In 1988, horror movie maestro John Carpenter told Night Flight about his filmmaking influences

By on February 13, 2018

For Night Flight’s John Carpenter Video Profile — which originally aired on September 30, 1988 — we sat down with the horror movie maestro and talked to him about his influences, the role that music plays in his films, and much, much more.

Our John Carpenter profile — just one of the many Video Profiles you’ll find over on Night Flight Plus — features clips from a number of his best-loved films of the late ’70s and 1980s, including Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980), Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Starman (1984), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), and They Live (1988), among others.

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During the late ’70s, John Carpenter emerged as one of cinema’s major stylized filmmakers, and within a few years his work behind the camera began to be compared to some of the great directors of the past.

“One of the directors that I respect most is Howard Hawks,” Carpenter tells us at one point during his interview with Night Flight, “and I think that one of the things I like most about his movies and his cinema, is that he’s invisible, he’s an invisible technician. The camera is always in the right place at the right time, and yet, you’re unaware of it. He doesn’t show off, as opposed to [Alfred] Hitchcock, who had a kind of different sort of cinema. He involves you with montage, and you can look at it and say ‘Ooh, look at those shots,’ and ‘Look at those cuts,’ and I tend to find myself going the other way, a lot more, towards simple and invisible.”

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Read more about John Carpenter’s ’80s movies below.

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Carpenter was born January 16, 1948, in Carthage, New York, and not Kentucky, as Pat Prescott says in her introduction.

He first began to attract attention when he was still a graduate film student at the University of Southern California.

There, he worked on a short film The Resurrection of Bronco Billy, handling not only the music and editing, but co-writing and co-directing chores. In 1970, the film would win an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Subject.

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While at USC, Carpenter directed his master’s thesis film, Dark Star, which was later expanded into a feature (we told you about it in this previous Night Flight blog post).

Dark Star premiered in January of 1975 at Filmex [the annual Los Angeles Film Exhibition], and went on to attain cult status.

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After directing the independent low-budget feature Aassault on Precinct 13 — an urban retelling of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo, with a LAPD police station coming under siege by gang members — Carpenter also met a future producing partner at the festival, Irwin Yablans, who was was setting up a new production company, Compass International.

Carpenter would take an idea of Yablan’s — originally titled “The Babysitter Murders,” about a stalker in the suburbs, a killer who hunts down babysitters — for his next film, Halloween (1978).

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Carpenter wore multiple hats as the director, co-writer (with Debra Hill) and composer on Halloween, which cost just $300,000 to make.

The movie would end up becoming one of the highest-earning independent films of all time, which helped, as Ms. Prescott tells us in her introduction to the film clip, “define the slice and dice genre.”

Halloween would also become a film franchise, but without Carpenter onboard (although he did write the screenplay for 1981’s Halloween II).

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In our Video Profile, Carpenter talks about working on the studio films that followed (with much larger budgets to work with), including The Fog (1980), which he wrote and directed as an homage to the E.C. Comics of the 1950s (which had also inspired fellow horror maestros George A. Romero’s and Stephen King’s Creepshow, lensed in 1981).

The Fog featured his then-wife actress Adrienne Barbeau, who co-starred with Halloween starlet Jamie Lee Curtis in the film.

In 1979, Carpenter and Barbeau formed their own production company, Hye White Bread Productions.

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Carpenter followed up The Fog with a gritty, futuristic action drama called Escape from New York (1981), starring Kurt Russell as S.D. Bob “Snake” Plissken.

He’d written the screenplay in 1974 — which is set in what was near-future of 1997 in a crime-ridden United States that has converted Manhattan Island in New York City into the country’s maximum security prison — as a response to Watergate in 1975, amid all the hoopla of Death Wish.

(Carpenter would team up again with Russell in 1996 for a sequel of sorts, Escape from L.A.).

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Carpenter would also partner up with another of the masters of horror and suspense, Stephen King, when he directed the big screen adaptation of King’s Christine in 1983 — “an auto-erotic nightmare about a car that kills” Ms. Prescott tells us — and then followed that up with a break from horror for the sci-fi romance flick Starman (1984), starring Jeff Bridges and the lovely Karen Allen.

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John Carpenter would return again and again to horror projects, of course, including Prince of Darkness (1987), which tells the downright terrifying tale of the Brotherhood of Sleep, a cryptic religious sect who have been kept secret (even from the Vatican) for two thousand years, that is… until the Prince of Darkness is awakened.

Alice Cooper plays “a psychotic derelict sensing Satan’s return to rule the earth,” as Pat Prescott tells us.

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In our 1988 John Carpenter Video Profile, you’ll also see scenes from The Thing (1982), Starman (1984), and Big Trouble in Little China (1986).

Watch this 30-minute excerpt of vintage 1988 “Night Flight” — which also features a segment on David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers — now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.