Few filmmakers have had a lasting impact on the direction horror movies have taken in the past few decades than John Carpenter. The veteran director gained acclaim for his work in the genre. Many of his early horror films opened the door for the rise of new horror sub-genres or offered a fresh take on conventional horror plots from the past. Carpenter's influence in horror continues to be felt into the 21st Century through these five classics.
"Halloween" (1978): Alfred Hitchcock is credited with setting the stage for the modern slasher film when he made "Psycho" in 1960. The teen slasher craze really didn't take off though until Carpenter put his own spin on it with the original "Halloween." The formula copied endlessly by other slasher franchises gets its birth here—a virginal teenage girl facing off with an unstoppable killer as he dispatches everyone else in his path in gruesome fashion.
"The Fog" (1980): Ghost stories are as old as literature itself. Carpenter took the classic idea of ghosts seeking revenge on the descendants of those who murdered them and gave it a fresh and spooky twist. He builds up suspense and weaves an interesting tale that gives the ghosts a purpose rather than just providing a body count. It is a lesson a few modern filmmakers could apply to their own movies.
"The Thing" (1982): One of the best things about this masterful blend of science fiction and horror is the feeling of paranoia that is prevalent from start to finish. The concept of an alien creature that can kill and take the form of its victims makes it impossible for the characters to trust one another or for the audience to trust any of the characters. Carpenter did a good job of placing his characters in an isolated Antarctic setting and gradually isolating them from one another through mounting tension and fear.
"They Live" (1988): A quirky blend of science fiction, comedy and horror. Carpenter uses a homeless drifter's discovery that the nation's political and economic power brokers are aliens in disguise as a jumping off point for some pointed social commentary. The aliens use advertising and the media to manipulate and control the masses – something that strikes close to home in our heavily commercialized modern society.
"In the Mouth of Madness" (1995): Leave it to Carpenter to send apocalyptic horror in an unforeseen direction. What starts out as an investigator sent by a publishing house to track down a reclusive author turns into unexpected terror for the main character when he realizes that he and the world he knows are just creations from the author's sick mind. It is highly original to say the least and blurs the line that separates fiction and reality.