AKA John Howard Carpenter
Birthplace: Carthage, NY
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Film Director
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Escape from New York
John Carpenter makes enjoyable popcorn movies, usually in the horror, suspense, or science fiction genres. He has made some of his best films while working on a tiny budget, and is generally credited with popularizing the camera's first-person killer perspective for Halloween, the film which introduced the now-clichéd horror movie plot point that teenagers who have sex are doomed to grisly death.
As a child, Carpenter started making short homemade movies with his father's 8mm camera before adolescence, inspired by low-budget sci-fi like It Came from Outer Space and Forbidden Planet. In his teens he wrote several issues of a mimeographed zine of monster movies, Fantastic Films Illustrated, and in college he co-wrote a 23-minute 1970 film, The Resurrection of Broncho Billy, which starred Johnny Crawford and won the Oscar for Best Short Subject. Another college project, the cynical science-fiction comedy Dark Star, was a clever satire of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek that became popular with college screenings and midnight shows.
Carpenter's first semi-commercial film, Assault on Precinct 13, was a non-stop action romp that told the story of a street gang attacking a police station, an obvious but inspired riff on Howard Hawks's classic western Rio Bravo. The creepy, thrilling, and surprisingly gore-free Halloween made a movie star of Jamie Lee Curtis, and inspired dozens of weary imitators and half-hearted sequels. Reportedly made for $300,000, Halloween earned $75-million in its first theatrical run, and gave Carpenter a green light for almost any project that interested him.
Over the next decade he delivered several outstanding and imaginative films -- the tale of sailors' revenge The Fog with Adrienne Barbeau, the apocalyptic rescue romp Escape from New York with Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef, the knuckle-whitening re-make of The Thing with Russell and Keith David, the optimistic sci-fi road movie Starman with Jeff Bridges and Karen Allen, the daft but delightful kung fu fest Big Trouble in Little China with Russell and Kim Cattrall, and the politically subversive zombie movie They Live with Roddy Piper chewing gum and kicking ass. Memoirs of an Invisible Man had the disadvantage of starring Chevy Chase, but In the Mouth of Madness was a wonderfully evocative blurring of fiction within fiction, with Sam Neill looking for the missing Jürgen Prochnow.
Since the mid-1990s, though, Carpenter's name above the title has seemed more a warning than a mark of quality. His Village of the Damned with Christopher Reeve was a remake that did not measure up to the George Sanders original, and Escape from L.A., Carpenter's sequel to his own Escape from New York, made audiences wonder whether he had lost his touch. His subsequent films, Vampires with James Woods and Daniel Baldwin and Ghosts of Mars with Natasha Henstridge, have been poorly received. Without Carpenter at the helm, Hollywood has begun offering remakes of some of his best early work -- Assault on Precinct 13 with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne, The Fog with Maggie Grace, and Rob Zombie's upcoming Halloween.
Between his other efforts, Carpenter wrote the innocuous teen romance Zuma Beach starring Suzanne Somers, the excellent made-for-TV thriller Someone's Watching Me starring Lauren Hutton, and the effective big-screen nightmare The Eyes of Laura Mars starring Faye Dunaway. He directed Elvis, the 1979 mini-series of Elvis Presley's life, starring Carpenter's frequent collaborator, Kurt Russell. In addition to his work as a writer, director, and occasional producer, Carpenter composes the music for most of his films, and often performs the score on digital instruments.
Father: Howard Ralph Carpenter (head of music department, Western Kentucky University)
Mother: Milton Jean Carter Carpenter (d. 2004)
Girlfriend: Debra Hill (film producer, b. 1950, dated and cohabited in late 1970s)
Wife: Adrienne Barbeau (actress, m. 1979, div. 1984, one son)
Son: John Cody Carpenter (rock'n'roll keyboardist, b. 7-May-1984)
Wife: Sandy King (producer, b. 1952, m. 1990)
University: Western Kentucky University
University: University of Southern California
Risk Factors: Smoking
FILMOGRAPHY AS DIRECTOR
The Ward (13-Sep-2010)
Ghosts of Mars (24-Aug-2001)
Escape from L.A. (9-Aug-1996)
Village of the Damned (28-Apr-1995)
In the Mouth of Madness (3-Feb-1995)
Body Bags (8-Aug-1993)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (28-Feb-1992)
They Live (4-Nov-1988)
Prince of Darkness (23-Oct-1987)
Big Trouble in Little China (2-Jul-1986)
The Thing (25-Jun-1982)
Escape from New York (10-Jul-1981)
The Fog (8-Feb-1980)
Someone's Watching Me! (29-Nov-1978)
Assault on Precinct 13 (Nov-1976)
Dark Star (Apr-1974)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Nightmare Factory (27-Oct-2011) · Himself
Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film (13-Oct-2006) · Himself
The American Nightmare (11-Sep-2000) · Himself
Village of the Damned (28-Apr-1995) · Man at Gas Station Phone
The Silence of the Hams (13-Jul-1994)
Body Bags (8-Aug-1993)
Memoirs of an Invisible Man (28-Feb-1992) · Helicopter Pilot
The Boy Who Could Fly (15-Aug-1986) · The Coupe De Villes
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