It's important, I think, to remember that Carpenter at his best is an auteur - some of his best and most fondly remembered films are instances where he exerted his influence on multiple levels. At various points he has written, directed, produced, acted in and composed music for his movies. Say what you will about his films, but very often they have a strong "voice" that carries throughout the work. There is a list here that breaks down his entire filmography based on his contributions to each work. Follow the link and be amazed!
Rather than try and list every single one of his works, I'm going to cherry pick what I feel to be some of his best. I'll include at the end the extent of his involvement.
Halloween: Well duh. The movie that launched an entire generation of slasher films, that defined Jamie Lee Curtis' career, that established Carpenter as force to be reckoned with in horror films, that bought Michael Meyers permanent real estate in the zeitgeist. The story of how the movie of made is almost as interesting as the movie itself, and is worth a read, or a watch of any of the dozens of documentaries on the making of the movie. Carpenter controlled every aspect of this film, Directing, Writing, Producing, creating the Music for it, and even put himself into it (he provides the voice for Annie's boyfriend). This is how you make a low budget movie. Scratch that, this is how you make a GOOD low budget movie.
The Fog: The 1980 version, naturally, the less said of the remake the better. I'm not a huge fan of ghost story movies, but that's mostly because this one did it so damn well. Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau lead the way, in this tale of a town's dark secret as it comes back to haunt them on the anniversary of the town's founding. It's the story Stephen King wishes he wrote. He directed, wrote, composed music for and acted in the film (playing the role of Bennett).
It should be required viewing, 'sall I'm saying.
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he's all out of bubblegum! You're not going to get much better sci-fi than this. Is it a warning on the nature of large organizations and conformity, or is it a terrifying meditation on paranoia? It can be a horror movie, it can be a sci-fi movie, it can be a balls to the wall action film, it's the Rorschach movie. Carpenter Directed, Wrote and composed the music for this movie. Warning: Contains the most epic fight scene you will ever see.
I like Carpenter's version better.
It takes the basic plot of the original and spins it into a tale of paranoia, isolation and fear and you just can't look away. Another Kurt Russell film, he continues to show why he's a badass mofo. Interestingly, Carpenter considers this, In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness to be a sort of Apocalypse Trilogy, all of which share a common theme of cosmic horror. He was only the director on this one, although he did have a bit part as one of the Norwegians in the video.
I forgive you for saying no. It wasn't his best outing, but it has a special place in my heart, reminding me as it does of the old Amicus films from way back when. Carpenter teams up with Tobe Hooper to bring you three tales of comedic horror, with varying results. The first one is the best (incidentally, it takes place in Haddonfield, IL, the same town that Halloween was based in), telling about a girl locked in a gas station when a killer is on the loose. The second is just batshit crazy, with Stacey Keach, aliens and... hair. The third, well, the third just kind of exists. Overall, it's not that great, but it's fun, and I enjoy it, so whatever. He did Direct, Produce and Compose music for it.
his followup on the same show so disappointing). Tapped to direct an episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror, the title refers to the practice of film cues, meant to tell the projectionist that the reel is coming to an end. This ties in thematically with the larger story (starring everyone's favorite survivor, Norman Reedus) as he searches for a film that supposedly drives the viewer mad. It's a spiritual sequel to In the Mouth of Madness, another of my favorites, and, I suspect, an unofficial member of Carpenter's Apocalypse series.