John Carpenter Talks Remakes and the “Insane Business” of Horror Moviemaking

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In Hollywood these days, it sometimes seems easier to find an actor who’ll admit to having had plastic surgery than it is to find an original idea for a movie. Case in point: Legendary horror director John Carpenter. On August 31, Rob Zombie’s remake of Carpenter’s fright classic, Halloween, will hit theaters, marking the fifth (that’s right, fifth) time in the past two years that a Carpenter film has been—or is going to be—remade. New versions of Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog were released in 2005 and it was recently announced that updates of Escape From New York and The Thing are in the works. At one point, there were even discussions of turning Christine into a television miniseries, so don’t be surprised if more remakes are on the way.

Carpenter, who hasn’t directed a feature since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars (expect the remake of that in about 2030), is always candid and hilarious—and at times cantankerous—during interviews. So when MovieMaker caught up with the 59-year-old Kentucky native to get his reaction on this current trend, we didn’t know what to expect. It turns out that Carpenter was more than happy to discuss the rash of remakes. “There are certain things you can’t worry about,” he says. “So just relax and enjoy what you can.”

Jason Matloff, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): What’s up with all these remakes? It feels as if your whole filmography is being recycled.

John Carpenter (JC): It’s a brand new world out there in terms of trying to get advertising. There’s so much going on that if you come up with a movie that people have never heard of they don’t pay attention to it—no matter how good it is. So it becomes, “Let’s remake something that maybe rings a bell and that you’ve heard of before.” That way, you’re already ahead. I’m flattered, but I understand what’s going on. They’re picking everything to remake. I think they’ve just run down the list of other titles and have finally got to mine. (laughs).

MM: Is it true that when you heard Rob Zombie was remaking Halloween, you gave him your blessing?

JC: Sure, why not? We talked about it. He told me what he had in mind, and I just said, ‘Make it your own film, man. Don’t worry about the original. Just do what you want to do.’

MM: Do you feel better about it because he’s a director whom you like and trust?

JC: It’s not a question of trust. It’s not that I don’t trust anybody but Rob. He is fine to do it—he loves horror films, he’s a very talented guy and I like him personally.

MM: His take is going to be more than slightly different, right?

JC: I think what he is doing is showing you how Michael Myers became Michael. He’s interested in exploring the early part. He wants to humanize him, which is fine. I didn’t go that way; I did the exact opposite. I always wanted to make Michael a force of evil, in a way, not even a person.

MM: What was your reaction to the protest on Sunset Boulevard? It was reported that people were holding signs that said things like “Rob is raping a classic.”

JC: Aw, those are all homeless people. You can’t pay attention to that. They were panhandling.

MM: But those are your fans!

JC: Those are my only fans. They all live under freeways. Poor Rob. He gets a whole ration of shit from people. I don’t understand it.

John Carpenter on the set of Halloween with Jamie Lee Curtis. Photograph by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

MM: Some just think this version is unnecessary.

JC: They’re not unhappy about Rick Rosenthal [who directed Halloween II and Halloween: Resurrection], but they’re pissed off about Rob? Please! The protests are only going to increase the number of people who go to see the movie—that’s all they’re going to do. Not my fans, because they can’t afford it—they’re just trying to get some money to buy drugs. (laughs) But everybody else will say, “I heard about that protest. We better go check it out.”

MM: When you watch a remake of one of your films, do you ever find yourself wishing you had done something differently in the original?

JC: That’s presuming there’s a “right” way to do it. That’s not how it goes for me. It’s not a right way, it’s my way. It’s impossible for me to really judge accurately. I mean, every director comes up with his own style—how he or she feels about the material and the world we’re in. So I don’t say, ‘I wish I had done this.’ But I have said, ‘I wish we had that budget.’ (laughs) [My version of] The Fog was like $1 million movie. It was a whole lot more this time—and that would have been fun to have back then. I don’t know if it would have been any better, but it would have been fun to have a little more time. (laughs)

MM: Did you enjoy the new take on The Fog?

JC: No comment.

MM: Okay… How about Assault on Precinct 13?

JC: I thought it was terrific. I thought the cast was sensational. I just loved it.

MM: Generally speaking, what do you think would make a remake better than the original?

JC: That’s a great question and I don’t have the answer for it. I don’t have any idea. I reemphasize this over and over again: When anybody makes a film, whoever directs it, it’s their movie. It’s their take on it, so it’s all filtered through their concerns about the world. If it’s a purely commercial movie, you can see that. If there’s some passion involved in it, you can see that, too. It’s really difficult to judge anything any other way.

MM: If you could pick which of your films was going to be remade, which one would you choose?

JC: The one where they pay me the most money.

MM: Not having to slave over or worry about these films yet still make money off of them must be fantastic.

JC: That has always been my dream—to receive money for doing nothing. And finally, it’s partially coming true.

John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis on the set of Halloween. Photograph by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

MM: I hope you aren’t selling yourself short, because you were a producer on the 2005 version of The Fog and are being listed as an executive producer on the upcoming Escape from New York remake. How much creative input do these positions require?

JC: I read the scripts and I make comments and suggestions like every other idiot who reads scripts. But I don’t go on the set and tell the director what to do. It’s somebody else’s movie, not mine—let them worry about it. But I am curious about Escape from New York, because it’s my baby.

MM: Kurt Russell is more than curious. Frankly, he sounds very annoyed about the remakes of both Escape from New York and The Thing.

JC: Well, he’s very passionate about what he’s done in his career and the characters he’s created. I’m a little more cynical. When I was younger and they said, “Well, we’re gonna remake Halloween,” I went, “Aw shit, why? Come on guys, don’t do that!” My years in the business have taught me not to worry about what you can’t control.

MM: You mean Halloween II, which of course is more of a sequel than a remake?

JC: Yeah. But then it worked out. And it kept going… and suddenly I was on the Halloween gravy train.

MM: But when it comes to The Thing, there has to be at least a small part of you that doesn’t want to see another version made.

JC: No, not really. For The Thing—and Howard Hawks’ original is one of my favorite movies of all time—I just went back to the short story [John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”] and worked on that. It was a totally different film because I realized there wasn’t much that I could do to improve on the original, so I had to go my own way. I have no idea what they’re going to do with the new version. But, again, it’s like everything else in this stupid business; you can’t get attached to shit. All I can tell you is I’m proud of the version I did and I still love it, but maybe it will be remade better. Who knows?

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1 Comment

  1. MoovieCow88

    October 16, 2017 at 10:29 am

    So pumped 4 that new Carpenter score next year <3

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