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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

GUEST POST: Stephen King and John Carpenter: Peas in a Pod of Perversion?

Meet Brandon Engel, a horror fan who has contributed to Talk Stephen King, Edtech Magazine and Bleeding Cool. He's back to discuss to of our favorite horror creators: Stephen King and John Carpenter. This is is second time featured on DOCTERROR.COM, and we're glad to have him back.

It's often said that great minds think alike. When it comes to the minds of Stephen King and John Carpenterhowever, a more appropriate variation may be that delightfully horror obsessed minds think alike. This assessment is, of course, meant as a compliment to anyone who is a fan of the unique brand of horror both of these men are known for wholeheartedly embracing, much to the delight of fans around the world.

It should come as no surprise that King and Carpenter were influenced by iconic masters of the horror genre. For Carpenter this includes both Howard Hawks, best known for the original Scarface, and Alfred Hitchcock, with Vertigo listed as one of the Halloween director's favorite films, according to the global film website MUBI. For King, his fondness for Ray Bradbury is obvious given his propensity for focusing on characters' reactions to events around them, rather than purely reactive actions.

A true meeting of the minds occurred in the early '80s, when the two collaborated on the film version of King's Christine. Directed by Carpenter, the 1983 film is a perfect illustration of the pair's creative influences. The movie, set in the late '70s, centers around a 1958 Plymouth Fury with a mind of its own, not to mention an obsessive attachment to its owners and a penchant for revenge.

It took some fans of the two horror giants a while to embrace the movie, at least after the initial viewing. Roger Ebert called it "utterly ridiculous," referring to the fact that a car could have a mind of its own, yet still enjoyed it, mainly because of a fascination with the car's menacing personality. Looking at the film through today's eyes, it's possible to make a case that King and Carpenter unintentionally predicted, a la H.G. Wells, a world where technology dominates, especially considering the interactive nature of today's cars. Technophobia is nothing new. Psychoanalysts such as Ernst Jentsch and Sigmund Freud have written a considerable amount on the subject.  Anxieties about machinery displacing humanity have been relatively common since at least the dawn of the industrial revolution. But nowadays, with self-driving carsand fully equipped home automation systems (more info here), these tropes take on a greater effect.

While the book ends with Dennis, one of the survivors, presently working as a high school teacher, the movie has an ending akin to Carpenter's Halloween, with doubt that the horror that previously ensued is really over. It's also worth noting that Carpenter films the car's movements very similarly to how he foreshadows the impending doom of unsuspecting victims through the movements of Michael Myers, a fact that is further echoed by his selection of background music for both films.

The connection between the two masters is more evident when you consider similarities in their horror influences, starting with a shared fascination with EC ComicsPopular in the 1950s, the comic books published under the EC banner were known for presenting uncensored science fiction tales, a controversy at the time, inspiring both King and Carpenter to develop a lifelong love of this particular style of fiction.

Both men have continued to embrace their collective love of those childhood comics. King tied together several stories in an homage to his favorite EC and DC comics' tales in 1982's Creepshow. Coincidentally, the film was directed by another iconic master of horror, George A. Romero. King's foray into pulp fiction is further evident in his Dark Tower series and the novels The Colorado Kid and Joyland. Carpenter's comic influences can be seen in 1982's The Thing, especially with its arctic setting, and the original version of The Fog.

King and Carpenter continue to explore the fascination that started in their collective childhoods. Stephen King's comic strip arcpart of Scott Snyder's American Vampire series, traces the origins of America's first vampire. John Carpenter's Asylumwhich he created with his wife and Thomas Ian Griffith, who played head vampire, Jan Valek, in John Carpenter's Vampires in 1998, is another demon driven comic. Given the similar backgrounds of these legends, the coincidence in the similarity of the subject matter of the two comics shouldn't be a surprise. This match made in hell is pure heaven for horror fans.

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