skip navigation
Overview for John Carpenter
John Carpenter

John Carpenter


TCM Messageboards
Post your comments here


TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)

Recent DVDs

Feudin Fussin... Donald O'Connor headlines the musical comedy Feudin, Fussin and A-Fightin'... more info $14.95was $14.98 Buy Now

Tootsie ... When theatrical mastermind Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself... more info $11.21was $14.99 Buy Now

Starman ... Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen. An alien assumes the human form of an Earth woman's... more info $14.95was $19.99 Buy Now

Border... A phantom raider and his thugs create havoc at Spade Cooley's dude ranch. more info $5.95was $6.98 Buy Now

Something Wild... A straitlaced businessman meets a quirky, free-spirited woman at a downtown New... more info $22.95was $29.95 Buy Now

Tootsie... In TOOTSIE, the character Michael Dorsey lands the role of a lifetime as does... more info $24.95was $39.95 Buy Now

Also Known As: James T Chance,John Howard Carpenter,Martin Quatermass,John T Chance,Rip Haight,Frank Armitage Died:
Born: January 16, 1948 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Carthage, New York, USA Profession: Writer ... director screenwriter composer producer actor editor musician songwriter helicopter pilot


's several physical metamorphoses and murderous rampages. "Starman" (1984) attempted to retell "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" as an adult love story. Neither Jeff Bridges' Oscar-nominated performance as an amorous alien nor his peculiar, but engaging chemistry with leading lady Karen Allen was sufficient to overcome the sketchy and derivative screenplay, serving as a reminder that characterization was one of Carpenter's weaknesses as a filmmaker. "Big Trouble in Little China" was a lavish but uneven homage to supernatural Hong Kong action flicks. Memorable for Kurt Russell's broad spoof of John Wayne and for a deftly edited kidnapping sequence, the film eventually succumbed to an overdose of special effects. The commercial and critical failure of this project sent Carpenter temporarily back to the world of low-budget filmmaking.

He next directed "Prince of Darkness" (1987), a likeably goofy return to low-budget horror and a knowing tribute to the works of British fantasy screenwriter Nigel Kneale (best known for the "Quatermass" films). Absurd but compelling, the film told the story of Satan's return to Earth couched in the terminology of technological sci-fi. "They Live" (1988) presented professional wrestler Roddy Piper in an initially subversive consideration of the dark underpinnings of the "Reagan revolution" before degenerating into all-too-familiar fisticuffs and shoot-outs. Nonetheless, budget restrictions seemed to reawaken some quality that had been fading in Carpenter's filmmaking. Shorn of production bloat, his films had again become fairly dependable, if unambitious, fun.

The $40 million "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" (1992) boasted state-of-the-art invisibility effects from Industrial Light and Magic but was undermined by poor casting - it was a Chevy Chase vehicle - and an indecisive tone. Carpenter briefly returned to the small screen as executive producer, segment director, composer and host of "John Carpenter Presents Body Bags" (Showtime, 1993), a horror anthology telefilm. Playing a ghoulish, pun-happy morgue attendant, Carpenter introduced three horrific stories: "Gas Station," "Hair" and "Eye." He helmed the first two, while Tobe Hooper directed the third. The effort was generally deemed well-crafted but uninspired. "In the Mouth of Madness" (1995) was an enormously entertaining trifle about a skeptical insurance investigator (Sam Neill) pursuing a hugely successful horror writer, whose books literally create a world of their own. The film benefited from a terrific cast that also included David Warner, Charlton Heston, Jurgen Prochnow and John Glover. The film's pleasures were undercut by an annoyingly obscure last third and a silly ending. Carpenter's remake of one of the beloved films of his youth, "Village of the Damned" (1995) opened to mixed reviews and tepid box office.

