Few out there can claim the title “Master of Horror.” John Carpenter is one of those few. Sharing the title with such visionaries as Romero, Craven and Hooper, Carpenter has been scaring, inspiring and entertaining audiences since Dark Star hit theaters in 1975. January 16th marks the 70th birthday for the acclaimed filmmaker and it’s the perfect time to reflect on some of the amazing things Carpenter has accomplished. While volumes could be written about such classics as 1978’s Halloween, 1980’s The Fog, or 1982’s The Thing, I’d like to take this opportunity for us discuss some other aspects of Carpenter’s legacy. Three things specifically; the John Carpenter line of comics, collaborations with Kurt Russell, and recent endeavors in the world of music.
Let’s start off by talking about some comics. Over the years Carpenter has been involved in some great collaborations, but perhaps the greatest is with his long time wife, partner, and colleague Sandy King. King is the President of of Storm King Productions and the home to the John Carpenter line of comics. There are currently three different ongoing series’ in Carpenter comic line; John Carpenter’s Tales of Science Fiction, John Carpenter’s Asylum, and John Carpenter’s Tales for a HalloweeNight. Each line of comics is completely different from the others, but all have that classic Carpenter touch. Tales of Science Fiction is a monthly anthology series based on stories written by Carpenter and King. Entrenched in the world of sci-fi, Tales is a dark and mysterious ride to be sure. While the Vault series has closed for now, the Vortex story has just begun recently. Check out the trailer below:
Asylum is a dark and emotional horror comic that tells the tale of Father Daniel Beckett and his struggles with demons both real and imaginary. Tales for a HalloweeNight is a graphic novel anthology series that comes out annually around, you guessed it, Halloween. Currently up to three volumes, HalloweeNight brings together a wide array of writers and artists in a series that is so fun and exactly what any fan of a horror anthology (comic or film) would want. Volume 4 is already reported to be in the works with a SyFy television adaptation also in the works. Comics can be found here or at your local comic book shop.
Next up, the glorious world of 80’s Kurt Russell. The 1980’s were packed full of amazing action stars; Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Ford, Gibson, and Weaver just to name a few. And then there was Kurt Russell. Carpenter and Russell first collaborated on 1981’s Escape from New York where Russell played the stone cold bad-ass Snake Plissken. This role was unlike any that Russell had had before, and really unlike any other action “hero” out there at the time. Plissken, a creation from the mind of Carpenter, was a reluctant hero, distrustful and not really a nice guy. And yet his swagger coupled with Russell’s incredible facial expressions, comedic timing and that perfect head tilt create a classic and much loved character.
It wasn’t long before they were working together again, and in 1982 we got the masterpiece that is The Thing. In this classic sci-fi horror film, Russell plays helicopter pilot MacReady, trapped in an Antarctic research station battling a parasitic, unidentified life form. The film thrives off the confusion and paranoia that encompasses the camp and Carpenter does a marvelous job at never giving too much away. Once again, Russell plays a character that straddles that line between good guy and bad guy. It’s hard to believe that’s an accident, and it’s a role that Russell plays to perfection.
In 1986, Big Trouble In Little China was released and Russell took the reigns as the cocky, charming and completely incompetent Jack Burton. The way that Carpenter slowly brings Burton from the real world, into the realm of fantasy hiding beneath Chinatown is perfection. Similar to Plissken, Burton is a reluctant hero filled with confidence, although maybe a bit more misplaced than Plissken. Carpenter seems to embrace the idea of an anti-hero and Russell is the perfect conduit for it. Through Burton we are able to really see how masterful Russell can be with comedy. His delivery and ability to ask a million questions without ever getting any answers makes Burton a hero who really just happens to get lucky a lot.
The relationship between Carpenter and Russell created a whole new kind of action hero during the 80’s. None of these “heroes” were really admirable, selfless or super physically intimidating. And yet, they remain likeable, relateable and maybe most importantly, realistic. Placed in these incredible situations, all three of these characters are there reluctantly. None wanted to be there, and yet they handle it in the best ways they knew how. Carpenter really launched Russell in his action acting career and their work together created some movies that will forever remain near and dear to our hearts.
Finally, the music. One of the most unique and incredible things about John Carpenter is his ability to not only craft an incredible story, but to score one as well. Originally constrained by budgets, Carpenter began to work on his own film music as a simple way to save money. His minimalist, synthy scores complimented his atmospheric films so well and really created a style all his own that is still revered today.
As a kid watching John Carpenter’s films, he was the first director where his work made very clear to me that he cared significantly about the music and sounds in his films. His underlying importance and attention with sound and music has been heavily influential to myself as a filmmaker. –James Reeves, Filmmaker and Media Production Manager at Florida Tech
Aside from his film work, Carpenter has remained busy composing, recording and performing his musical compositions. In 2015, Carpenter released his debut studio album title Lost Themes and released by Sacred Bones Records. Along with his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, Carpenter recorded nine tracks that could easily be associated with a Carpenter film, but weren’t. This first release was a gift to all fans of his film scores and was quickly followed up by a second and third release when Lost Themes Remixed and Lost Themes II were released in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Finally, just this last October, fans were treated to new recordings with the fabulous Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998 release. Also put out by Sacred Bones, this release features the same Lost Themes band and is must have for any fan of John Carpenter. Not to be one confined to the studio, Carpenter took to the road again this past year allowing thousands of fans the opportunity to experience these themes live in a unique and intimate way.
Ross Sauriol, Freelance Screenwriter and Projects Manager for Storm King Productions, was kind enough to talk to NOFS about first meeting John Carpenter:
I was a freshly graduated film student and an obsessive horror fan, so to say that I was nervous the first time I met John Carpenter is an extreme understatement. Sitting on his couch, half watching the Lakers, I was quickly put at ease. He couldn’t have been more open, welcoming, charming, funny and generally easy to talk to. Now, after 8 years of knowing/working/touring with him, I feel the same. He’s the coolest dude I know ON and OFF the set (or stage) and he’s the ONLY true ‘Master of Horror’ we have left.
A creative mind that has given film fans so much to love over the years, John Carpenter has proven that he’s certainly not slowing down. From movies, to comics, to television shows and music; the Carpenter fan is a truly blessed one with a lot of great things to look forward to. Happy Birthday Mr. Carpenter!