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john carpenter

Posted on November 14, 2017

Interview with John Carpenter: Horror Films Reinforce Our Fear Instincts

Guest Post

With his classic suspense film Halloween from 1978, John Carpenter launched the slasher subgenre into the mainstream. The low-budget horror picture introduced iconic Michael Myers as an almost otherworldly force of evil, stalking and killing babysitters in otherwise peaceful Haddonfield. It featured a bare-bones plot, a simple, haunting musical score composed by Carpenter himself, some truly nerve-wracking editing and cinematography, and it spawned a deluge of sequels, prequels, rip-offs, and homages. There’d be no Scream films without Halloween, no Friday the 13th franchise, no “rules for surviving a horror film.” Cinema—suspense and horror cinema in particular—would be a lot poorer without Mr. Carpenter’s massive influence.

Halloween is now hailed as a masterpiece of horror, consistently showing up on “Best Horror Films” lists, but it has also sparked controversy over alleged misogyny and sadism. In this film, some critics argued, young women are punished for having premarital sex—all but the chaste “Final Girl.” Michael Myers, they claimed, was an agent of conservative morality, and viewers indulged misogynistic, sadistic pleasures by identifying with him. But that approach is misguided. Myers is an agent of pure, anti-social evil, and the characters who are killed are the ones who fail to be vigilant. The film does not invite us to identify with Myers—it invites us to identify with his victims. The pleasure of watching Halloween is the peculiar pleasure of vicarious immersion into a world torn apart by horror.

I spoke to Mr. Carpenter as research for my book, and the rest of this blog post is a transcription of that conversation.

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Posted on June 20, 2017

Green Room and John Carpenter’s The Thing

Dawn

There’s an interesting point of connection between John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room (2015), a film about a punk band, The Ain’t Rights who, while playing a neo-Nazi club somewhere near Portland, Oregon, witness a murder and find themselves in serious trouble.

Saulnier has gone on record as loving Carpenter’s work, especially The Thing, which inspired him as a child and which he counts as his favorite Carpenter film.[i]

Not surprisingly, then, when he’s interviewed about influences on Green Room, Saulnier mentions The Thing, but he typically only mentions the earlier film’s influence on his creation of tension within small spaces: “it  really is just people talking in a room, he says.”[ii]

There’s another connection, though, that seems minor but that has some suggestive implications.

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Posted on December 28, 2015

Formless Horrors: John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980)

Dawn

John Carpenter’s first three horror films—Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), and The Thing (1982)—are not only exceptional films, but, taken together, they constitute a kind of trilogy in their similar exploitation of the horror of formlessness.

Halloween may be the film least self-evidently about formlessness (its monster is “human,” after all), but I would suggest that Michael Myers actually stands in defiance of all categories. He is called the “bogeyman” more than once, including at the climax of the film, when a traumatized Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) stammers out to Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence)—“It was the bogeyman.” Kendall Phillips has pointed out that the bogeyman occupies a position “at the boundaries of notions of cultural normalcy”—and that he “embodies the chaos that exists on the other side of these cultural boundaries.”[i] True to form (or, rather, true to formlessness), Michael-as-bogeyman is often portrayed at boundaries—at intersections, on the other side of a road, in doorways, at windows.

1. Michael drives by Loomis

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Posted on March 23, 2015

Empowerment of the Traditional in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

Elizabeth

Released in 1978, John Carpenter’s Halloween not only gave Jamie Lee Curtis her definitive Scream Queen role but it also gave audiences one of the best known horror film villains of all time in Michael Meyers. On its face, the story is a simple one. On Halloween night, six-year-old Michael murders his sister and is placed in a psychiatric hospital. On the fifteenth anniversary of his incarceration, he breaks out intent on exacting revenge.

One of the reasons I keep coming back to this film is because of how effectively it uses cultural norms to elevate the horror.

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