At the age of 74, John Carpenter can look back on a career filled with monstrous success. Now widely considered to be one of the pioneers of American horror cinema as we know it today, Carpenter’s CV boasts titles such as Halloween, They Live, The Fog, The Thing and countless other now-iconic feature films.
Managing to successfully tread the line between major commercial triumph and the label of an independent cult icon, Carpenter has been able to blur the lines between horror, science fiction and action to create a cinematic aesthetic that is entirely his own.
From a young age, Carpenter was fascinated with the idea of Hollywood and moving picture. Having studied the western films of John Ford and Howard Hawks, he transitioned into other genres and became borderline obsessed with low-budget horror movies from the 1950s. Having started to create his own shorts on 8mm film, Carpenter went on to film school and continued his almost forensic research into some of the great directors that have come before him.
Having pulled in inspiration from the realms of nature and music, Carpenter’s deep love for the movies is what has driven him this far. When drawn into a conversation about the films that helped to shape his creative vision, Carpenter was immediate in his response: “It would have to be one of Howard Hawks’ films,” Carpenter said in a past interview. “Either Only Angels Have Wings, His Girl Friday, Red River, Rio Bravo or The Big Sleep,” he added
Carpenter continued: “Hawks was a visionary filmmaker who lasted from the silents to 1970. When I was in film school, the big director everyone talked about was John Ford. But I always thought Ford, who was Irish, was more of an immigrant director. Many of his themes were very European, as were his views of women, the family, and motherhood.”
“But Hawks was a modern director. His women were strong and modern and put up with no bullshit. I really responded to that because it felt real and American.”
Given Carpenter’s early love for the western genre, it should come as no real surprise that Howard Hawks left a lasting impression. Like Carpenter would do himself, Hawks was able to bring his own vision to reality by merging the somewhat stringent lines of genre, blurring the concepts of comedy, drama, sci-fi and more.
Hawks, who is perhaps best remembered for films such as Red River, The Big Sleep, Bringing Up Baby and others, pushed boundaries of society through his work, often building a screenplay around strong, independent and quite brilliant female characters. “I’m a storyteller – that’s the chief function of a director,” Hawks once said. “And they’re moving pictures, let’s make ’em move”. A sentiment Carpenter has lived by.