Monday, September 8, 2014

Revisiting John Carpenter's Chilling Body of Work - A Guest Piece by Brandon Engel

Now, this is a piece that I am very excited to be sharing with you guys. I was approached by a writer named Brandon, who was interested in writing a piece for the blog on John Carpenter's lesser known works, and as I've been the sole writer on here I was very excited to have additional collaboration on the blog. He submitted a great piece, which you will find below, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I do. Cheers!
Breaking onto the Hollywood scene in the '70s with his low-budget, high-impact thrillers, John Carpenter made a name for himself in filmmaking that extends even beyond his substantial impact on the horror genre. Though Carpenter is probably best known as a master of horror, responsible for famous genre staples like Halloween (1978) and The Thing (1982), he is a prolific film maker whose influence reaches in to the realms of science fiction and action cinema.

One of John Carpenter's first real commercial successes was the genre-defining slasher film Halloween, which would go on to spawn countless movies with similar themes and build Carpenter's reputation as a horror film genius. Based on a simple pulp fiction theme of teenaged babysitters being stalked on Halloween night by a masked killer and filmed on a shoestring budget of just $320,000, this early hit with its influential sound track became one of the most successful independent movies of all time, and one of the most recognizable films in the exploitation genre. While many critics and film connoisseurs have inferred an allegorical message about sexual purity from this film, a theme which is often echoed in its many cinematic offspring, Carpenter himself insists that he was just out to make the kind of trashy, crass exploitation film he would have loved to see as a kid. Other horror hits that would cement Carpenter's place as a genius of the genre included The Fog in 1980.

In addition to his well known horror contributions, Carpenter made many strong films in the sci-fi and action genres. His first film, Dark Star in 1974, was a largely forgotten sci-fi movie that nevertheless earned him attention from his Hollywood peers. Like many of his early films, Dark Star was made on a limited budget, with Carpenter himself taking responsibility for the writing, directing, producing and musical score. Most of Carpenter's films playfully blur the lines between genres, like his sci-fi romantic comedy Starman in 1984, or the bizarre satirical sci-fi action film They Live (1988) starring Canadian professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper. While some of Carpenter's sci-fi films, like Starman, received critical acclaim, and many went on to become cult classics, The only one that came anywhere near the commercial success of Halloween was the action packed Escape From New York (1981), grossing about a third as much as Carpenter's slasher classic.

Although his versatility and ability to work with a shoestring budget quickly got him better 
and brighter offers, Carpenter directed several films that were flops, both commercially and critically, and can be hard to find these days except on specialty cable networks like Robert Rodriguez’s recently launched El Rey channel (which is on DirecTV and some cable providers). The Thing (1982), a bleak and riveting alien thriller where everyone dies, was released the same summer Steven Spielberg's cuddly extra terrestrial E.T. graced the screen, and did not perform well commercially. The failure got him pulled from another project, and he would soon return to making low budget films. Many of these films are considered forgotten classics by those who love B-movies: Prince of Darkness in 1987 and the Lovecraftian homage In the Mouth of Madness in 1994, together with The Thing, complete Carpenter's Apocalypse Trilogy of dark horror films and are considered underrated by many fans.

Even though none of his films achieved the early success of Halloween and many of them were poorly received, John Carpenter's cinematic legacy set many records and influenced countless films across decades. From his impact on the slasher genre to his cult classic contributions to action and sci-fi, Carpenter's thumbprint on cinema history cannot be ignored.

Brandon Engel writes for a variety of blogs and websites, and was gracious enough to write a post for us here at Lovecraft Reviews. Keep your eyes peeled, I may get him back here soon! 

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