Filmmaker John Carpenter has given audiences some of the greatest horror films of all time, including Halloween, The Thing and The Fog. He's also delved slightly outside the realm of pure horror with films like Big Trouble in Little China, Assault on Precinct 13 and They Live. While many filmmakers would cite his work as some of the biggest inspirations for their careers in horror, Carpenter himself is as much a fan as he is a creator,
The last feature film Carpenter directed, The Ward, was released seven years ago, with no new filmmaking projects appearing anywhere on the horizon. Instead, Carpenter has spent the last few years working on music, one of his passions that he's explored since his early filmmaking days. He has recently released Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, which are albums of original music that serve as themes for movies that have yet to be created.
Carpenter's most recent album, Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998, features re-recordings of 13 of his most iconic opening tracks, which he will also be taking on tour in the coming months.
Get in the spirit of Halloween by checking out Carpenter's favorite horror films!
Unsurprisingly, a story he would go on to adapt himself was a key component on his list of favorite movies.
"The Thing From Another World is the daddy of all science fiction monster movies," Carpenter told The Fader. "That was back in the early ‘50s, but I saw it a little later on. That is an absolutely terrifying, fabulous, classic movie."
In 1982, Carpenter made The Thing, an adaptation of the novella Who Goes There?, upon which this film was also based. In 2011, Carpenter's film got a combination reboot/prequel with The Thing, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton.
Many of Carpenter's picks are iconic movies in the horror genre, but the filmmaker included a handful of older underappreciated classics that left a personal impact on the creator.
"There are a lot of other movies that you have to go back to the 1950s, when I was growing up, to appreciate," Carpenter noted. "Can we go back there? Well, when I was a young man, some of these movies really scared me. There was X The Unknown, there was The Quatermass Experiment and Horror of Dracula."
Contemporary audiences might not connect with these films in the same way as older audiences, given the amount of gore featured in movies these days, but that doesn't take away from the filmmaking craftsmanship on display.
"I saw this back in 1968," Carpenter recalled. "Back in the day, it was a pretty terrifying movie. It’s not so much anymore, but that’s a groundbreaking movie. I went to see it with my girlfriend at the time, who was so freaked out at it. I think it may have affected how I saw the film; maybe I’m a little biased. But it’s the idea of this relentless, relentless horde of things coming after you."
The film, directed by George Romero, helped birth the modern interpretation of the slow, shambling zombie that has risen from the grave to consume the flesh of the living.
"The fact that a loved one can be turned into a zombie," Carpenter shared. "It’s just tremendous. I mean, look at the movies that have ripped it off! Look at Walking Dead. I mean come on."
"The original The Fly — that was a movie where the popcorn went flying," Carpenter admitted. "I jumped up. I was so scared! It’s pretty creepy!"
Carpenter might prefer the film from 1958, but the remake, directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeff Goldblum, is often cited as a remake that surpasses the original.
"I know everyone loves the remake, but I love the old one," he noted. "When his wife rips the hood off him and there’s a big fly head there, I just — the popcorn went flyin’! That just scared the hell outta me. I was 10. I should have known better! I should’ve been more mature and cooler, but I wasn’t. I was a wimp then. I admit it."
"You know what’s scary about The Exorcist? Everyone knows what’s scary about that movie. It’s the devil," Carpenter shared. "The first time I saw it, I thought, in order to be really effective, this movie requires a belief in a higher power. But since then I’ve come to appreciate it just for what it is."
Much like Carpenter knew the film transcended what someone's personal beliefs might be, so did the Academy Awards, making it one of the few horror movies to earn itself nominations.
"It’s got some pretty great scenes in it," the filmmaker pointed out. "I watched it again recently and was surprised by how intense it is. The things that they did back then, with this little girl, they broke a bunch of taboos, my god. It’s pretty damn good."
Debuting only a few years before Halloween, Texas Chain Saw Massacre helped usher in the age of slashers.
"The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is an incredible movie," Carpenter confessed. "It’s one of the scariest movies ever. The whole idea is scary. You really don’t see anything; it’s not explicit. But it’s what’s going on in your head that’s scary. It’s also extremely funny — it’s almost a comedy. I really loved the movie. Loved it."
Despite the implied carnage of the film, very little of that violence actually appears on screen, with director Tobe Hooper even attempting to get the film a PG rating instead of an R.