John Carpenter is a man of few words whose massive stature in the film world has only grown thanks to David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy, spawned from the film Carpenter directed and scored in 1978. His script with producer Debra Hill made the slasher genre wildly popular — though almost no other slasher has lived up to Halloween — and created a chilly aesthetic imitated across many genres. A huge part of that aesthetic is Synthwave, the musical genre Carpenter is widely credited with creating via his film scores for his film Halloween, Escape From New York, and Assault on Precinct 13, among others. Earlier this year, Jordan Peele hailed him as the greatest horror director of all time.
A steady flow of online clips and interview screengrabs from Carpenter’s past celebrate his brusque dismissal of rude people and industry pretentiousness. But he’s more sensitive than his online persona might indicate. He has recalled being bullied as a kid, and says that partly because of that, his heroes have always been “the kind of guys who say ‘fuck you’ to everything.” Still, he seems less angry at the industry than he used to be. The man who once called Halloween II, which he co-wrote with Hill, “an abomination and a horrible movie,” now says simply, “It wasn’t something that I really cared about.”
Today, Carpenter is happy to play video games, make music with his son, Cody Carpenter, and his godson, Daniel Davies, and naturally, make money from remakes of his films. MovieMaker spoke with Carpenter to mark the arrival of Halloween Ends, which, like the other films in the series, he scored with Cody Carpenter and Davies. He calls Green a “wonderful director,” and his voice sounds soft and loving when he brings up his friend Jamie Lee Curtis, who he ushered into Hollywood by casting her as Laurie Strode 44 years ago. He calls her Halloween Ends performance “extraordinary.”
We also talked about Orson Welles’ lost-and-found project The Other Side of the Wind, how making movies is like being a coal miner, and the sequel to The Thing that he teased earlier this year.
Joshua Encinias: The score for Halloween Ends messed with my head. It’s so creepy listening to it on its own. Did you, your son Cody, and Daniel Davies write it as a standalone piece of music?
John Carpenter: Oh, thank you. No, we are composing the music to the image and to the scene. Our job is to provide whatever the story and the scenes require. Under David Gordon Green’s direction, we just do what he says. That’s what the movie needed, that’s what we gave it.
Joshua Encinias: Halloween Kills ends with unresolved chaos. How did you decide to depict that with music?
John Carpenter: I’m not quite sure what you mean by unresolved chaos.
Joshua Encinias: We all think Michael’s dead, but he gets up and slaughters everyone around him, and then the movie ends.
John Carpenter: Well, again, we’re just scoring what you see. It’s not that tough. It’s just our job.
Joshua Encinias: Did David Gordon Green want something different from your previous scores for Halloween Ends?
John Carpenter: The movie’s so different that we had to do everything differently. He challenged us on a couple of things, which was great, then gave us ultimate freedom on a couple others, which is also great. We had a great time working with him. He’s a wonderful director. Knows what he wants, not afraid to take chances. He really did a terrific job. This one’s a totally different movie. Very different. And it was like a puzzle to figure out how to put this thing together, but he did, and did it well.
Joshua Encinias: Were you ever on set for this Halloween trilogy?
John Carpenter: I was on set for the very first one that came out in 2018. But the other two, no.
Joshua Encinias: What do you think of Halloween Ends?
John Carpenter: It was good! I enjoyed it. It’s very different. I enjoyed the risks that it took. Jamie (Lee Curtis) was just extraordinary in it. She’s just wonderful. I’m so proud of her.
Joshua Encinias: Is this trilogy how you imagined Laurie and Michael’s life going?
John Carpenter: [Laughs.] Believe me, I didn’t imagine anything. My movie ended in 1978 — years ago — that was it. Halloween II, which I had a hand in writing… it wasn’t something that I really cared about. My movie’s over. And this is totally new ground, so it wasn’t about me imagining anything.
Joshua Encinias: What about the characters of Laurie and Michael make them open to so many interpretations?
