Who Is John Carpenter?
Filmmaker John Carpenter developed an interest in film and music early on. At the University of Southern California, he had his first success with a short student film. While he enjoyed his biggest hit with 1978's Halloween, Carpenter continues to thrill and disturb audiences with such films as 2011's The Ward.
Early Life and Career
Carpenter, born on January 16, 1948, in Carthage, New York, developed an interest in film and music as a young boy. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Southern California, where one school project, The Resurrection of Bronco Billy, won him an Academy Award (best live action short subject) in 1970. Carpenter co-wrote the screenplay and composed the music for the film.
Working with Dan O'Bannon, Carpenter started his first full-length movie while at USC. Dark Star, a sci-fi comedy, started out as a short film about astronauts on a mission to blow up unstable planets, but the pair later expanded it to feature length. Carpenter handled many responsibilities on the film, serving as its director, producer, writer and composer. Made a shoestring budget, Dark Star was released in 1974 and eventually became a cult classic.
Paying to tribute to the westerns of Howard Hawks, especially his masterpiece Rio Bravo, Carpenter next worked on Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). The low-budget film is an urban retelling of a traditional western standoff, with a Los Angeles police station coming under siege by gang members. Carpenter earned kudos for this gritty thriller with the London Times calling him "a first-rate story-teller."
Commercial Success: 'Halloween' and 'The Thing'
With his next effort, Halloween (1978), Carpenter made his name nearly synonymous with the horror genre. Again wearing many hats, he served as the director, co-writer and composer on what became one of the highest-earning independent films of all time. Costing only $300,000 to make, Halloween terrified movie audiences with the story of Michael Myers, a killer who escapes from a mental institution to returns to his hometown to wreak havoc. Donald Pleasence played Myers's doctor from the institution and Jamie Lee Curtis appeared as a teenage babysitter trying to avoid Myers's murderous wrath.
Carpenter drew comparisons to famed director Alfred Hitchcock for his ability to take the audience on a visual thrill ride. Critics also complimented him for his advanced technical skills. This suspenseful and violent film paved the way for a wave of other slasher movies, such as Friday the 13th. Halloween itself became a film franchise, but without Carpenter onboard. He only penned the screenplay for Halloween II (1981).
With his initial success, Carpenter found himself working on studio films and with larger budgets. Again turning to horror and suspense, Carpenter wrote and directed The Fog (1980). The residents of a small coastal town had to battle against the zombielike beings, the former inhabitants of an old leper colony. His then-wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau, co-starred with Curtis in the film. Turning to a gritty, futuristic action drama, Carpenter worked on Escape from New York (1981) starring Kurt Russell. Both films opened to disappointing reviews and mixed box office results. Carpenter teamed up with Russell again in 1996 when he directed Escape from L.A. Teaming up with Russell once more, Carpenter directed the cult-classic horror film The Thing in 1982.
Taking on one of the literary masters of horror and suspense, Carpenter directed the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King's Christine. He took a break from his usual fare for the science fiction romance Starman (1984) starring Jeff Bridges. Bridges played an alien who takes over a dead man's body and becomes involved with the man's widow (Karen Allen). The film proved to be a critical and commercial success with Bridges earning an Academy Award nomination for his work.
Returning to independent film, Carpenter has continued to work with varying degrees of success, but none matching the heights he reached with Halloween. Horror thriller Prince of Darkness (1987) and sci-fi action flick They Live (1988) failed to attract much of an audience. Carpenter tried comedy, directing 1992's Memoirs of an Invisible Man with Chevy Chase, which also proved to be a disappointment.
After the 2001 sci-fi thriller Ghosts of Mars, Carpenter took a break from directing. He worked on a few television episodes, but he did not return to the big screen until 2010 with The Ward. In the thriller starring Amber Heard and Mamie Gummer, young female patients at a mental institution suffer at the hands of an evil ghostly figure.
Carpenter has a son, Cody, from his first marriage to actress Adrienne Barbeau. The couple was married from 1979 to 1984. Carpenter has been married to producer Sandy King since 1990.
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