movie buff

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 December, 2006, 12:00am


Few moviegoers would consider John Carpenter a great American filmmaker. His recent films, such as the western horror Vampires (1998) and the sci-fi zombie flick Ghost of Mars (2001), have passed by largely unnoticed.

There is a widely-held opinion that this horror and sci-fi filmmaker is way past his sell-by date.

But the truth is that he is one of the few contemporary Hollywood directors whose quality of work is extraordinarily consistent. His movies are escapist entertainment, but they are never crass or cheap. Above all, they carry social and political messages that are still relevant today.

The director's first major film was Dark Star (1974), a sci-fi dark comedy about a spacecraft sent on a mission to destroy unstable planets.

One of the film's most famous lines is: 'Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap. Just give me something I can blow up.' The film is seen as a parody of the misdeeds committed by US soldiers during the Vietnam War due to boredom.

He then directed a low-budget action movie, Assault on Precinct 13 (Ethan Hawke starred in the 2005 remake of the movie). The movie, which is about an old police station under siege, pays homage to westerns, and is now considered as one of the best action films of the 1970s.

The director's commercial breakthrough was Halloween (1978), and his synthesiser score for the movie is a soundtrack classic.

The film - which was a smash hit and a critical success, due to Carpenter's clever storytelling and inventive camerawork - gave birth to the genre of slasher films, which has been revived since the late 1990s thanks to Wes Craven's Scream series.

His ability to work with a shoe-string budget particularly appeals to Hollywood. Ironically, most of his big budget films, such as The Thing (1982) and Starman (1984), have been less successful than his smaller projects. After a brief and unsuccessful stint in Hollywood, Carpenter returned to independent and smaller productions.

His films in the late 1980s and early 1990s - such as Prince of Darkness (1987), a film that deals with the universal issue of faith versus evil, They Live (1988), a fierce attack on consumerism and advertisement, and In the Mouth of Madness (1995), which portrays the breakdown of social order when the line between fantasy and reality blurs - are entertaining B-movies with a social conscious.

'In France I'm an auteur; in Germany I'm a filmmaker; in Britain I'm a horror director; and in the America I'm a bum,' once said Carpenter.

But there's one thing for sure: he is an honest man who knows, and rightly deserves, his place in film history.