A director whose quick-witted and full-blooded approach to genre filmmaking has won him both mainstream success and a cult following, John Carpenter was born in Carthage, NY, in 1948. When he was young, his family moved to Bowling Green, KY, where his father served on the music faculty of Western Kentucky University. As a child, Carpenter became fascinated with such '50s science fiction and horror films as Forbidden Planet and The Thing (From Another World), as well as the classic Westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks; he began shooting his own 8 mm films -- mostly monster movie pastiches -- in his spare time. After graduating from high school, Carpenter attended Western Kentucky, and later transferred to the University of Southern California to study filmmaking. There, he co-wrote a student film called The Resurrection of Bronco Billy which, in 1971, won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short.
Inspired by this success, Carpenter, along with friend and fellow film student Dan O'Bannon, began work on a sci-fi parody called Dark Star. Over time, Carpenter expanded the student short to feature length at a cost of 60,000 dollars, and the film received positive reviews when it was released theatrically in 1974. While Carpenter hoped Dark Star would win him a major studio contract directing Westerns, he discovered that the film's limited success opened few doors, and his next project was the low-budget thriller Assault on Precinct 13, which was inspired by Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. While the film wasn't a hit, it did fare better at the box office than Dark Star and caught the attention of critics in the U.K., where it was enthusiastically received at the London Film Festival. After selling a pair of scripts -- produced as Eyes of Laura Mars and Zuma Beach -- Carpenter made the acquaintance of producer Moustapha Akkad, who was looking for a director for a low-budget horror movie about an escaped lunatic murdering baby-sitters. Carpenter got the job, and the result was Halloween. Shot on a budget of 325,000 dollars, Halloween became a roaring commercial success, in time grossing more than 18 million dollars and, for many years, holding the record for the biggest box-office gross for an independently released film. In the interim between completing Halloween and its evolution into a blockbuster, Carpenter directed a pair of movies for television, including the critically acclaimed Elvis, which marked his first collaboration with actor Kurt Russell. The director's first genuine attempt to follow the success of Halloween came with 1979's The Fog, when Carpenter met actress Adrienne Barbeau. The two hit it off personally as well as professionally, and were married by the time the film hit theaters. In 1981, Carpenter reluctantly returned to his first major success with Halloween II, which he wrote and produced, but his next project as a director would be a great deal more ambitious: 1981's Escape From New York, a fusion of science fiction and action-adventure, which starred Russell as ne'er-do-well for hire Snake Plissken. The movie's witty and enthusiastic genre-bending would set a precedent for much of Carpenter's career to follow.
After making a handful of hits for independent distributors, Carpenter moved up to the major studios with his idiosyncratic 1982 remake of The Thing (again with Russell in the lead), and next scored another box-office blockbuster with his 1984 screen adaptation of the Stephen King novel Christine. Divorced from Barbeau that same year, Carpenter completed another feature by the end of 1984, a romantic comedy with a science fiction slant called Starman, which garnered enthusiastic reviews and solid business. His next major cross-genre project, 1986's Big Trouble in Little China (once again starring Russell), was a costly box-office disappointment, though the film went on to win a loyal cult following through cable and home video distribution. After its lackluster reception, however, Carpenter deliberately scaled back his projects. He preferred to make smaller films over which he could maintain greater control, such as They Live and In the Mouth of Madness, although still occasionally took on more elaborate projects like the comedy drama Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and Escape From L.A., which featured Russell reprising his original character. In 1990, Carpenter married Sandy King, who had worked in a variety of capacities on his films, ranging from script supervisor to producer. In addition to writing, directing, and producing his projects, Carpenter also composed (and occasionally performed) the music for most of his films -- as well as those of others -- with friends and fellow directors Nick Castle and Tommy Lee Wallace, working collectively as The Coup de Villes.
By the early 2000s Carpenter's reputation as a true master of genre filmmaking began to waver a bit on the heels of such lackluster efforts as Village of the Damned, Vampires, Ghosts of Mars. Though some longtime fans would argue that his films were still as entertaining as ever, it was difficult to deny that Carpenter seemed to be falling back on the familiar as remakes and sequels began to dominate his filmography. Even when attempting something as ostensibly original as Ghosts of Mars, Carpenter continually fell back on the themes and archetypes he had explored onscreen nearly thirty-years prior in Assault on Precinct 13. When Mick Garris began assembling a list of legendary genre filmmakers for his ambitious Showtime series Masters of Horror, Carpenter's name was right there alongside such horror heavyweights as Dario Argento, Joe Dante, and Tobe Hooper. Carpenter's contribution to the series, a grim tale of cursed celluloid penned by Ain't It Cool news contributor Drew McWeeny and screenwriting partner Scott Swan, proved a compelling and thematically challenging work that many noted as a true standout in the otherwise underwhelming series. Unfortunately Carpenter's heavy-handed contribution to Master of Horror: Season 2, a thinly veiled commentary on abortion entitled Pro-Life and again penned by McWeeny and Swan, was widely panned by fans and critics - many of whom cited the film as a career low-point. Nevertheless Carpenter wasn't about to let a little critical backlash slow his pace, and in late 2007 - just as Devil's Rejects director Rob Zombie began production on a remake of the Carpenter classic Halloween - speculation ran wild as to just what the silver-haired chain smoker would turn out next. He participated in a number of documentaries about horror films and Hollywood history, but returned as a director in 2011 with The Ward. ~ Rovi