Carpenter, John

Carpenter, John (1948–) American filmmaker whose 1979 horror film Halloween became not only the most popular Halloweenthemed horror movie ever made, but was also one of the most successful independent films ever made and the progenitor of an entire cycle of serial killer films (and a 2007 remake by writer/co-producer/director Rob Zombie).

Carpenter and producer/cowriter Debra Hill had been involved in talks with producer Irwin Yablans about making a thriller, when Yablans suggested it be set during Halloween. Hill and Carpenter agreed, and centered their script on Michael Myers, a murderer who escapes from a lunatic asylum to return to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he murders teens and finally stalks the brainy and lonely Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Carpenter’s extensive use of subjective camera angles (especially the astonishing fourminute-long opening shot) established a “killer’s point-of-view” style that would be copied for years to come, in such films as Friday the 13th and the rest in the “slasher” cycle of the 1980s. Likewise, Carpenter and Hill’s protagonist — a virginal and resourceful teenaged girl—would become a trope of horror films for the next two decades. However, the use of the holiday and its beloved symbols (JACK-O’- LANTERNS, HAUNTED HOUSES, COSTUMES) cannot be discounted as part of the film’s success; indeed, the holidays were plundered for horror film titles (even April Fools’ Day didn’t escape), but none of these follow-ups were able to achieve the financial or aesthetic success of Halloween.

The first film was followed by a string of sequels, beginning with Halloween II in 1981; however, Carpenter would never direct another film in the series, although he did cowrite and co-produce (with Debra Hill) the first sequel. He was also involved as a producer on Halloween III: Season of the Witch, undoubtedly both the oddest film in this series and one of the strangest sequels ever produced, since it has absolutely nothing in common with the first two films (although they are glimpsed playing on television sets in the background). Based on an uncredited script by legendary writer Nigel Kneale (best known for the British “Quatermass” series), Halloween III: Season of the Witch centers on a new antagonist, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), whose “Silver Shamrock” company has a bestselling line of Halloween masks. When a mysterious death occurs involving the masks, a small-town doctor (Tom Atkins) and the daughter of a murdered store owner (Stacey Nelkin) investigate Silver Shamrock, and discover that the company is actually a front for a cult of ancient CELTS who plan on using a combination of magic and technology to murder America’s children on Halloween night in a gigantic SAMHAIN sacrifice. The film is intriguing in its attempts to combine new Halloween icons (PUMPKINS, WITCHES) with ancient Celtic imagery (Stonehenge, even though the latter has been proven to pre-date Celtic history), but the movie lacks the pace, intensity, and visual style of Carpenter’s first entry in the series.

Carpenter went on to direct many more films, including the horror films The Thing, Christine, They Live, The Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, and Vampires, but none was as successful (or as important) as Halloween.


The Halloween Encyclopedia Second Edition written by Lisa Morton © 2011 Lisa Morton. All rights reserved