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Cat’s Cradle: John Carpenter the Master of Horror

 John Carpenter has become synonymous with the horror genre. He cemented his legacy with the Giallo-style '80s slasher "Halloween" (1978). His film "The Thing" brought body horror to a wider audience and is considered one of the best pieces of horror cinema. 

After his last feature film in 2010, "The Ward," Carpenter stepped away from directing to follow his other interests. On top of writing and directing, he scored his films and has built a second career as a musician, reprising his role as director to direct the "Christine" music clip.

In his time behind the camera, Carpenter contributed to the horror genre with other classics like "Christine" and cult hits like "In the Mouth of Madness." During this time, he created a cinematic language that can be traced throughout his career, a method that defines Carpenter's horror films. 

Carpenters' films begin with well-thought-out characters. They are often our window into a film, be it the opening campfire scene of "The Fog" or the introduction of the main cast of "Halloween."

Carpenter's characters are often people before victims. They have interests, goals and lives outside the narrative that are interrupted by the approaching horror. A building tension takes form in the killer. 

Carpenter builds the impending threat through music. These are the themes of "Halloween" and the "Fog." Where the rhythm often becomes uncanny as conventional orchestration is replaced with synthetic music. 

Compare these two scenes from the contemporary horror films "Christine" and "Hellraiser." The former evokes a dread, a rhythmic pattern that gets into a viewer's head, while the latter of the pair has a near-operatic tone that evokes a triumph and art within the horrific. Music becomes a way for Carpenter to build tension that he then captures on camera. 

Throughout Carpenter's career, his use of cameras has been a unique feature of his films. Horror is often brought into a frame with a lean fluid movement or is presented in full view. He does this through long shots and wide shots, which brings a studied eye to scenes.  

The long shot is replicated in his later film "The Thing," to establish a sense of space and claustrophobia within the Arctic base. A similar wide shot after a kill is used in "Prince of Darkness," where the victim and the perpetrator are placed near the center.  

The smooth nature of the camera work places the viewer within the moment. Rather than moving the camera away or using a match cut to end the scene, Carpenter lingers; the lens of the camera often mimics the viewer's eye, unblinking and flinching amidst violence.

Carpenter's style comes from well-written characters, tense music and well-shot scenes. He brings horror out in a display. This is the defibrillator scene of "The Thing" or the final shooting of Michael Myers in "Halloween." 

The craft put into each film gives John Carpenter's horror catalog its legacy. His ability as a storyteller and an artist has created classic horror films that have stood the test of time. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him

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