers it a "minor horror classic". [ Audio commentary by John Carpenter and Debra Hill in "The Fog", 2002 special edition DVD."]
Carpenter immediately followed "The Fog" with the science-fiction adventure "
Escape from New York" (1981), which quickly picked up large cult and mainstream audiences as well as critical acclaim.
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 Morriconeand a cast including rising star Kurt Russell and respected character actors such as Wilford Brimley, Richard Dysart, Keith David, and Richard Masur. "The Thing" was made with a budget of $10,000,000, [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084787/business IMDb.com Business Data for The Thing (1982)] ] Carpenter's largest up to that point, and distributed by Universal Pictures.
Although Carpenter's film was ostensibly a remake of the 1951 Howard Hawks film, "
The Thing from Another World", Carpenter's version is more faithful to the John W. Campbell, Jr.short story, " Who Goes There?", upon which both films were based. Moreover, unlike the Hawks film, "The Thing" has a dark, pessimistic tone and a bleak ending, which didn't appeal to audiences in the summer of 1982, when it was released in the wake of " E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial". Consequently, it did not perform well commercially and was Carpenter's first financial failure. Later, the movie found new life in the home video and cable markets, and it is now widely regarded as one of the best horror films and remakes ever made.
Carpenter's next film, "Christine", was the 1983 adaptation of the
Stephen Kingnovel of the same name. The story revolves around a high-school nerd named Arnie Cunningham ( Keith Gordon) who buys a junked 1958 Plymouth Furywhich 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. [ Interview with John Carpenter on the DVD documentary film "Christine: Ignition"]
One of the high points in Carpenter's career came in 1984 with the release of "Starman", a film that was critically praised but was only a moderate commercial success. [ [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088172/business IMDB: Business Data for Starman] ] Produced by
Michael Douglas, the script was well received by Columbia Pictures, which chose it over the script for "E.T." and prompted Steven Spielbergto go to Universal Pictures. Douglas chose Carpenter to be the director because of his reputation as an action director who could also convey strong emotion. [ [http://www.acmewebpages.com/articles/8412glob.htm Boston Globe December 9, 1984. Director John Carpenter talks about the movie biz big budgets and cold burgers] ] "Starman" was favorably reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, New York Timesand LA Weeklyand described by Carpenter as a film he envisioned as a romantic comedy similar to " It Happened One Night" only with a space alien. [ [http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/pages/press/laheraldex841214.html The Official John Carpenter: Los Angeles Herald Examiner: December 14, 1984] ] The film received Oscar and Golden Globenominations for Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Starman and received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Musical Score for Jack Nitzsche.
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 BBCseries " Quatermass". Although some of the films from this time did pick up a cult audience, he never again realized his mass-market potential.
1990s: Criticism and commercial decline
His recent 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. Notable from this decade is:
In the Mouth of Madness" (1995), yet another Lovecraftian homage, which did not do well either at the box-office or with critics. [ [http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/in_the_mouth_of_madness/ In the Mouth of Madness (1995)] ]
*"Vampires" (1998) starred
James Woodsas the leader of a band of vampire hunters in league with the Catholic church. Though not a big success at the box-office (despite being number one at that time), Woods' performance was praised by the late critic Gene Siskel went so far as to say he thought the actor deserved an Oscar nomination for the film.fact|date=March 2008
2000s-present: Remakes and Masters of Horror
2001 saw the release of "
Ghosts of Mars" and Carpenter's reputation remains strong; his earlier films are considered classics and (because they have continued to perform well on home video) several have been subjected to big budget remakes. 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."John Carpenter, "Staci Layne Wilson" interview, quoted at [http://www.horror.com/php/article-801-1.html Horror.com] .]
Rob Zombiehas produced and directed "Halloween", a re-imagining of John Carpenter's 1978 film. It was released in 2007.
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, many of whom regard it as on par with his earlier horror classics. 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 fanatic, gun-toting father and her three brothers.
A remake of "Escape from New York" was planned starring
Gerard Butleras Snake Plissken but he has since turned the role down.
His films are characterized by minimalist lighting and photography, static cameras, use of
steadicam, and distinctive synthesized scores (usually self-composed). He describes himself as having been influenced by Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Nigel Knealeand "The Twilight Zone".
With the exception of "The Thing", "Starman", and "Memoirs of an Invisible Man", he has scored all of his films (though some are collaborations), most famously the themes from "Halloween" and "Assault on Precinct 13". His music is generally synthesized with accompaniment from
Carpenter is a big fan of
widescreen, and all of his theatrical movies (with the exception of "Dark Star") have been filmed in anamorphicwith an aspect ratio 2.35:1. Most of Carpenter's movies use the director-possessive title, as in "John Carpenter's The Thing", "John Carpenter's Halloween" and "John Carpenter's The Fog". One of the few exceptions to this was "Memoirs of an Invisible Man".
