Doctor Gash's Tip of the Scalpel: A Tribute to John Carpenter
"I met him…15 years ago. I was told there was nothing left. No reason, no conscience, no understanding; even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and, the blackest eyes...the devil's eyes."
"I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized what was living behind that boy's eyes was purely and simply ... evil." –Dr. Sam Loomis (Halloween, written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill)
There is an upper echelon of horror directors that fans of the genre hold in a sacred reverence. Rightfully at the top of the list are the filmmakers who created the most iconic and memorable of our favorite films. One could argue that just the fact that John Carpenter created Halloween would put him into the rare air of this group of directors. However, Halloween was just one of the incredible films brought to us by Carpenter. His complete list of works contains some of the most memorable characters and moments in the history of horror, which is why this week we're proud to give a Doctor Gash Tip of the Scalpel to John Carpenter.
The name John Carpenter is synonymous with the horror genre. He sits side by side with other macabre heavyweights like Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper as men who have fueled our nightmares throughout the years. And although it wasn't his first film (Carpenter did direct a project called Dark Star in '74 and, of course, Assault on Precinct 13 in '76), in 1978 Carpenter created a movie that would not only go on to be one of the most successful independent movies of all time, he created a film franchise that is still churning to this day, nearly 35 years later. Obviously, we're talking about the nightmare that some say is the greatest horror movie ever made: Halloween.
Carpenter wrote Halloween with Debra Hill and made the film on a budget of about $320,000. It would go on to gross $70 million worldwide (which equates to approximately $234 million when adjusted for inflation. Halloween simply reeked of tension. Carpenter masterfully brought Michael Myers home to Haddonfield, let him slowly stalk his prey, then unleashed him on Laurie Strode as Doctor Loomis did his best to snare his elusive, criminally insane patient.
In addition to the unforgettable story and tension, Carpenter (billed in the credits of the film as the Bowling Green Philharmonic Orchestra) also wrote one of the most memorable pieces of theme music in modern cinema. You can easily stand the theme music for Halloween with other iconic pieces, such as the theme for Jaws or that BA-BA-BA-BA-BABA-BA-BABA that Darth Vader uses. Carpenter's theme for Halloween is freakishly simple, but devilishly effective.
So how does a director follow a film like Halloween? In John Carpenter's case, he did a pretty admirable job of it. Teaming with Hill again, Carpenter returned in 1980 (with Jamie Lee Curtis and her mom, Janet Leigh, in tow) with the eerily spooky The Fog. But as impressively haunting as it was, Carpenter would only continue to raise the bar in the following years.
The next part of the story is incredibly impressive (and the stretch of his career that would cement John Carpenter as a Hall of Fame director). On July 10, 1981, Carpenter released the classic film Escape From New York and introduced the world to the anti-hero that is Snake Plissken. Then, on June 25, 1982, Carpenter and Russell returned with the claustrophobic nightmare known as The Thing. Yes, folks, in a span of 351 days John Carpenter released two films that would remain fan favorites for 30 years and counting. Sure, directors often put out a film per year, but Carpenter ran out Escape From Fucking New York and The Thing in less than a year. Damn!
He basically could have sat on his ass and put his feet up and watched NBA games for the rest of his life and still be considered one of the greats, but he would go on to direct 12 more films, including genre favorites Christine (based on the Stephen King story) in '83, Prince of Darkness in 1987, the "Rowdy" Roddy Piper sci-fi horror vehicle They Live in '88 and the underrated, super-fun bloodbath John Carpenter's Vampires in 1998. Although he's slowed considerably from the break-neck pace of his younger days, Carpenter remains in the director's chair, releasing The Ward in 2010. And although earlier this month he underwent emergency surgery in Nashville to correct a detached retina, he remains actively entrenched in the genre.
An icon, a legend, John Carpenter has graced us with unforgettable characters and moments that have absolutely popped. The horror genre is exponentially better thanks to his contributions. Michael Myers, MacReady, Snake Plissken…characters that are immediately recognizable and loved. Imagine a world of horror without John Carpenter…now that's scary. And for all he's done for us, we happily grant the great John Carpenter a Tip of the Doctor Gash Scalpel. Thank you, sir, for all you've created.
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