John Carpenter: I don’t know. [Laughs.] If you can answer that… I don’t have a clue.
Joshua Encinias: Are you working with David Gordon Green on his Exorcist trilogy?
John Carpenter: No, no, we’re not. We’re standing by in case he needs us.
Joshua Encinias: What are you, Cody, and Daniel working on now?
John Carpenter: Right now we’re just getting over doing the score. It’s hard work. So we have nothing new planned.
Joshua Encinias: When did you finish the score?
John Carpenter: Uh… a month ago?
Joshua Encinias: When did you start writing it?
John Carpenter: Ah, I don’t remember. Time is a different deal now.
Joshua Encinias: What’s the best concert you’ve been to?
John Carpenter: I think probably Procol Harum back in the 70s.
Joshua Encinias: Where did you see them?
John Carpenter: The Hollywood Bowl. Their song “Conquistador” was out… it was wonderful. I love them.
Joshua Encinias: Do you like performing live as much as making music?
John Carpenter: Yes! I didn’t think I would, but I do. It’s the greatest, it’s fun. I got into it. I really had a great time doing it. Amazing. Just amazing. I can’t wait to do it again. I might do it again, you never know.
Josh Encinias: You’ve said that making music is less stressful than making movies. Why is that?
John Carpenter: [Laughs and laughs.] When you’re directing a movie, you’re working the way a coal miner works. And when you’re making music, it’s not that tough physically. It’s not that tough emotionally. It’s joyous as opposed to just difficult. For instance, when you’re making a movie, you have a lot of pressure on you to finish. Finish your day, finish the movie. It’s $100,000 plus a day to shoot a movie with a crew. You’re responsible for this… it’s terrible pressure. Plus, I was often directing, writing and making the music. It just got to be, “Oy, I can’t do this anymore! It’s too much.”
Joshua Encinias: Jamie Lee Curtis said when she turned 60, she realized she has ideas for movies she wants to make, and not a lot of time to make them. Have you experienced anything like that?
John Carpenter: Yeah, there are a lot of movies I’d love to make — I’m not going to make them — I’m too old! It’s too hard. It’s too much stress and I enjoy my life. I’m having a great time in my life. I love making music with my son and godson. Why would I want to f— that up? I have a lot of movies I want to make. Like Jamie, there’s always things I would love to have made, or love to make, but I’m not going to make them. Just not going to do it.
Joshua Encinias: You’re showing four movies directed by Ishiro Honda on Shout Factory TV next month. Which is your favorite?
John Carpenter: The original Gojira is just the best! That’s the best. I have others that I love for various reasons. They’re not all great movies. Some of them are just fun, really fun.
Joshua Encinias: When Orson Welles visited your class during film school, he was making The Other Side of the Wind. Have you seen the completed movie?
John Carpenter: I did, I did.
Joshua Encinias: What do you think of it?
John Carpenter: It was horrible. Just awful. Oh, boy. But they’ve tried to get that thing released. And maybe they did? I don’t know.
Joshua Encinias: It’s on Netflix.
John Carpenter: Okay, well, they went to Clint Eastwood and he wouldn’t help finish it. Clint Eastwood has a lot of power or had a lot of power in Hollywood. So if he got on board, then there’s a chance it could’ve been a big release. They approached him because he was all powerful at one time as an actor. Nobody was more powerful. But it’s not a good movie! Orson Welles has made some of the great movies of all time, but not that one.
Joshua Encinias: Did you hear Quentin Tarantino’s podcast about your 1974 film Dark Star? He really likes it.
John Carpenter: I didn’t hear it. Well, that’s nice! I’m happy. That’s better than him not liking it.
Joshua Encinias: Finally, are you really thinking about making a sequel to The Thing?
John Carpenter: I don’t know. You never know. I don’t know that I want to. But we’ll have to see what the circumstances are. That’s what it’s all about these days. If it’s fully funded and if it’s something I could do, I would like to. But we’ll see. I’m not gonna say no.