John Carpenter, a director who redefined fear in the cinema | A review of the career of the filmmaker who turns 75

The American cinema of the 70s lived a golden era: Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, among others, changed to Hollywod. The, for many, the best decade in the history of the industry, led to a first place for a seasoned crop of cinephileswith university education more than in the big studios, and with a critical look at the past. In that neoclassicism the name of John Carpenter, who turns 75, is counted.

Born January 16, 1948 in Carthage, New York, and raised in Kentucky, his first major film influence was John Ford and Howard Hawks. He shot some 8mm shorts, focused on the genre that would make him famous, horror, and studied film in California. The influence of his father, a music teacher, was also decisive. Not for nothing, Carpenter wrote a good part of the soundtracks for his films. In fact, he not only began his career as an assistant director and editor, but also as a composer.

Carpenter’s work began in 1974 with his directorial debut. With just 60 thousand dollars he filmed Dark star, a science fiction movie. Written in a comedy key with Dan O’Bannon (the future screenwriter of alien), it was more than anything a student exercise. With his second opus, things got serious.

With $100,000, Carpenter completed the project of raid on precinct 13released in 1976. A horde of violent men abide by a police station, in a reworking of Bravo River of Hawks, but also of night of the living dead by George Romero. It was not well received, but over the years it gained prestige and even a remake, in 2005.

1978 was the year of the consecration of the director. The $325,000 budget for his third film translated into $70 million in revenue, which gave rise to the franchise of one of the iconic horror film titles of all time: Halloween. It even premiered in the week of Halloween. The influence was above all Hitchcockean, on the side of Psychosis. Instead of Norman Bates who runs a motel, Michael Myers, who as a child kills his sister on Halloween and, years later, after escaping from the psychiatric hospital, returns to his town to kill, just on Halloween .

Curiously, there is a genealogy that unites Halloween with Psychosis. Janet Leigh starred in Hithcock’s classic: Carpenter’s marked the film debut of Jamie Lee Curtis, Leigh’s daughter and Tony Curtis.

The success of the film catapulted a Carpenter who, at the age of 30, spoke without mincing words about his contemporaries. In an interview after the premiere of Halloween did not join in the praise for Star Wars (claimed american graffitithe previous film by George Lucas), I assure that Close Encounters of the Third Kind It was a film whose plot had gotten out of hand for Spielberg and He affirmed that Robert Altman’s cinema was “masturbatory”.

Carpenter wrote the script for the thriller in 1978. Laura Mars’s eyes, but his next directorial projects were two TV movies. One month after the premiere of Halloween, the NBC network premiered the film Someone’s Watching Me!which turned out to be a very intelligent twist on rear window by Hitchcock, with Lauren Hutton as a woman who is stalked by a spying neighbor.

In 1979 he was in charge of the first project on the life of Elvis Presley made after the death of the King of Rock. Elvis marked Carpenter’s meeting with one of his fetish actors: Kurt Russell.

In 1980 he returned to the cinema, after the success of Halloweenwith The fog. The influence was, more than anything, literary: Edgar Allan Poe. The movie about ghosts seeking revenge in a town opens with a quote from the writer: “Is everything we see or seem to see a dream within a dream?” The film featured Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother, Janet Leigh. And to another recurring actress of Carpenter’s in those years: Adrienne Barbeau, his wife.

The following year came the dystopian Escape from New York. Set in 1997, it tells the story of New York in the hands of insurgents who have kidnapped the President of the United States. The mission to rescue him is in charge of an inmate, Snake Plissken, played by Kurt Russell.. It was a box office success.

Until then, Carpenter had worked outside the structure of the big studios. Then the planets aligned. The director dreamed of filming a remake of the thinga horror movie classic produced by Howard Hawks in 1951 (it’s the movie that kids watch in Halloween). In turn, Universal Studios wanted to film that remake. Thus, they joined forces for a film that once again had Russell as the protagonist and that had music by Ennio Morricone.

It was not a great box office success (it barely covered production costs) in a year, 1982, in which obscure films like Carpenter’s and Blade Runnerby Ridley Scott, did not work, contrary to a sweetened and optimistic story like ET Carpenter had to face not only the comparison with the original, but with alien: a being from space begins to kill a group of humans in an Antarctic base. Filmed in Alaska, its prestige came with the years. It not only circulated in Spanish as The thingbut also as The enigma of another worlda title well reminiscent of Lovecraft.

In 1983 came Carpenter’s meeting with Stephen King. The director took Christine to the screen, in the golden age of adaptations of King to the cinema (of the same year it is the dead zone of Cronenberg). He bounced back from the bittersweet success of the thing and the following year he turned to a more commercial project: starmanin which Jeff Bridges is an alien who is embodied in a human being. The actor was nominated for an Oscar for that role..

The same year, Carpenter sketched the script for the philadelphia experimentwho had him as a producer. In 1986 he met with Russell to Big Trouble in Little Chinaa fantasy action movie that was a flop. The decade would close with two capital works.

With a budget of 3 million, he filmed the successful Prince of Darkness. Released in 1987, it was a synthesis of part of his work. A group of scientists is locked in a church harassed from the outside (one of the attackers is played by musician Alice Cooper), while inside the return of the Devil takes place. There were elements of raid on precinct 13 and of The enigma of another world.

In 1988 he arrived they live. Set in Los Angeles, it was an open homage to the fantastic cinema of the 50s, and with quotas of social criticism. A man discovers dark glasses through which he can see that there are people who are not human, but aliens, and who dominate the world through propaganda and consumption.. The 6-minute scene in which Roddy Piper (who was a professional wrestler) tries to get an incredulous Keith David to put on his glasses and see what he has seen was left for history.

After a four year hiatus, Carpenter returned in 1992 with one of his weakest films. Memoirs of an invisible man featured Chevy Chase, accompanied by Daryl Hannah and Sam Neill. It failed both at the box office and critically.

However, he made up for it in 1994 with In the mouth of madnesswith Neill in the lead. Carpenter himself assures that, together with The enigma of another world Y Prince of Darknessform what he calls “Trilogy of the Apocalypse”. The plot, like the title, refers to Lovecraft: a researcher tries to discover where a writer who has disappeared is, while those who read one of his books begin to have violent reactions.

He then returned to the field of the remake. 1995 was the year of The town of the damned. The English version had been released in 1960. In a town, all the inhabitants fall asleep for a while, in a mysterious way. After they wake up, the women are pregnant. They give birth to children with special powers, which Christopher Reeve faces in his last role before the accident that left him bedridden. It did not work with the public.

Nor did it, in 1996, escape from los angelesthe sequel to Escape from New York. Fifteen years later, Kurt Russell returned to play Snake Plissken, a decade after his last collaboration with Carpenter.

In 1998 Carpenter combined horror and western in vampires, with James Woods. Three years later he went bad with ghosts of marswhich gained a certain prestige over the years.

Nine years would pass until the director’s next film. Locked it opened in 2010 and grossed half of its budget. Since then, Carpenter has dedicated himself to music, without neglecting the franchise of Halloween, which continues to be an income-generating machine. In addition to writing film soundtracks, He has released three studio albums, titled Lost Themes I, II and III. Gone is a work that made the best of the sentimental education of countless moviegoers from the 70s onwards.

John Carpenter, a director who redefined fear in the cinema | A review of the career of the filmmaker who turns 75