"In England, I'm a horror movie director. In Germany, I'm a filmmaker. In the U.S,. I'm a bum." -- John Carpenter
Of course, no one in the U.S. who has an appreciation for genre cinema would ever think of regarding director John Carpenter as a bum. For many of us, Carpenter represents one of the most vital, distinctive and exciting links between the “New Hollywood” film school generation of the 1970s, and the classical cinematic storytelling of figures like Hawks and Ford. He is an American original, seemingly as comfortable thriving within the studio system (though he would likely deny this) as toiling independently in the low-budget arena, and he has given contemporary American cinema some of its most enduring archetypes: Snake Plissken, Michael Myers, Napoleon Wilson (if you’re not familiar with the latter, you should be). He is among the greatest of the filmmakers to emerge from the horror genre in the '60s and '70s, and he continues to deliver unique and surprising work to this day. He is John Carpenter, and he is this year’s recipient of our festival’s Phantasmagoria Award.
Carpenter transformed the cinematic landscape with the enormously influential horror film Halloween in 1978, a masterfully crafted exercise in suspense that remains effective even after decades of sequels, remakes and imitations. But this classic of the genre was actually Carpenter’s third feature, following his counter-culture science fiction parody Dark Star (1974) and the extraordinary police action thriller Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). Assault would initiate several recurring Carpenter trademarks: an overpowering sense of fate bordering on doom; an expert use of the 2.35:1 Panavision widescreen frame; Carpenter’s own composition of the music score; and the ability to shift themes and relationships more traditionally associated with the western, into other genres. Following the success of Halloween, Carpenter delivered two more independent genre films, the underrated and understated The Fog (1980) and the enormously crowd-pleasing futuristic action favorite Escape from New York (1981), before moving into big-budget studio filmmaking with a new version of The Thing in 1982.
The Thing may remain Carpenter’s finest film – and, thankfully, it has gradually been afforded a great degree of acclaim in the years since its release – but it was not a success upon initial unveiling (the summer of 1982 found American moviegoers embracing the warm-n’-fuzzy sci-fi of E.T., not the dystopian visions of The Thing and Blade Runner). Carpenter then did what every other horror director was doing around this time -- a Stephen King adaptation (Christine) -- but then delivered two of his most ambitious projects, the wonderfully acted and affecting Starman (1984) and the anarchic, genre-bending comedy Big Trouble in Little China (1986; another Carpenter classic that failed to find its initial audience, but developed a passionate cult following in subsequent years). Carpenter then opted to return to the freedom permitted by independent filmmaking, and crafted two of his most intriguing and, again, underrated projects, both science-fiction/horror films with an apocalyptic edge, Prince of Darkness (1987) and the marvelous They Live (1988), an allegorical satire of Reagan-era America that was also remarkably prophetic.
Although The Ward marks a return to theatrical features following almost a decade’s absence, Carpenter spent much of the '90s and early 2000s moving back and forth between studio and independent productions, with highlights including the excellent Lovecraftian horror yarn In the Mouth of Madness (1994), the fan-demanded sequel Escape from L.A. (1996), and the witty, James Woods-driven undead western Vampires (1998). His new film finds Carpenter incorporating some influences from the contemporary horror landscape, but otherwise, his laconic, measured style has changed little over the past three-and-a-half decades – and in Carpenter’s case, that’s a good thing. His respect for the craft of cinematic storytelling and the audience’s intelligence are both very refreshing in today’s horror film climate, and we are honored to present him with our festival’s Phantasmagoria Award.-- Travis Crawford
Monday, April 11, 8:00 PM
Tickets at Venue