My top 5 directors (No.4) – John Carpenter

John Carpenter on set
John Carpenter on set

John Carpenter is perhaps the most underrated director of all time. Partly because he never quiet attained the same level of influence as in the 1980s, in the later part of his career. His impact on the world of cinema cannot be underestimated he has created movies that have influenced generations of directors and defined genres especially in the field of horror. Movies such as Halloween, The Thing, Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China, and of course They live have all went on to become cult classics. Perhaps one of the reasons why he never quiet made many high budget movies was for his stubbornness. His attitude towards having as much control over the project as possible is just as famous as his movies. Hence why he is normally the composer, producer, writer, director and editor of his work. Not only did this allow him to have maximum creative control over the project but it allowed him to make movies as he envisioned them. This also meant less money had to be spent hiring someone else. This is now a trend that seems to be followed by today’s blossoming directors most notably Ti West.


What makes a John Carpenter movie?


Simply put they are fun to watch. They are what you would expect from watching a movie pure entertainment. That is the beauty of his work they don`t take themselves too seriously, and this is reflected in the pictures. This is not to say that he only makes fan pleasing movies. For example The Thing is perhaps one of his most notable works, groundbreaking at the time it was released and even today the film has the ability to shock and provoke the audience. Criticized heavily at the time of release for its excess depiction of gore and violence it slowly went on to become a cult classic, and one of the most influential sci-fi / horror movies of all time. This was one movie were John Carpenter simply fulfilled his role as a director and a director only. The composition was conducted by the legendary Italian conductor Ennio Morricone and editing was taken care of by Todd Ramsay.

The Thing - one of the greatest Sci-fi movies of all time
The Thing – one of the greatest Sci-fi movies of all time

Halloween in which I talked about in more detail in a previous blog check it out here, became a cult classic and became the most iconic slasher movie off all time. It has stretched past 10 sequels and it remains the granddaddy of all slashers. Like most of John Carpenters movies the movie was released to mix reactions and negative reviews, but went on to become a classic and smash records at the box office despite having a budget of no more than $200,000.


Assault on Precinct 13 is one my favorite John Carpenter movie. The concept is really simple and again everything in the making process was handled by Carpenter himself. The movie was released to controversy as attention was given to a particular scene where a little girl is killed. This was not going to faze Carpenter at this point in his career controversy was almost like free publicity. Without giving any story details away this movie has one of the most epic shootouts that lasts for almost 10 minutes. In the world of movies a scene dedicated to 10 minutes of no story related progression is unheard of. Yet it is moments like this that make his movies great to watch. The scene is chaotic, loud and intense. Intense is probably the best way to describe the majority of his work. There is a heightened sense of helplessness throughout the movie yet somehow it ends with the most macho high note of machismo.

Behind the scenes - Halloween
Behind the scenes – Halloween

One can construe the movies of John Carpenter to represent attacks on political establishments. Corruption, manipulation and deceit are just some of the ways he tends to portray the government in his movies. Very much matching his own rebellious views towards corporate movie studios. In this sense the role of an anti-hero who stands up against such power is very befitting. Escape from New York which went on to influence the character of Solid Snake in the acclaimed video game series Metal Gear Solid by Hideo Kojima is a perfect example of such assaults. Here not only does he portray the government as the driving force towards the worlds end, but also an imprudent force. This is demonstrated through Snake Pliskken (Kurt Russell) outsmarting the establishment even when the technology and man numbers stand against his favor.

However, no movie makes this theory seem truer than in They live. This would probably be the one movie no politician would want to watch or if they did they would turn a blind eye to the message, and instead laugh along as the film rolls. A sci-fi comedy with plenty of dark humor and fuck the establishment statements. Roddy Piper took the leading role for this movie his debut movie role without any acting experience (that is if you don`t consider WWE acting) and did a great job. One particular scene that stands out in this movie is a 5 minute street fight that seems to go on forever resembling the shootout in Assault on Precinct 13.

Check out the billboard messages
Check out the billboard messages

Check it out here:

John Carpenter is a great movie maker if there was a golden era for this director it would obviously be the 1980s; his contribution to horror and sci-fi movies along with his distaste for political power, and his `I can do all` attitude to movie making make him a very special director. Very few have made movies that have had everlasting influential impact many years after their release, many directors would be lucky to mention even one such movie in their resume. John Carpenter has at least six. Saying that his talents are not restricted to directing he has also composed some of the most iconic movie soundtracks off all time Halloween for instance or Escape from New York and so on. He also lay the blueprint on how to hit the lottery at box office whist staying under budget and independent.

What makes him stand above the rest is that his movies encapsulate the purest form of entertainment in that they are fun to watch. It is hard to believe but he is still an active director but with mediocre releases is tough to see this genius match what he has already achieved.


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