John Carpenter picks his favourite horror and sci-fi books
The 1970s was a terrific time for horror, especially the slasher sub-genre, which blossomed with the release of movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas. Following on from proto-slashers like Psycho, Peeping Tom and various Italian giallos, these films signalled the beginning of a new wave of horror.
However, the slasher movie didn’t become the massive phenomenon it morphed into in the ‘80s until the release of 1978’s Halloween by John Carpenter, his third film. He earned unprecedented success, creating a horror movie that would spawn plenty of copycat films desperately trying to achieve the same levels of success. Carpenter’s film was genuinely scary, with a fantastic score (made by the filmmaker himself) accompanying the action.
Halloween cemented Carpenter as a horror maestro, and the filmmaker went on to make several more lauded scary movies, such as The Thing, The Fog, and They Live. Moving between horror and sci-fi, often combining the two, Carpenter’s oeuvre bears a clear love of the respective genres, which he has devoured through various mediums since he was a kid.
He once shared some of his favourite books with the New York Post, revealing the scary stories he holds most dearly to him. Carpenter discussed his love for P.C. Wagner and H. Wise’s collection Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. Released in 1944, the anthology contains stories by authors like Edgar Allen Poe and H.P Lovecraft, which he called “amazingly creepy”. He picked out Lovecraft’s The Rats in the Walls as his favourite, making way for his next favourite book, The Colour Out of Space, also by Lovecraft.
Lovecraft, who was born in 1890, only became recognised as one of the most influential horror writers of all time after his death in 1937. Carpenter’s work bears significant influence from Lovecraft’s literature; for example, his 1994 movie In The Mouth of Madness takes its name and themes from the writers’ novella At The Mountains of Madness.
Discussing The Colour Out of Space, Carpenter said, “It’s a very early, almost science-fiction tale” before adding: “Lovecraft wrote some really terrifying stuff. He has a lot of flaws as a writer, but he invented ethos, an inversion of Christianity: that the old ones lived on the earth before we did, were expelled, and are waiting to take over.”
A more contemporary favourite writer of Carpenter’s is Stephen King – the director even adapted his novel Christine for the big screen in 1983. However, his favourite of King’s – and one of his favourites of all time – is Pet Sematary. He explained, “This is one of his scariest books ever. Those dead pets buried in the cemetery come back alive, but they’re not the same.” The book has been adapted several times, although Carpenter has yet to put his own cinematic spin on the story.
Finally, Carpenter highlighted his love for the true crime novel Fatal Vision, which was adapted into a miniseries in 1983. Written by Joe McGinniss, the book explores the true case of Captain Jeffrey R. MacDonald, who murdered his wife and kids in 1979. McGinniss was initially hired by MacDonald to write the story in the hopes of proving his innocence before he was convicted. However, it didn’t take long for McGinniss to discover that MacDonald was, in fact, guilty.
Carpenter explained that the book “was one that had me up at night walking around, because it’s so disturbing. Awful, awful, awful! It’s about the darkness in humanity. All I can do is to suggest that you read it.”