With Halloween so close, I wanted to take a look at my favorite horror directors. The men (sorry, but are there any great female horror directors?) who've given so much to the genre that's given so much to pop-culture Halloween.
1. John Carpenter:
Carpenter gets first billing for a number of reasons. a) He directed the best slasher-horror film, featuring the best horror franchise antagonist of all time, on a relatively tight budget. b) He directed what I would call the greatest horror film of all time The Thing. c) he's done some decent stuff along the way.
I realize that I've made some pretty bold claims, but I stick by them. Halloween is the best slasher of all time. It's legit scary. Its theme, which has become such a big part of the holiday itself, makes it even creepier still. Michael Myers is a far more respectable villain than other franchisers like Freddy or Jason. Frankly, neither of those characters were ever featured in a film half so good as the original Halloween.
The great things about him are numerous. His introduction - yeah, the one with the dead-eyed kid in the clown costume brandishing a butcher's knife - is excellent. Just going off the 1st film - we don't have a clue what drives this maniac. He doesn't talk, he's slow and calculated, rarely getting over-excited, he's unstoppable by conventional means though, by all accounts, he's very much a human being (and how about that Shatner mask!?). And he's got Dr. Loomis to boot, who works as something of a hype-man, constantly talking about what a bad mutherfucker Michael is and why we should all be very afraid.
Carpenter severed his directorial involvement with the franchise after the first film and despite the many opportunities there have been to capitalize on what he delivered, none have come even close. He reportedly wanted to do a sequel focusing on the aftermath in Haddonfield, but it was not to be, which is unfortunate because that sounds like a great film.
As for The Thing - it IS the best horror-film ever made. The visual effects used in the movie are astounding for the early-80's. It's gross and horrifying what the titular Thang can do to you, but that's not the focus of the film's terror. Instead, it derives its edge-of-your-seat tension from the paranoia and distrust among the players. The blood-in-a-petri-dish scene is just such a classic, but then again, so are a lot of scenes.
The Thing also features a great cast, including Kurt Russell at his best, Wilford Brimley (also at his best) and Keith David who aint bad. Great theme to this as well and a pretty fantastic conclusion.
Oh, and since I want to cover three horror films per director I feature - why not praise The Fog a little. I've heard some pretty nasty things about the remake, which is too bad because people shouldn't be turned away from the original because of it. The film already has a hard enough time with a slightly silly plot featuring ghost-pirates (pirate ghosts? well, maybe they're just fishermen).
Anyway, The Fog is a moody, slower-paced horror that excels at giving a sense of impending doom. There's nothing perverse or visceral about the vengeful ghosts that inhabit the fog; it's old-terror, classic-terror of American seafaring legend.
There's a lot more good to Carpenter's filmography, horror and not. Unfortunately, his career hit a pretty sharp decline in the 90's and he's yet to recover. Personally, I'd love to see one more success before he finally calls it quits, though we could already consider it a career well-spent. I don't know why directors like Carpenter fall off like they do. Sometimes auteurs refuse to change with the times and it becomes their undoing, but looking at Carpenter's recent works I think perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe Carpenter was never meant to change, or maybe he's just had his day. Either way, he's still the director I'm drawn to most this time of year.