On a recent visit to the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema Archives, I screened much of Carpenter’s student work. The most recent restoration from the archives, Captain Voyeur (1969), stands out as a connector as this experimentation with conventions developed and refined in future work. The eight-minute short film is about a bored and lonely computer worker (The Captain) who gets transfixed on a woman he sees at work. At night, he ventures out to find her at her home.
Carpenter films are exercises in the search for and confrontation with the possibility of new order that propels a Carpenter protagonist with its power. In Village of the Damned it is the realization that a pregnancy might be alien; in Halloween, it is the existence of the Bogeyman; in The Thing it is trust in fellow humanity; in Big Trouble in Little China, it is the existence of the supernatural. Carpenter’s representations of evil, either internal or external in nature, generate the conflict between existing order and the chaos of a new one. The Captain emerges from a banal, procedural, sterile, structured normalcy ready to disrupt. Our heroine shoots the Captain in the end. Carpenter returns to the stillness of him scenes before…waiting for his rebirth as we hear The Captain scold his shooter. Victory over an evil force, the voyeur, is seen as a temporary victory, because evil will return. In Halloween, Tommy clearly tells Laurie: “you can’t kill the Bogeyman.”
Carpenter’s use of physical (and cinematic) space in Captain Voyeur is present. Carpenter utilizes the concept of frontier mythology in reverse order. His films are “not peopled by pioneers but by isolated remnants of a civilization that has begun a slow, painful withdrawal.” These spaces are “not so much to be overcome as survived.” In seeing connections through the Captain, I imagine Captain Voyeur 2018. Our woman knows the “Captain” exists. She waits for him. Her hand grips a gun. Chaos and order prepare for another battle on Carpenter’s frontier.