John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness - An Exclusive Interview with the Director of 'Halloween' and 'The Thing' Paperback – 7 Aug 2003
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Quintessential horror movie director John Carpenter is a true film auteur -- a writer, director, composer, producer, editor, and actor - whose unique and inspired work has brought him the praise and admiration of film critics and horror cultists alike. He is both the product of and an important participant in the American filmmaking tradition, and the intelligent, moody, and strange films with which his name is so quickly associated are sometimes simply Westerns in disguise. Essentially, a lively, candid interview with Carpenter, this book thoroughly discusses each of his films and covers his background, his inspirations, and his ups and downs in Hollywood. Among the many and varied subjects that pop up are his Bible Belt childhood, German expressionism, Howard Hawks, John Wayne, The King, Barbra Streisand, Michael Myers, Kurt Russell, Stephen King, quantum physics, and attractive female extras. Included are exclusive still photographs, a filmography, and a Foreword by Halloween III director Tommy Lee Wallace.
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In the book, Carpenter touches on and discusses each of his films - from the student project Dark Star from 1970 to his most recent (at the time of this book) The Ghosts Of Mars - revealing his thoughts and memories on the inspiration, method, problems, filming, cast, box office, lessons learned from his successes and failures, and more.
We learn of such disparate topics as: his first initial directing efforts as a child; being inspired by German expressionism; the inspiration drawn from Howard Hawks movies and how many of Carpenter's films are simply westerns in disguise; his early obsession and present-day compulsion to make films; and even trying to write a movie for Barbara Streisand (sort of!);
It is a wonderful, in-depth look into the mind of a modern-day director. Particularly interesting is seeing, through Carpenter's own words, his growth in maturity as a director, both in his craft and, sadly, learning how the "studio system" really works--executives who don't know what they're doing making decisions that usually worked to the disadvantage of the film.
Through the book we read, fascinated, as Carpenter's career comes to resemble a roller coaster - we read as the director's films slowly rise in terms of success, accolades, and budget, culminating in a huge hit or peak - invariably followed by a huge failure, sending Carpenter plummeting back down the ride that is a career as a film director, resulting in him basically having to start over from scratch.
Author Boulenger is an intelligent and insightful interviewer. He seems to know every minute detail about Carpenter's movies and often brings to the table telling insights and interpretations that even Carpenter hadn't thought of, but readily agrees to.
The book is generously illustrated with photographs and some sketches, including a handsome 24-page collection of color photos.
Only a few minor problems for me with the book: while each of Carpenter's films are touched on and discussed, some are not "...thoroughly..." discussed as the book's back cover offers. While one can argue their quality or importance, some films, such as Body Bags and Elvis: The Movie--among others--are allotted just one or two pages.
Also, while the behind-the-scenes photos in the book are interesting and fun to have, many of the production photos reproduced here are very common and have been seen many times before. More unique, less often-seen photos would have been nice.
But those two minor quibbles cannot begin to take away from the greater achievement of the book - a fascinating, thoughtful, career-spanning, one-on-one personal conversation with the man who's made some of the most important and interesting horror movies in the past few decades.
This book is really like a short making-of for each of Carpenter's films, starting with his early childhood efforts to his latest Hollywood venture, Ghosts of Mars. In here, you will learn all about the troubles he had getting into the business and the way in which he persevered, until he made the one film that made him famous.
That film, Halloween, is discusses in great lengths in this book. And why not? This is probably Carpenter's most famous (and arguably best) film. But the fun doesn't stop there. You'll get great interviews about the Escape films, about The Thing, about Big Trouble in Little China, about Vampires, about They Live, Prince of Darkness, Christine, The Fog... Each and every film Carpenter has touched is discussed here.
I have to admit that I had a great deal of fun reading the chapter on my favourite film of his, In The Mouth of Madness. I loved reading all the little anecdotes and about all the problems he faced while doing these films. As a matter of fact, Carpenter opens up and tells all about the making of these films and keeps very little secret (except in the case of Ghost of Mars, where he turns suddenly very cold and evasive).
My only problem with this book is that it is too short. You never feel like you're getting the whole story. These short chapters (most of them barely 10 pages long, half of these pages comprised of pictures) never really get into the films themselves. The interviews sometime feel a bit shallow. Maybe I feel this way because I'm such a big fan of Carpenter's and I'd love reading more about his thoughts and ideas. I guess that proves I'm a true fan. And after reading this book, I'm sure you will become one as well.