A director whose quick-witted and full-blooded approach to genre filmmaking has won him both mainstream success and a cult following, John Carpenter was born in Carthage, NY, in 1948. When he was young, his family moved to Bowling Green, KY, where his father served on the music faculty of Western Kentucky University. As a child, Carpenter became fascinated with such '50s science fiction and horror films as Forbidden Planet and The Thing (From Another World), as well as the classic Westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks; he began shooting his own 8 mm films -- mostly monster movie pastiches -- in his spare time. After graduating from high school, Carpenter attended Western Kentucky, and later transferred to the University of Southern California to study filmmaking. There, he co-wrote a student film called The Resurrection of Bronco Billy which, in 1971, won an Oscar for Best Live Action Short.
Inspired by this success, Carpenter, along with friend and fellow film student Dan O'Bannon, began work on a sci-fi parody called Dark Star. Over time, Carpenter expanded the student short to feature length at a cost of 60,000 dollars, and the film received positive reviews when it was released theatrically in 1974. While Carpenter hoped Dark Star would win him a major studio contract directing Westerns, he discovered that the film's limited success opened few doors, and his next project was the low-budget thriller Assault on Precinct 13, which was inspired by Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo. While the film wasn't a hit, it did fare better at the box office than Dark Star and caught the attention of critics in the U.K., where it was enthusiastically received at the London Film Festival. After selling a pair of scripts -- produced as Eyes of Laura Mars and Zuma Beach -- Carpenter made the acquaintance of producer Moustapha Akkad, who was looking for a director for a low-budget horror movie about an escaped lunatic murdering baby-sitters. Carpenter got the job, and the result was Halloween. Shot on a budget of 325,000 dollars, Halloween became a roaring commercial success, in time grossing more than 18 million dollars and, for many years, holding the record for the biggest box-office gross for an independently released film. In the interim between completing Halloween and its evolution into a blockbuster, Carpenter directed a pair of movies for television, including the critically acclaimed Elvis, which marked his first collaboration with actor Kurt Russell. The director's first genuine attempt to follow the success of Halloween came with 1979's The Fog, when Carpenter met actress Adrienne Barbeau. The two hit it off personally as well as professionally, and were married by the time the film hit theaters. In 1981, Carpenter reluctantly returned to his first major success with Halloween II, which he wrote and produced, but his next project as a director would be a great deal more ambitious: 1981's Escape From New York, a fusion of science fiction and action-adventure, which starred Russell as ne'er-do-well for hire Snake Plissken. The movie's witty and enthusiastic genre-bending would set a precedent for much of Carpenter's career to follow.