It goes without saying that John Carpenter, the composer, writer, and director of some of the most well-known and well-received films in the horror and science-fiction genres, is a horror icon. There is dispute, however, on which films people would consider to be included in his classic or iconic canon. Though “Halloween” and “The Thing” are readily mentioned, with occasional nods to “They Live” and “The Fog” included by real fans, often the rest of his body of work is overlooked or discounted. The focus of this column is on some of the more obscure and early work that is often absent from his list of great films.
Two of the films come very early in his career, after he graduated USC film school and was learning to make a living as a filmmaker. After completing “dark Star” and finding distribution for it (an impressive feat, considering its low budget, and the fact that it was a philosophical science-fiction comedy made as a college project), he set his sights on the big and small screens.
Both opportunities made themselves available, and between 1976 and 1978, he produced both “Assault On Precinct 13” and “Someone’s Watching Me.” Making a name for himself in both mediums, he continued on television with the 1979 movie “Elvis” and on the big screen with the film that would make him world-famous, “Halloween.”
For nearly a decade, he produced interesting and idiosyncratic films that heralded a strong new voice in the genre. Unfortunately, he was sometimes ahead of the curve with audiences, and his martial arts action-comedy “Big Trouble In Little China” ended up being his most expensive and least profitable film. Licking his wounds from the bad experience, Carpenter went off to make smaller, more personal movies with independent production companies, and that was where his impressive “Prince of Darkness” was made.
After that film’s release, he had some other mild successes with “They Live” and “In the Mouth of Madness,” but nearly everything else he made through the 90’s and into the new millennium cost more than it made and was generally uninspired.
With a lasting impression from his seminal works, and a few more obscure titles that are worth the hunt, John Carpenter has left a lasting legacy in the horror genre, and fans can only hope that they haven’t seen the last of his work.