John Carpenter changed the face of horror cinema in 1978 with his independent slasher film Halloween. The psychopath stalking a group of teens became a popular trope during the ’80s, influencing countless horror movies for decades, including iconic films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Carpenter earned his nickname, the “Horror Master,” with other genre greats like The Thing, which relies on the paranoia that develops amongst its characters instead of cheap jump scares, and They Live, imagining a terrifying future thanks to our obsession with consumer culture.
Today, on Carpenter’s birthday, we’re looking back at his greatest quotes about fear and horror. “Don’t make a horror film — make a love story! Make something that’s far away from you,” the filmmaker once told a fellow horror lover. In Carpenter’s world, fear is never far away, always lurking in the darkness.
“Evil hiding among us is an ancient theme.”
“What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me.”
“There are two different stories in horror: internal and external. In external horror films, the evil comes from the outside, the other tribe, this thing in the darkness that we don’t understand. Internal is the human heart.”
“We’re a violent country. We always have been. We embrace our individuality and our violence.”
“Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or the other. They’re us with hats on. The zombies in George Romero’s movies are us. They’re hungry. Monsters are us, the dangerous parts of us. The part that wants to destroy. The part of us with the reptile brain. The part of us that’s vicious and cruel. We express these in our stories as these monsters out there.”
“A movie’s not just the pictures. It’s the story and it’s the perspective and it’s the tempo and it’s the silence and it’s the music — it’s all the stuff that’s going on. All the sensory stuff. Sometimes you can get a lot of suspense going in a non-horror film. It all depends. But, look, if there was one secret way of doing a horror movie then everybody would be doing it.”
“Horror’s always been the same. It’s flexible. It changes with societal changes. During a war like Vietnam, people may feel different than they do during peacetime. During tough times like the Depression, it’s different from flush times. But people are still scared of the same things. We’re all scared of the same things. Death. Pain. Loss of a loved one. You can make a list, and in every society it’s the same. These are fears that we all have. I have ’em. You have ’em. We’re all scared of this stuff.”
“That’s why I always worry about rules. You know, rules for horror. It’s just not that easy or simple. But when I say horror is essentially the same, I mean its purpose. Throughout the years, it’s been to scare you. Its purpose is to take away the reality of your life for a little while and scare you in safety — in the safety of the theater. That’s its purpose.”
“Horror today is pretty much like it always has been. Horror is such a venerable, such an adaptable genre. Ever since the beginning of cinema, it’s been with us. Most horror films are awful, some are good and there are a very, very few that are really good. It’s always kind of been that way.”
“It was a movie where the main character, the guy in the mask, really isn’t altogether human. He has no characteristics. He’s, uh, almost like a machine. He was just pure evil. That was what I intended to do. It’s evil out of nothing, evil from no background, which completely creeps me out as a human being, that evil could arrive at my doorstep without a purpose, without a past, without an origin. So that’s the idea behind it. It was put together to scare you. That’s all.” —on Michael Myers and Halloween
“Horror is a reaction; it’s not a genre.”
“Horror has been a genre since the beginning of cinema, all the way back to the days of silent films. I don’t think it will ever go away because it’s so universal. Humor doesn’t always travel to other countries, but horror does.”
“Everybody feels fear and suspense. We were little kids once and so it’s taking that basic human condition and emotion and just fucking with it and playing with it. You can invent new horrors. I think Night of the Living Dead was a big invention of a zombie. There were zombies before, but Romero set the bar and everybody rips him off—like The Walking Dead. Vampires like Dracula were evil, but new vampires, we love them because they’re the subject of tweener movies like Twilight. But it will continue to evolve. Right now we’re in a supernatural phase and cheap-movie phase. But everybody reinvents. Your generation took the music that I grew up with and re-formed it, refashioned, reinvented it, and it continues to grow.”
“The strongest human emotion is fear. It’s the essence of any good thriller that, for a little while, you believe in the boogeyman.”
“Horror is always the same. It changes with the culture and changes with technology. The stories are always the same. There are just two basic stories in horror, two simple ones — evil is outside and evil is in here.”