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John Carpenter: The Mind Behind the Shape

Megan Cross

Born on January 16th 1948, John Carpenter was born in Carthage, New York.  At an early age he was immediately captivated by the art of films and filmmaking.  He would watch western films directed by Howard Hawks and John Ford as well as science fiction films from the 1950's.  His father, a musician, would contribute to his passion with music.  His passion for movies opened the door to a more creative outlet by filming short horror films just before entering high school.  Motivated to make his dream come true, John was accepted to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts in 1968.  For his Master’s thesis project, Carpenter directed his first film called Dark Star.  Dark Star would be one of the first films to showcase a postmodernist futuristic environment.  Although it was challenging and lived on a low budget, Dark Star was released for a limited time in theaters and received a positive result.  Audiences and critics alike began to take notice of the upcoming dark horse of cinema.   

John Carpenter’s film Halloween (1978) was the most successful film of his career and with the help of his good friend Debra Hill the script was written in just ten days.  Filming was done in just twenty days in the Spring and was released in October of the same year.  It’s insane how great of a movie was written and shot in such a short amount of time.  Halloween focused on an average every-day babysitter who is stalked by a serial killer.  Simple and effective.  And most of all--believable.  The story was set in Haddonfield, IL which appears to be like any old ‘leave your doors unlocked’ neighborhood.  A quiet, small town neighborhood where everybody knew everything seems the safest and the most vulnerable.  How the scenes were shot in the film showcased Carpenters creativity.  Carpenter would highlight the killer emerging from the shadows for a quick moment until disappearing once more.  Many horror films would highlight the same creepy, stalker-like behavior.  A watch now-kill later type of persona.  Many have struggled to figure out what make's Michael evil.  Sequels and remakes have tried to explain why Michael is evil.  Carpenter explains that there is no origin or motive.  He mentions that evil is all around us; across the street, around the corner and it's closer than you think.  You don't have to explain it--it's just there.

Carpenter teamed up with Debra Hill to establish a strong female lead.  Debra was adamant about having an assertive leading lady.  Laurie Strode showcased just enough fear without becoming the stereotypical damsel.  Her character stuck out like a sore thumb among all the sex-crazed teens.  Without even realizing it, Carpenter and Hill developed the ‘if you have sex, you die' concept.  It would later generate a snowball effect for other slasher films to apply the same horror-rule.

Thanks to his father, a talented musician, Carpenter crafted the entire score for Halloween in just three days.  This type of talent doesn’t even exist today.  Coming up with a simple spooky tune that would be known world-wide is some next level genius.  I can barely get dressed before noon on the weekends.  John Carpenter can develop an entire score in three days.  Hollywood is too structured nowadays.  People are too quick to make a buck and forget to be creative and have fun.  That’s all John Carpenter and his team did.  Nick Castle, the original Michael Myers was one of his close friends and made $25 bucks a day playing Michael.  Everyone else who participated were close friends of Carpenter and were excited to be in a horror film.  They treated it like their cinematic sandbox and the result was cinematic GOLD.  

Maybe this is why I had a sudden panic attack when I realized that John Carpenter, the man behind ‘the shape’ is coming back as the executive producer on the 10th sequel.  According to Carpenter, he states that; “Thirty-eight years after the original Halloween, I’m going to help to try to make the 10th sequel the scariest of them all”.  That alone gives me goosebumps.  I will be buying a ticket to this in IMAX (if available) and shoving all the popcorn in my mouth.  

John Carpenter is without a doubt a master of his craft, an unparalleled cinematic genius in his own right.  John has consistently fueled his passion and has no doubt fulfilled his childhood dream.  John Carpenter is one talented bad ass.



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