stone genius

by Art Chantry:

john carpenter is one of my favorite directors. the guy does some some stinkers, yes. but, like roger corman, he never loses money. he penny-pinches and lowballs and craftily compromises to meet his low low budgets. he uses every trick in the book to do what he needs to do. the guy has noncompromising vision, but he knows how to compromise to get there.

—frankly, i’m always totally thrilled and surprised by his soundtracks. he just sits down and does them himself on his synth. imagine hitchcock, kubrick or even corman having the brass to do that? amazing.—AC

thats not saying that he’s a FUN guy. in interviews, i’m always struck by how no-nonsense he actually is. he reads on camera as a person with almost ZERO sense of humor. almost grim. yet, his movies can be hilarious in their dark morbid humor (The Thing, for instance). sure, blood guts and gore in spades. but, michael myers (for example) is one of the great comical baddies ever devised. and he launched a thousand imitative ships.

“Halloween” was one of the cheapest movies ever made – that still managed to destroy hollywood. it’s in the same category as ‘night of the living dead’, ‘easy rider’, and ‘blair witch project’ for the “no money/outrageous profits” sweepstakes. carpenter was so smart that he actually managed to re-design the entire trajectory of american horror cinema into the mad/supernatural slasher mainstream of today. in fact, his archetypes (created on the fly) dominated horror for 30-40 years – until the mindless masses of flesh-eating zombies finally overwhelmed his cinematic stereotype.

i watched a director’s commentary on the making of “the thing” a while back. i HIGHLY encourage viewing this movie WITH the commentary. it’s a recording of john carpenter and kurt russell watching the movie and cracking wise and reminiscing about the movie while tossing back a few stiff ones. you can almost hear the ice cubes clinking in the whiskey as they rattle on with their hilarious and amazing movie stories. it’s probably the very best ‘director’s commentary’ i’ve ever sat through – and i LIKE director’s commentaries, too. and this is the best of the lot, in my opinion. great stuff.

during the course of this screening, john carpenter tells the story of where the model for michael myers came from (the supernatural slasher dude from the original ‘halloween’). because they didn’t have any money, they basically had to work with what they could conjure up. the idea of using a workingman’s coveralls/jumpsuit as the entire costume solved so many problems that it was a stroke of brilliance. not the least of which, they could purchase an entire wardrobe (with a coupel dozen back up costumes as well) for under $50!

in that process, they reduced the ‘monster’ of michael myers from the classical world of the imagination into the realm of the common man, the everyman – the working dude. with that stupid set of dirty coveralls, carpenter changed the image of the wolfman, the vampire, the creature from the black lagoon into the dirty guy next door who works at the neighborhood gas station. accidental genius? not when john carpenter is on the set. he saw the potential immediately, grabbed it and RAN with it.

where did that FACE of michael myers come from? they initially wanted to create an elaborate nightmare face for the character – a new modern classic. but, there was absolutely NO budget. instead, they went to a ‘costume and display’ shop to simply brainstorm and try to figure out something – anything! after wandering around and discussing the sorts of off-the-shelf ideas already on display in the mask section, they finally decided they needed to go exactly the opposite direction. they wanted a face as bland and non-descript and generic as the coveralls. so, they began to shop all the ‘celebrity’ masks. they were going to use a richard nixon mask, but decided it was too obvious a choice (and way too much personality.) they finally tried to pick out the least identifiable, most generic mask, the face that was almost a ZERO expression, NO personality, a BLANK cypher. they bought a william shatner /captain kirk rubber mask! MR. BLAND himself!

they painted it a cadaverous grey and VIOLA! done. that was it. michael myers is captain kirk! william shatner has the most iconic horrifyingly bland and murderous achetypical horror movie face in the histor

cinema! who knew?

john carpenter, you may be a tightwad, but yer a stone genius!

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