John Carpenter Warped My Youth

I know that seems a harsh thing to say, but it’s true. Oh, he wasn’t alone with shattering my expectations of the genre I loved most, horror. But damn if he wasn’t the biggest influence on my entire generation.

When I try to list the top 20 horror films of my teen years, J.C. dominates. If I whittle it down to my top 10 of all time, he’s still the master. As a writer, director and musician, he’s the one I think of when I conjure up the images and sounds of the boogeyman and impending doom. The man was at the top of the heap for two decades, which is about a decade and 5 years more than most.

The Monster Men recently dedicated an episode to singing his praises. I can’t believe it took us 30+ episodes to do it, but better late than never. You can watch the video here.

My goal today is to give you a moment to stop and admire the filmography of one of the best in the biz. My first exposure to the legend was, naturally, Halloween. That movie defined the slasher flick, spawning hundreds of imitations. Shot in just a few weeks, it isn’t the least bit dated and is terrifying a new generation. As an added bonus, it gave us Jamie Lee Curtis! Big score. When I was a kid, my friend bought a William Shatner mask and painted it white with house paint so he could be Michael Meyers for Halloween. The dude nearly passed out from the fumes. I think he even puked a couple of times. But the mask was awesome.

Halloween_cover

Carpenter followed that up with The Fog, again with Jamie Lee and the seductive Adrienne Barbeau. Undead pirates seeking revenge on a sleepy little town. What’s not to like? John Carpenter was married to Adrienne for some time, which is why you see her in a few of his films. In fact, if John liked you, you could expect to be in quite a few of his movies. The man is loyal as hell.

Escape From New York is one badass of a flick. Snake Plissken could wipe out Al Queda singlehandedly and solve the debt crisis. “I’m the Duke of New York, A Number One!” For a whole year after that came out, you would hear me or one of my friends daily say, “Call me Snake.”

escape from ny

Now comes one of my all time favorite movies, The Thing. Growing up in my house, the original Thing was sacred, so we went to the movie with some trepidation. Carpenter pulled off the rare feat of creating a remake a thousand times better than the original. Great characters, fantastic monster effects for its time, and of course, Kurt Russell with a kick ass hat and a flame thrower. This and Escape From New York made Russell the epitome of the tough guy that every dude wanted to be in the 80s. The Thing is horror and sci-fi perfection. I actually heard people gagging in the theater when the monster was revealed for the first time. Nice.

The ThingPoster

Next was a string of more hits like Christine (Stephen King’s killer car flick), Starman and Big Trouble in Little China (more Kurt Russell!).

They Live, a movie about aliens that have infiltrated our lives and can only be seen with a special pair of sunglasses, was great because it starred my favorite wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Yes, it’s silly, but it also good fun. And it gave us the immortal line : “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass… and I’m all out of bubblegum.”

The Prince of Darkness is a creepy tale about the devil and a desperate race to stop a plague of evil that will consume the world. I just rewatched it recently, and now that I’m older with a firmer grasp of theology, it gave me even more chills.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Assault on Precinct 13, which I attest is actually a zombie movie, and maybe one of the best ever made. Towards the end of his run, Carpenter directed Vampires, a decent adaptation of John Steakley’s avant garde novel. I’ve never been able to look at James Woods the same way.

These aren’t all of John Carpenter’s movies, but they are the best of the best. Thank you J.C. for making me the horror junkie that I am. The big question is, who is going to be the one to fill his shoes? I’m not sure I see anyone on the horizon. Some might say Eli Roth, but I think he has more to prove. What do you think?

And what are some of your favorite John Carpenter movies and moments? If you need time to mull it over, play the soundtrack to Halloween in the background to help speed things up.

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About Hunter Shea

Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal – he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. Hunter’s novels can even be found on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. His video podcast, Monster Men, is one of the most watched horror podcasts in the world. You’ll also find him every week on the Final Guys podcast, available everywhere. He’s a bestselling author of over 25 books, all of them written with the express desire to quicken heartbeats and make spines tingle. Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he’s happy to be close enough to New York City to gobble down Gray’s Papaya hotdogs when the craving hits.

8 responses to “John Carpenter Warped My Youth”

  1. Jackie Kingon says :

    I still get scared thinking about “The Thing.” I slept with the lights on for weeks when I was a chld.

  2. Scott DayOH says :

    The Fog, man, I remember watching that on HBO or Cinemax, when I was 12-13 yrs old and it scared the sh*t out of me. You list many classics, that I too grew up watching and feel linked with.

    My Dad would get on me for watching those movies. He gave me hell once when I told my younger (by 3yrs) step-sister that she couldn’t watch “Aliens” with me.

  3. @JasonDarrick says :

    Kinda makes me sad that future generations won’t have someone “current” to look up to. For my money, the best filmmakers today aren’t being shopped around to big distributors.

    I’d be interested in your take of JC’s HALLOWEEN vs. RZ’s HALLOWEEN, just for kicks.

    • Hunter Shea says :

      I think if JC never made Halloween, people would be calling RZ’s version a classis, though it wouldn’t have as wide an acceptance because it’s so gritty and brutal. Zombie’s H2 was just a stinking pile of dog shit, but from what I’ve read, it wasn’t all his fault.

  4. Paul D. Dail says :

    Some great ones here. Pleased to see Assault on Precinct 13 (this is the original I’m talking about for any of you youngsters reading these comments). One of the lesser knowns, but disturbing in its own right.

    Paul

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