He’s one of the most influential horror directors of all time. But what exactly is his impact on other filmmakers? Here Becci Sayce charts 10 films we simply wouldn’t have without John Carpenter…
While he may not have enjoyed the success of fellow New Wave directors such as Spielberg, Scorsese and Coppola, John Carpenter is arguably more influential than them all.
Despite a number of his pictures being deemed commercial failures, the work of Carpenter is today widely celebrated. Inspired by the Westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford – as well as sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s – Carpenter’s oeuvre has in turn inspired a number of films from horror classics to action-packed blockbusters in the years since.
Here, we take a look at 10 films we wouldn’t have without the Horror Master:
1. FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)
Though the origins of the slasher lie far earlier, many hold Halloween as the film that put the sub-genre on the map: it inspired an entire generation, including Sean S. Cunningham who made 80s classic Friday the 13th.
The film was an instant hit, spawning an entire series of sequels, spin-offs, comic books and video games. And of course – with Part II arriving just one year later in 1981 – it introduced the world to Jason Vorhees, a hulking murderer clearly modelled after Michael Myers.
2. THE TERMINATOR (1984)
Ask any film geek to name an action film, and chances are The Terminator will spring to mind.
The 1984 film, directed by James Cameron, introduced us to the titular killing machine played by Arnold Schwarzenegger as he is sent back in time from 2029 to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
Cameron previous worked with Carpenter on Escape from New York, and credits the success of Halloween as being a direct influence on his sophomore feature. Wanting to create ‘a stylish horror movie’ just like Carpenter, various terror-inducing sequences blur the line as to what genre his sci-fi/action/slasher actually belongs to.
3. RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)
Although Quentin Tarantino has inspired a number of directors himself, he was inspired by the works of John Carpenter, admitting that several of his films were influenced by the Horror Master including his directorial debut Reservoir Dogs.
The tense crime thriller sees a group of crooks turn on each other after a jewellery heist goes wrong and the survivors suspect a rat is in their midst. Tarantno credited The Thing for helping him find the correct tone, having been captivated by the effect Carpenter’s film had on him.
4. THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)
The execution of jump scares in Halloween is one of the things that makes that such an iconic film, and taking a leaf out of Carpenter’s book director Ti West employed these techniques in his 2009 occult horror The House Of The Devil.
The plot centres on Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) who is hired as a babysitter at an isolated house before finding herself fighting for her life.
Shot on 16mm to give it that retro feel, the film pays homage to a number of horror films from the 1970s and 80s. West has continued to pay homage to Carpenter’s work, with Easter eggs also found in his 2022 slasher, X.
5. ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)
Released in 2011, sci-fi horror Attack the Block catapulted director Joe Cornish into the spotlight as well as launching the career of leading man – and soon to be Star Wars lead – John Boyega.
Taking place on a council estate in South London where a teenage gang have to protect themselves – and their neighbourhood – as aliens invade, the film calls back to the work of Walter Hill and John Carpenter, with Cornish citing Hill’s The Warriors and Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 as inspirations.
Like many of Carpenter’s own films, Block underperformed at the box office though was applauded by critics – notably for Boyega’s performance – and has since found cult status on home entertainment.
6. THE GUEST (2014)
When returning soldier ‘David’ (Dan Stevens) unexpectedly visits the Peterson family – introducing himself as a friend of their son who died in combat in Afghanistan – all is not what it seems, with sinister events following his arrival.
Multiple references to Halloween are present throughout the film, with jack-o-lanterns popping up numerous times and director Adam Wingard explaining that the film takes place in an “idealised synthy John Carpenter 80s wonderland where it’s always Halloween”.
In many scenes David emulates Michael Myers, even appearing behind hanging sheets in the Peterson’s garden: he may have more charisma and lack a plastic mask, but this leading man is an equally imposing horror villain.
7. IT FOLLOWS (2014)
Also from 2014, many elements of Carpenter’s work can be seen in David Robert Mitchell’s critically acclaimed horror It Follows. A story about a young woman who is pursued by a supernatural entity after a sexual encounter – and who must have sex with another person to pass on the curse – skilfully updates the slasher template set by Halloween.
Although Mitchell – speaking with Fangoria – said he didn’t make the film with Carpenter in mind, he also explained Halloween and The Thing were films he’d seen ‘a million times’ and were burned into his brain.
As well as its visual style and effortlessly terrifying tension, the synth soundtrack – courtesy of Disasterpiece – would not be out of place in a Carpenter joint.
8. THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
Another Tarantino film inspired by Carpenter, this western-mystery-thriller sees eight strangers seek refuge from a blizzard in a stagecoach stopover some time after the end of the American Civil War.
There are many echoes of The Thing here, from the remote, snowy location to the presence of Kurt Russell and the rising tension as characters gradually turn on each other. It’s no accident: Tarantino showed Carpenter’s film to the cast and crew for inspiration, and Ennio Morricone provided the score for both (even deploying some unused tracks from The Thing and picking up an Oscar for his efforts).
9. GREEN ROOM (2015)
Director Jeremy Saulnier is another fan of Carpenter, citing The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, Christine, and Halloween as some of his favourite films.
Saulnier’s third feature Green Room took inspiration from Carpenter’s often-dark colour palettes (with pops of green, orange and red), as well as his knack for creating the perfect atmosphere.
The film follows a punk band who find themselves attacked by neo-Nazi skinheads after witnessing a murder at a remote club in the Pacific Northwest. Despite grossing a relatively small sum at the box office, the film was widely revered by moviegoers and critics alike, making many horror ‘Top 10’ lists (including our own) and winning numerous accolades, including a 2017 Empire Award nomination for Best Horror.
10. MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016)
In 1984 Carpenter directed sci-fi romantic drama Starman, telling the story of an alien who came to earth and takes on the form of a widow’s deceased husband (Jeff Bridges).
The film – particularly with its lens flares and night photography – inspired Jeff Nichols to make Midnight Special some 32 years later with its tale of a father who escapes with his son from both the government and a cult after they discover the boy has special powers.
Speaking to Collider when the film was in production, Nichols said that he wanted to make a 1980s Carpenter movie, and if he could chose any of his filmography to tackle, it would be Starman.
- Stranger Things – The zeitgeist defining Netflix show riffs on everything from The Thing (s3’s amorphous meat monster) to Halloween (characters dressing up as Michael Myers in s2 and 4).
© Becci Sayce