CENTREFOLD / Budget brat-packer: John Carpenter's heyday revisited at the NFT

During the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies, a brace of idiosyncratic film-makers (John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Joe Dante, George A Romero) working, for the most part, on fidgety budgets, turned out some grainy and twisted and precocious little movies. Nobody believed they would take on the world, and they didn't. They got bolder, then they got bigger, then they got worse.

Carpenter's big-time albatross was Starman, an ET-wannabee sodden with the gloopy spirit of his namesakes Karen and Richard. But between 1976 and 1983, he hit a knock-out stride that his peers never matched. His second film, Assault on Precinct 13, was a bravura, showy siege thriller that had the traditional creaking floorboards of Hammer displaced by a silencer's muted phut. The seminal chiller Halloween followed before - bam] - The Fog, Escape From New York and The Thing, which saw Rob Bottin's mutt-busting, stomach-bursting SFX tempered by some lulling snowy climes.

The pace dipped with Christine, Stephen King's paean to a boy and his automobile, then came Starman, Big Trouble in Little China. . . but why linger upon a stench? Fleetingly, Carpenter was fantasy cinema's sturdiest auteur - those icy but playful little pictures pulsed with his needling electronic scores, their dramas driven by a body of regulars (Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, Donald Pleasence). He was best at administering a bare-arsed genre thrashing: Assault was his Rio Bravo, Halloween his Psycho, Escape From New York the comic-strip that 2000AD never ran. The quirky 1988 trash horror They Live hinted that all was not lost, but when an Ayrton Senna biopic looms, you don't put money on a return to past glories.

The NFT's season of Carpenter's work is already underway (it culminates with the director being interviewed) and though completists will mourn the omission of Someone's Watching Me, we should all be grateful that there wasn't space to run Elvis - The Movie.

29 Jul NFT, South Bank, SE1 (071-928 3232) Waterloo/Embankment

(Photograph omitted)

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