Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

John Carpenter: A sci-fi and horror great

Taking a look at his best sci-fi and horror movies
Photo courtesy of Halloween official IMDB page

If I had to choose only two genres of movies to watch for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t hesitate to select science fiction and horror. They offer elements of storytelling that few others can. They build entire worlds from scratch or create new rules to govern the world we already know. They have the power to turn the ordinary into the terrifying or surreal. They offer dazzling and haunting visuals, mesmerizing soundtracks and unforgettable characters. And through these genres, commentary on the human condition can be made that couldn’t be otherwise. They’re films to escape into and learn from, but above all, they’re some of the most entertaining.

Among directors who have made sci-fi and horror films, John Carpenter, whose career spans predominantly from the mid-70s to the mid-2000s, stands as one of the greats. On top of directing, Carpenter has used his musical talents to score many of his films. His scores, which rely on synthesizers, are not only one of the best aspects of his films, but they set the standard for other 70s and 80s horror and sci-fi films to attempt to emulate. His films, although amazing and sometimes heavy, don’t take themselves too seriously, which makes them even more entertaining and thrilling.

If you’re not familiar with John Carpenter but are a fan of horror and sci-fi, I have compiled a list below of three movies that you’d certainly enjoy.



If you haven’t seen “Halloween,” now is the time to give it a watch. This horror film begins on the eve of Halloween with a twenty-one-year-old Michael Myers escaping a mental institution. There, he had been incarcerated since he killed his sister on Halloween night fifteen years before. The following day, after it’s established that Myers is on his way to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, the film closes in on high school babysitter Laurie Strode. Once night falls, Myer’s killing spree ensues and Laurie must do all she can to protect herself and the children under her care.

There is a number of reasons this film holds such high acclaim in the sphere of horror and has become a cultural staple. Michael Myers with his signature mask, heavy breathing and inhuman demeanor, is a rightfully iconic character. He’s depicted as pure, undeterrable evil and seemingly invincible, which naturally inclines audiences to wonder if he’s a man at all, or if he is literally the embodiment of evil. His mystery, along with his formidability, are what make Myers such a memorable character.

Along with Michael Myers being one of the most iconic villains in horror, the main theme song of the film is one of the most chilling in cinematic history. Produced using only a synthesizer, it’s an askew and unsettling repetition of only a few notes played in a cycle of different pitches, which adds a profound element of suspense whenever it’s played. If you’re a fan of slasher movies, it’s time to watch “Halloween.”


The Thing(1982)

“The Thing is one of my all-time favorites. This sci-fi/horror film starts off with two men in a helicopter chasing a dog through Antarctica. As they run through the snowy tundra, one of the men attempts to shoot it with a rifle. They follow it all the way to an American research base, then continue their pursuit on foot. In their craze to kill it, they both end up dead, with one killing himself accidentally and the other being killed by one of the researchers. Once the researchers welcome the dog inside the base, a fatal series of terrors unfold.

The most memorable aspects of this film are the music and special effects. For this film, Carpenter had Ennio Morricone score it instead of himself, even though the result sounds extremely Carpenter-esque. The main theme, with its slow, heartbeat-like synthetic beat that leads into a sequence of shrill string sounds, has a chilling, forbidding tone that catalyzes the building of tension throughout.

The special effects are realistic, grotesque and over-the-top gory. Because they’re so well done, they play an integral part of the film’s success as a horror film for leaving the audience with disturbing visuals that both impress and haunt. For horror fans that appreciate a well-done creature-feature, “The Thing” is a must see.


“They Live” (1988)

They Live is an extremely fun, thought provoking sci-fi film that serves as a perfect example for how to balance the line between cheesy and remarkable. The film follows a drifter named Nada (Roddy Piper), after he enters an encampment for homeless people situated across from a church on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Soon after he discovers the church is a front for an underground organization, the police raid it. After the raid, Nada enters the ransacked church and retrieves the only thing the police didn’t find and seize: a box of sunglasses. Once Nada dons a pair of the glasses while on the streets of L.A., the entire world is seen as it truly is, starting him on a warpath against those who wish to maintain the world’s facade.

The story is incredible and like nothing ever written before, but what brings the story to life is the performance of Roddy Piper, who was a pro wrestling icon at the time. Although his acting is far from great, he’s able to utilize his wrestling persona and skills to deliver corny but awesome one-liners and drawn out fight scenes throughout. One scene, which is one of the most famous in Hollywood history, is a whopping six minutes long and looks like it’s right out of a WWE championship event.

Along with Piper’s performance, the special effects and pacing of the film are phenomenal. The special effects are high quality and offer visuals that force viewers to contemplate our world long after the film’s credits have rolled; the action is non-stop once it begins. If you’re in the mood for a fun, easy and entertaining watch, “They Live is your movie.

Ryan Long can be reached at [email protected]


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