With a career that has spanned over thirty years, John Carpenter has attained a reputation as a respected independent filmmaker. Although some of Carpenter's films have not been commercially or critically successful upon initial theatrical release, Carpenter has developed a large cult following through home video releases of his films. Many of his films, most notably "The Thing", have been rediscovered on VHS, laserdisc and DVD and have since been embraced by many fans - interesting, as "The Thing" was initially Carpenter's first big setback. The film was considered excessively dark, did not do well at the box office and Rob Bottin's effects were considered too grotesque for a mainstream audience. Retrospectively, the film has gained much critical appreciation.
Four years later, "Big Trouble in Little China" was also poorly received by audiences and critics alike, an eclectic mix of genres that was years ahead of its time. This film, like "The Thing", found its audience on VHS and DVD years after its theatrical release.
Many of Carpenter's films have been re-released on DVD as special editions with numerous bonus features. Examples of such are: the collector's editions of "Halloween", "Escape From New York", "Christine","The Thing", "Assault on Precinct 13", "Big Trouble In Little China" (now OOP), and "The Fog". Some have been re-issued recently with a new anamorphic widescreen transfer. In the UK, several of Carpenter's films have been released on DVD with audio commentary by Carpenter and his stars ("They Live", with actor/wrestler
Roddy Piper, "Starman" with actor Jeff Bridges and "Prince of Darkness" with actor Peter Jason) that have not been released in the United States .
In recent years, Carpenter has been the subject of the documentary film, "John Carpenter: The Man and His Movies", and his status as a respected filmmaker has been reinforced by
American Cinematheque's 2002 retrospective of his films. Moreover, in 2006, the United States Library of Congress deemed "Halloween" to be "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. [ Press Release for films inducted into National Film Registry on Dec. 27, 2006. [http://www.loc.gov/film/nfr2006.html National Film Registry 2006] ]
Carpenter was romantically involved with his creative partner, Debra Hill, from the time they worked on "Assault on Precinct 13" until Carpenter met his future wife, actress
Adrienne Barbeau, on the set of his 1978 television movie, "Someone's Watching Me".
Despite the end of their romantic relationship, Carpenter and Hill continued to collaborate on films and were able to maintain their friendship. Working with both Carpenter and Barbeau on "The Fog", however, was reportedly an emotionally difficult experience for Hill. [ Interviews with Debra Hill and Jamie Lee Curtis in the 2002 documentary film, "John Carpenter: The Man and His Movies".]
Carpenter was married to Barbeau from January 1, 1979 to 1984. During their marriage, Barbeau starred in "The Fog", and also appeared in "Escape from New York". The couple have one son, John Cody Carpenter (born May 7, 1984).
Carpenter has been married to producer Sandy King since 1990. King produced a number of Carpenter's later feature films, including: "They Live", "In the Mouth of Madness", "Ghosts of Mars" and "Escape from L.A." She also functioned as script supervisor for some of these films as well as "Starman", "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Prince of Darkness". [ Sandy King's profile at the [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0455253/ Internet Movie Database] .]
*" [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1085492/ The Prince] " (2008 / 2009)
*"Psychopath" (2008 / 2009)
*"Cigarette Burns" (2005)
Ghosts of Mars" (2001)
Escape From L.A." (1996)
*"Village of The Damned" (1995)
In the Mouth of Madness" (1995)
*"Body Bags (1993)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man" (1992)
They Live" (1988)
*"Prince of Darkness" (1987)
Big Trouble in Little China" (1986)
*"The Thing" (1982)
Halloween II" (Additional scenes) (1981)
Escape from New York" (1981)
The Fog" (1980)
Someone's Watching Me" (1978)
*"Assault On Precinct 13" (1976)
*"Dark Star" (1974)
The Resurrection of Broncho Billy" (1970) - Academy Award - Best Live Action Short Film
* [http://www.avclub.com/content/node/41959 Interview with "The Onion A.V. Club"]
* [http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20085059_20086059_20153543_2,00.html "Entertainment Weekly" interview]
* [http://www.johncarpenterforum.com/index.php?page=38 "The John Carpenter Forum" interview (2006)]
* [http://www.timeout.com/film/newyork/features/show-feature/5556/street-fighting-men.html "Time Out New York" interview]
* [http://www.furious.com/perfect/johncarpenter.html Killing His Contemporaries: Dissecting The Musical Worlds Of John Carpenter]
* Boulenger, Gilles. "John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness", Silman-James Press (2003). ISBN 1-879505-67-3.
* Conrich, Ian & Woods, David. "The Cinema of John Carpenter: The Technique of Terror (Directors' Cuts)", Wallflower Press (2004). ISBN 1-904764-14-2.
* Foster, Alan Dean. "John Carpenter's Starman: A Novel", Warner Books (1984). ISBN 0-446-32598-8.
* Foster, Alan Dean. "The Thing", Bantam Books (1982). ISBN 0-553-20477-7.
* Muir, John Kenneth. "The Films of John Carpenter", McFarland & Company, Inc. (2005). ISBN 0-7864-2269-6.
* [http://outpost31.com/media/All_About_The_Thing.pdf eBook "All About THE THING", looks at Carpenter's 1982 film in depth]
* [http://www.theofficialjohncarpenter.com/ John Carpenter's official website]
* [http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/carpenter.html Senses of Cinema: Great Directors Critical Database]
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