||With All Hallow's Eve approaching, and with horror cinema very much back in vogue, we took the opportunity to talk exclusively to horror-meister and Halloween director John Carpenter, and to credit some of the classic horror films that have influenced the current cinematic wave of terror.
Exactly twenty-five years ago this month (October) John Carpenter terrified audiences with his horror masterpiece, Halloween. Marking the film's Silver Jubilee is a special, two-disc, 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of Halloween released by Anchor Bay UK on 27th October. Originally conceived as a sequel to the 1974 thriller Black Christmas (and provisionally entitled The Babysitter Murders), Halloween tells the story of the psychopathic killer, Michael Myers. Fifteen years after murdering his teenage sister on Halloween night, Michael escapes from the asylum where he has been incarcerated and returns home to terrorise the unsuspecting teens of Haddonfield by continuing his killing spree.
With Halloween, Carpenter practically invented the slasher genre. The film's enormous success led to countless imitators, including Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, New Year's Evil, Prom Night, Graduation Day, The Slumber Party Massacre, Silent Night, Deadly Night and others, and inspired seven sequels, with at least one more on the way! And there's absolutely no doubt that without Halloween, there would never have been any Scream films.
Recently, the horror genre has been undergoing something of a revival, with the likes of Cabin Fever, Jeepers Creepers 2 and House of 1000 Corpses packing audiences into the multiplexes in their droves. A common element among these films is the way in which they make reference to, and acknowledge the influence of, the classic horror movies of the late 70s and early 80s, especially the works of Carpenter and his peers, such as Wes Craven (The Last House On The Left; The Hills Have Eyes), Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), George A. Romero (Night Of The Living Dead, The Crazies, Martin) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
As one of those filmmakers responsible for ushering in a new wave of horror that changed the genre forever, and set the benchmark for the future, we wondered if Carpenter could see another cinematic revolution happening in the future. "I think there are always directors that come along and do that," says Carpenter. "I think it's happened already, actually. I think Tarantino has changed things. I don't know, people say that about us because we're old."
And what are his thoughts on the latest horror revival, particularly regarding the light-hearted, self-referential nature of many of the films? "There has been an upswing. It's a very cyclical business. It goes down, back up again, and it has throughout its history. It's a very good time for horror. This business certainly has changed, but there's still room for serious horror films. Look at 28 Days Later, that's not a tongue-in-cheek picture."
It's a valid observation, but tongues firmly lodged in cheeks are very much part and parcel of most of today's horror flicks. Aside from the obvious and intentional comic elements contained in their scripts, half the fun of watching the recently released and phenomenally successful Cabin Fever and House Of 1000 Corpses is to be had from trying to spot their countless references to many horror classics. During the course of Cabin Fever, director Eli Roth gleefully pays unapologetic visual homage to the claustrophobic setting and atmosphere of The Evil Dead, the ecological nightmare (and the authority's response to it) of The Crazies, the gratuitous bloodletting of Martin, the nihilistic finale of Night Of The Living Dead and the chillingly bleak social comment of both The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes. Roth even dares to takes this particular homage a step further by actually scoring his film with David Hess' eerily effective folk music from The Last House On The Left!
Similarly, House Of 1000 Corpses is little more than a horror fan's (in this case, director and erstwhile rock star Rob Zombie's) worshipful reworking of Tobe Hooper's seminal The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spiced with elements of the same director's The Funhouse and, again, Wes Craven's cannibal chiller, The Hills Have Eyes.
Of course, Carpenter himself isn't averse to paying homage to his own heroes. Halloween contains several references to Hitchcock's Psycho and with Big Trouble In Little China Carpenter was one of the first Hollywood directors to fully embrace the influences of Asian cinema. What does he think of the enormous influx of Asian influences in Western cinema today? "Better late than never," he confides. "Asian and Hong Kong cinema has always been great, y'know, especially the martial arts films and then the gangster films. They're brilliant."
In light of the changes in Hollywood's approach to horror today, does he think Halloween would be any different were it to be made now? "It's hard to say, because Halloween is so much a part of what you are watching today, in terms of its power at the time. I couldn't do it any different than I did it."
Among the many extra features on the new DVD edition of Halloween is an audio commentary by Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis and the film's producer and co-writer Debra Hill. Previously only available on the now deleted laserdisc version of Halloween, and here on DVD for the first time, it is considered by many horror fans to be the Holy Grail of audio commentaries, giving a unique insight into the making of the film.
"I like to do commentaries if we can," says Carpenter. "We talk about some of the choices we made when we were making the film and we kind of have a good time. It's a lot more fun when you do it with somebody else. You have somebody to bounce off of. I did a couple with Kurt Russell (The Thing; Big Trouble In Little China), I did one with Peter Jason (Prince Of Darkness), one with Roddy Piper (They Live), and I did one with Natasha Henstridge (Ghosts Of Mars). They were all fun to do."
In the twenty-five years since the release of Halloween, Carpenter has directed a whole host of films in a variety of genres, all of them instantly recognisable as his work, not least because they are all prefaced with his name. So, what is it that makes his films so unique and what's the deal with having the words, "John Carpenter's" above the titles of all his films? According to Carpenter, "Well, I don't know if they are unique, but they are mine. I made a decision back in 1978 that, in a trade off for money when I directed Halloween, I would have my name above the title in order to basically brand these movies my own."
Cabin Fever and House Of 1000 Corpses are on general release.
A remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre opens in cinemas on 31st October.
Wes Craven's The Last House On The Left and The Hills Have Eyes, Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead Trilogy boxed set, and George A. Romero's Martin, The Crazies and the 'Trilogy Of The Dead' boxed set are all available to buy on DVD now.
The 2-disc Halloween – 25th Anniversary Edition DVD (£17.99) has recently been released by Anchor Bay.