Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Birthday John Carpenter

I don't usually do posts about famous people's birthdays but firstly I haven't had chance to re-watch this week's film (Mute Witness) and secondly I'll take just about any excuse to wax lyrical about my favourite director.

He's 64 years old today – I know, he looks at least double that.
Anyway, here's a few facts you may or may not know about John Carpenter.

- Everyone says all his films are westerns in disguise. In fact he did co-write a fairly straight-forward western – El Diablo – which was made into a HBO TV movie in 1990 starring Anthony Edwards and Lou Gossett Jr, directed by Peter Markel. The film sees Edwards play an school teacher who is forced to learn how to become a gunfighter in order to track down a cowboy who has kidnapped one of his pupils.

- It's a well known fact that John Carpenter has a band called The Coupe DeVilles who recorded the title track for Big Trouble in Little China. But they also recorded an album that was never commercially released called Waiting Out the Eighties. It's actually very good and recommended for anyone who's a fan of his scores. You can quite easily find it by searching on google.

- The Coupe DeVilles other members were Nick Castle (director of The Last Starfighter and Michael Myers in the original Halloween) and Tommy Lee Wallace (director of Halloween III and Fright Night Part II). They appear as the band in Nick Castle's The Boy Who Could Fly.

- The anthology TV Movie Body Bags he directed in 1993 was intended to be the first three episodes of a Tales From the Crypt-esque show. In it Carpenter's plays an undead mortician who introduces the stories in much the same manner as The Crypt-Keeper.

- Carpenter took on the job of directing Christine because the financial failure of The Thing had left him needing to take any gig that was offered (he did Starman for the same reasons). Also, at the time they started filming, the book hadn't been released or finished by Stephen King.

- The studio really didn't want Kurt Russell to play Snake Plissken in Escape From New York because at the time he was mostly associated with the Disney films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. They were pushing Carpenter to choose Charles Bronson instead.

- Carpenter's musical skills are entirely self taught. To this day he cannot read music. For many of his films he collaborates with composer Alan Howarth.

- The original director of Memoirs of an Invisible Man was Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Twins). However the star, Chevy Chase, was looking to avoid doing comedies so asked for John Carpenter to come in and make it more dramatic. This ended up backfiring when audiences went to the film expecting the next Chevy Chase comedy and found a comedy drama.

- Big Trouble in Little China was John Carpenter's love letter to his favourite kung fu film Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain by Tsui Hark.

- Carpenter is also a fan of the Godzilla movies. He made a lot of what would today be considered fan films, with names like Gorgo Versus Godzilla and Sorceror from Outer Space.

- In 1970, John Carpenter edited and co-wrote an Academy Award winning short The Resurrection of Bronco Billy, a story about a teenager who keeps slipping through time to the wild west.

- Carpenter's first idea to continue the Halloween franchise after Halloween II was to make each entry a separate story, as seen in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. When franchise producer Moustapha Akkad asked him for ideas for Halloween IV, John Carpenter suggested that they bring Myers back as a ghost who is slowly brought back to life as the residents of Haddonfield struggle to suppress the tragic events of a decade earlier (similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street). Akkad however insisted that Myers be flesh and blood so Carpenter sold his remains rights in the franchise.

- Jamie Lee Curtis did push for Carpenter to direct Halloween: H20 but remaining bad blood with the producers and scheduling conflicts meant he couldn't contribute.

- Other films he had been approached to direct include Firestarter (1984), The Golden Child (1986), Top Gun (1986), Fatal Attraction (1987).


  1. One of my all-time favorite directors. "The Ward" was a breath of fresh air and felt like old school Carpenter agaI in, after the turd that was "Ghosts of Mars" left a sour taste in my mouth. I hope the guy keeps making them like that. And I love his style of music, always have. I think "They Live" has one of his best scores, though I wonder why he used a pseudonym for the writing credits on that one?

    I haven't seen "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" in forever, but always felt it was severely underrated. I think more than anything, it was having Chevy Chase in it that hurt it's chances of ever being taken seriously. I know it was his pet project and it was him who spearheaded the whole thing and even got Carpenter involved, but even though he was pretty good in it, people just weren't ready for a serious Chevy Chase. I'll have to check that one out again sometime soon.

  2. Got a copy of The Ward but haven't had chance to sit down and watch it yet. I just got done watching Pro-Life, the 2nd Masters of Horror TV episode he directed. Not bad but a little lacklustre.

    Yeah, Memoirs is a weird one for me too. I love Chevy Chase and I love John Carpenter but the movie doesn't really work. It's got a lot of great scenes (like the bits where we can see Chase but the other characters can't) but there's no real story to hang it all on. The end in particular unsatisfying. I partly blame Daryl Hannah for being a lousy co-star. They needed to spice it with a little more comedy (not loads) and a better co-star like Goldie Hawn.