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American director, writer, composer, producer. Carpenter belongs to a generation of filmmakers weaned on Hollywood movies. Unlike Coppola or Scorsese who cut their teeth or genre but moved on to the artist edges of the mainstream he has remained faithful to science fiction and horror. After the s-f skit Dark Star (1974) and the nightmare suspensor Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) Halloween (1978) a model of pared-down horror catapulted him into the bigtime. The plot revolves around a gaggle of small town teenagers picked off one by one by Michael Myers aka 'The Shape', an escaped psycho in a mask. The sole survivor among her peer group is plucky Jamie Lee Curtis marked out as virtuous (and therefore undeserving of death) by her decision to baby-sit rather than spend the evening having sex like her friends.

 Many of Carpenter's ideas soon became clichés in the hands of lesser directors: the shock prologue (in which the murderer is revealed to be a small boy) the killer's point of view represented by subjective camera the tendency for teenagers to die horribly after having sex by the dead bogeyman who keeps coming back lo life. Later exponents of stalk-and-slash fail to emulate Carpenter's ability to marshall widescreen effects so that the film seems far more violent and bloody than it actually is. In the end Halloween is little more than a well-oiled machine designed to make its audience jump; but by stripping its story to the bone Carpenter invests it with the quality of urban myth an impression enhanced by the presence of Donald Pleasence as a sort of psychiatric Captain Ahab obsessed with tracking the psychopaths

 As well as a slew of interior imitations (Friday the 13th, 1980 et al) Halloween spawned sequels of decreasing merit. Carpenter produced and co-wrote Halloween II (1981) set in the Hospital where Curtis is taken immediately alter the events 07 the original and produced Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983), a bid (unsuccessful as it turned out) to continue the series with a Myers-free story line (try an uncredited Nigel Kneale). His only involvement with later sequels is that they use His distinctive synthesized Shape theme. The Fog (1981) about a Californian coastal town terrorized by the shades of long-dead mariners is a creditable attempt to revive the ghost story. Escape from New York (1981) is an amusing set action picture with favored star Kurt Russell, whom Carpenter had cast in the mini-series Elvis (1979) and who would return for Escape from LA (1996).

 The Thing (1982) is not so much a remake of the Howard Hawks/Christian Nyby The Thing From Another World (1951) as a return to John W. Campbell Jr.'s original story 'Who Goes There?' (1938): an isolated gap is infiltrated by a shapeshifting alien, and no-one can be sure which of the others is human. A bleak all-male horror film (inevitably starring Russell) set in an Antarctic research station it features imaginative special effects (by Rob Bottin) as the alien sporadically erupts out of its host bodies. Its box-office failure at a time when the public warmed to the more cuddlesome ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) marked the beginning of a downward spiral in Carpenter's fortunes.

Christine (1983) is an effective Stephen King adaptation about a demonic Plymouth Fury which turns its wimpy owner (Keith Gordon) into the baddest boy on the block, but Big Trouble in Little China (1986) is a botched attempt to Americanize the Hong Kong supernatural action movie. Between big studio blandness Starman (1984) and Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992), Carpenter made a concerted effort to return to independent roots with Prince of Darkness (1987), a Kneale variation in which the Devil is discovered trapped in a sort of giant lava lamp in the basement of a Los Angeles church, and the satirical alien invasion of They Live (1988).

Carpenter appears as the cadaverous coroner host in the framing scenes of the made-for-cable anthology Body Bags, also directing two out of three segments: a standard woman-in-periller set at an isolated gas station, and a black comedy in which Stacy Keach's hair transplants turn out to have a life of their own. In the Mouth of Madness (1994) is an inventive recursive yarn about a private detective (Sam Neill) on the trail of a missing horror writer. Again, Carpenter is heavily influenced by other writers; notably Jonathan Carroll, whose The Land of Laughs (1980) and A Child Across the Sky (1989) deal with similar themes, and Lovecraft. Village of the Damned (1995) is a serviceable, if uninspired, remake of the 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (1957).

In 1998 we saw the release of John Carpenter's VAMPIRES (1998), an adaptation of a fantastic, action packed novel by John Steakley.  It follows a band of vampire hunters who are employed by the Vatican to rid America of some of the meanest bloodsuckers to ever appear in print. This film barely earned back its' budget in movie revenue, but has done extremely well in video release. Although, not one of Carpenter's better attempts, VAMPIRES proved that he still possessed the knack for great story telling.

Currently, Carpenter is work on a film entitled "Ghost of Mars" with the story focusing  a human colonists on Mars who must be rescued after becoming possessed by vengeful Martian ghosts. The film is scheduled for a 2001 theatrical release

[Taken form The BFI Companion to Horror]

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