The sequel that no one demanded, "John Carpenter's Escape From L.A." (1996), arrived 15 years after its predecessor on a wave of hype. Carpenter, Kurt Russell and Debra Hill collaborated on the screenplay and Hill produced. Though a stylized cipher, "Escape from New York" character Snake Plissken may have been the most memorable character in all of Carpenter's films. Russell was still convincing in black leather as the reluctant mercenary sent into a nightmarish futuristic Los Angeles, where the terminally politically incorrect are consigned. Though budgeted at $50 million, the film was deemed "cheesy" and "crappy" by much of the press, but these words were delivered with affection. The cast featured such exploitation icons as Peter Fonda, Bruce Campbell and Pam Grier and the film opened to healthy box office.

By the mid-1990s, John Carpenter was a hardy survivor of the vicissitudes of the movie business. One of the few young genre auteurs of the 1970s to continue to work in genre fare (unlike David Cronenberg) - and work regularly (unlike George Romero and Tobe Hooper), he has remained busy producing, helming and penning works for film and TV. Carpenter had difficulty, however, rediscovering and packaging his strengths in a modern commercial cinema that encouraged the presentation of action as overblown visual spectacle. A consummate craftsman, Carpenter delivered solid entertainments that always boasted at least a few outstanding sequences. Unfortunately, while his career continued, there was little evidence of artistic growth. Carpenter's name figured prominently in advertising as a brand-name assurance of a certain level of quality, but he had clearly failed to live up to the promise of his early work.

As the 1990s came to a close, it became apparent that Carpenter was more content with living off past successes rather than breaking new artistic ground. He began directing films with his name directly in the title, like "John Carpenter's Vampires" (1998) and "John Carpenter's Ghost of Mars" (2001) - both of which failed to benefit from this new approach. While "Vampires" - a mildly entertaining, though one-dimensional horror-western about an ill-fated band of vampire hunters - pulled in over $20 million at the box office, "Ghost of Mars" - a futuristic sci-fi thriller about the discovery of an ancient civilization on Mars - failed to make it past $10 million, signaling perhaps Carpenter's fading influence with the masses. Meanwhile, former musical front man Rob Zombie directed the remake of Carpenter's original "Halloween" in 2007, turning the horror classic into a muddy, bloody and pointless mess. Carpenter nonetheless served as a consulting producer.core, Carpenter skillfully employed a gliding Steadicam that unexpectedly turned elegant tracking sequences into menacing point-of-view shots. Having more in common with a carnival funhouse than the charnel house air of many of its would-be imitators, the film tantalized with the possibility of cheap thrills on the periphery of each carefully composed widescreen frame. Produced by co-writer Debra Hill, "Halloween" reportedly grossed over $75 million worldwide, making it one of the most profitable films ever made.

The success of "Halloween" launched a series of inferior sequels (directed by others), as well as Carpenter's entry into mainstream Hollywood production. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association hailed Carpenter with the 1979 New Generation Award for "Dark Star," "Assault on Precinct 13" and "Halloween." Flush with this success, Carpenter began working in TV during the late '70s, starting with co-scripting the innocuous teen romance "Zuma Beach" (NBC, 1978). He strutted his stuff a few months later as writer-director of NBC's "Someone's Watching Me!," a dazzling suspenser starring Lauren Hutton as a career woman being preyed upon by an unseen voyeuristic neighbor. With a nod to Hitchcock's "Rear Window," Carpenter achieved his claustrophobic effects with subtle framing and deep focus compositions. He gained more attention and kudos with "Elvis" (ABC, 1979), a three-hour biopic starring Kurt Russell as the legendary rocker. A trimmed version was released theatrically overseas.

Once a leading contender to become modern Hollywood's version of the old genre master Hawks, Carpenter - since moving into bigger-budget productions - found his stylistic strengths and modest thematic interests (e.g. issues of communication and isolation; questioning authority) being sometimes smothered by an excess of production values or poorly served by inadequate scripting. Even a relatively early and low-budget outing like "Escape From New York" (1981) soon dropped its intriguing premise to settle for the conventional heroics required by the plot. Similarly, in "The Thing" (the first film over which Carpenter did not have contractual control), Rob Bottin's impressive special effects stole the spotlight from an ostensibly humanist theme.

"Christine" began as a promising exploration of America's automobile fetish and its relationship to male youth culture only to dissolve into a spectacle of the eponymous car

Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.

Click here to contribute