June 23, 2024

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John Carpenter’s Five Favorite Horror Movies

Which legendary frightening flicks rank among John Carpenter‘s favorite horror movies? First coming to worldwide prominence with Halloween in 1978, John Carpenter cemented his directorial legacy with The FogThe Thing, and Escape From New York, alongside cult favorites like Assault on Precinct 13 and Prince of Darkness. Though it would be remiss to discount his contribution across other genres, there’s no point denying John Carpenter’s presiding influence over the world of horror, as his terrifying introduction to Michael Myers triggered a fresh wave of sinister cinema that was continued by contemporaries such as Wes Craven and Sean S. Cunningham, and still dominates theaters almost 50 years later.

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Many modern directors have cited Carpenter’s horror movies as a key influence upon their own wicked works. Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill HouseDoctor Sleep), James Wan (The Conjuring), and Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) are but a few names that have paid homage at the Carpenter altar at one time or another. Winding the clock further back, a young John Carpenter had his own collection of influences from the horror genre, and these classic inspirations course throughout his cinematic back catalog.

Related: Every John Carpenter & Kurt Russell Movie Ranked Worst to Best

John Carpenter’s favorite horror movies were listed by Le Cinema Club in October 2021 – a terrifying collection of 5 revered tales that helped steer the menacing mindset of Carpenter’s subsequent creations. Which films made the cut, and how did they impact HalloweenThe Thing, and Carpenter’s other directorial masterpieces?


Frankenstein (1931)


Mary Shelley’s novel might’ve given rise to the science fiction genre, but James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein movie helped jolt onscreen horror into life, building upon silent era gems such as The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari a decade prior. Starring Colin Clive as Dr. Frankenstein and future legend Boris Karloff as his bolt-necked monster, Frankenstein mines scares from both the increasingly mad machinations of its titular scientist, and the lumbering killer creation his name is so often attributed to by mistake. Though production values have come an awfully long way over the past century, Frankenstein holds up surprisingly well to the modern eye, and still ranks among many critics’ most influential movies of all time.


Hardly surprising, then, to see Frankenstein skulking among John Carpenter’s favorite horror films. Effectively a blueprint for what we now perceive as “the horror genre,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a scary movie director that doesn’t draw at least somewhat from Whale’s Frankenstein. For Carpenter’s filmography specifically, however, Boris Karloff’s monster is something of a progenitor for Halloween‘s Michael Myers – the unstoppable, silent force of nature terrorizing local townsfolk, and forcing audiences to consider the true evil festering inside human nature.

The Mummy (1959)


Kharis Staring At Isabelle - The Mummy 1959

Not the 1999 Brendan Fraser action romp, sadly, but the 1959 Hammer effort directed by Terence Fisher and starring the formidable duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee – one of many films the iconic thespians appeared in together. A group of archaeologists meddle with forces they don’t understand while digging in Egypt, unleashing the titular bandaged killer upon an unsuspecting 19th century England. Perhaps not as universally influential as other John Carpenter favorite horror movies, The Mummy is known more for its ominous tone and gruesome deaths than any kind of carefully constructed plot, but is nonetheless celebrated for its oppressive aesthetic and atmosphere.


Related: Every Actor Who Played The Mummy (Original Movies & Reboots)

Parallels can be drawn between The Mummy and John Carpenter’s 1982 flamethrower-tastic The Thing. Whereas The Mummy‘s Kharis stalks his prey around Engerfield House, The Things‘s titular alien terrorizes the residents of a remote Antarctica research base – two otherworldly hunters picking off victims in an isolated setting. The Mummy‘s influence then trickles down into the other two entries in John Carpenter’s “apocalypse trilogy” – 1987’s Prince of Darkness and 1994’s In The Mouth of Madness.

The Exorcist (1973)


Moving into the era of Carpenter as an active director (albeit one yet to find widespread acclaim), The Exorcist is arguably the most famous entry on the list of John Carpenter’s favorite horror movies. William Friedkin’s 1973 classic proved controversial before, during and after production, but remains distinctly bone-chilling some half a century later, losing none of its ability to turn audiences pale. Still considered among the best horror stories ever put to film, The Exorcist stars Linda Blair as a possessed young girl, alongside Max von Sydow, and Jason Miller as the priest whose mother knits socks in hell.


John Carpenter has made no secret of his deep love for The Exorcist, expressing particular admiration for the film’s score (by Jack Nitzsche), which the director cited as a direct influence upon the Halloween soundtrack, composed by Carpenter himself. Renowned for its public outcry, John Carpenter has also praised The Exorcist‘s willingness to break taboos and broach the sensitive subject of Satan as key factors in being so damn scary. Indeed, Carpenter was even lined up to direct The Exorcist III, but quit due to creative differences with writer William Peter Blatty, who would go on to direct the sequel himself.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)


Leatherface giving chase in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

At the vanguard of horror’s 1970s slasher evolution was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, directed by Tobe Hooper. Despite being largely devoid of traditional blood and gore, the 1974 release still managed to incite controversy through its sheer violence and dour rural atmospherics, drawing closer to real life than some audiences were comfortable with. The Ed Gein-inspired, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface has since been inducted into the movie villain hall of fame, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s titular setting kick-started a horror movie trope for gruesome murder sprees committed by rural types in southern U.S. states – something Rob Zombie has built an entire career upon.


Related: Which Horror Slasher Villain Has The Highest Kill Count

Though The Texas Chainsaw Massacre came too late to influence Carpenter’s early works in any meaningful sense, Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking slasher does share common elements and tropes with John Carpenter’s Halloween, such as the faceless, masked villain, and the surviving female protagonist. In 2010, John Carpenter was part of a panel that voted The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the greatest horror movie of all time for Total Film (coming in second was The Exorcist, incidentally). In tribute to Hooper upon the director’s death in 2017, Carpenter also described The Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a “seminal” work, later proclaiming (via Fader), “It’s one of the scariest movies ever… But it’s what’s going on in your head that’s scary.”

Suspiria (1977)


Suspiria - Dario Argento

Coming tenth on the aforementioned list that saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Exorcist occupy first and second place is 1977’s Suspiria. Directed and co-written by Dario Argento, Suspiria stars Jessica Harper as Suzy – an aspiring dancer who moves to Europe, only for her dreams of ballet stardom to be dashed in a hail of murder, conspiracy, and witchcraft. After enjoying considerable success in Argento’s native Italy, Suspiria earned a cult following in the U.S., and has since been praised by a horde of renowned horror directors for its cinematography, use of color, and unsettling imagery.


Deserving its place among John Carpenter‘s favorite horror movies, the director confirms Suspiria provided eerie inspiration for both the color scheme and music of Halloween, which released the following year. Speaking to Huffington Post, Carpenter also called Suspiria, “Just wonderful… the style, everything about it was just fabulous.” He and Argento quickly became friends, and Carpenter has frequently spoken in praise of the band Goblin, who provided Suspiria‘s musical score. In a quirk of coincidence, 2018 saw modern Halloween and Suspiria movies release within days of each other.

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