It's awfully presumptuous to use as your Twitter handle @TheHorrorMaster — but when you're John Carpenter, you've more than earned the honor. With 1978's Halloween, the now-70-year-old auteur unleashed a steely, low-budget fright-night aesthetic, introducing us to one of cinema's greatest horror villains, Michael Myers. (In the process, Carpenter also created an iconic heroine, resourceful teenage babysitter Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.) In subsequent years, Carpenter continued to pummel viewers with ace thrillers like Escape From New York and The Thing. Directing and often writing and scoring his movies, Carpenter put his personal imprint on every work — his authorship extending to his insistence early in his career that his name appear above the title.
Plenty of Carpenter's movies have been remade — Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing — but none have been adapted and rejiggered as much as Halloween, which was memorably tackled by Rob Zombie in 2007. Myers returns this month in a new Halloween that's notable for two reasons. First, it's a direct sequel to 1978's original, catching up with Myers and Strode in the present. Second, it was helmed by David Gordon Green, a filmmaker best known for meditative indies (George Washington) and stoner comedies (Pineapple Express). But fear not, hardcore Halloween fans: Carpenter has given the film his blessing, serving as an executive producer and delivering a chilling, minimalist new score that hauntingly echoes the one he composed 40 years ago.
Carpenter is a pioneer and an explorer — someone whose creative pursuits have driven him across mediums, including performing concerts of his scores and instrumentals alongside his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies. He's also a survivor, withstanding Hollywood's ups and downs while watching his stature rise among down-and-dirty new directors who revere him. But when Revolver calls him at home in late September, we discover that there's something even the master of horror can't comprehend: the sight of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh getting belligerent in the face of Christine Blasey Ford's powerful testimony. Carpenter talked about his 1978 classic, his life as an artist and what Halloween meant to him as a kid. But he kept one eye glued to the arresting images coming from his television set.
APPROACHING THE SOUNDTRACK TO THE NEW HALLOWEEN, DID YOU WANT TO DO A MODERN UPDATING OF THE ORIGINAL'S SOUND? OR WAS IT MORE OF A CONTINUATION OF WHAT YOU'D DONE BEFORE?
Well, we started by getting the themes from the original movie and moving them into the computer. Using new technology, we just brought them back to life — we put new life into it, really. The sounds that are available to us today, they're just so much more modern and so much better than the original stuff. I mean, even the audio quality of the sound is improved.
The strategy of the soundtrack was I took my cues from the director, David Gordon Green, who in spotting sessions told me, "I want something here, I want something there." Cody and Danny and I were there to please him. So it's a combination of the old music, refurbished and reinvented, and new music.
REWATCHING YOUR HALLOWEEN, IT'S SHOCKING FROM A MODERN PERSPECTIVE JUST HOW FEW KILL SCENES THERE ARE IN IT. AT THE TIME, DID IT FEEL LIKE AN EXCESSIVE AMOUNT OF KILLS?
I didn't think of it that way — that wasn't the issue. It wasn't how many kill scenes — we didn't call them that. The frightening thing about the original movie wasn't the deaths — the frightening thing was Michael Myers, and how he interacted with the world around him.
HOW DID MICHAEL COME TO YOU?
I have a cheap answer for you. I saw Westworld, the original movie, and Yul Brynner's character was this unkillable robot. I thought, "That is a really cool character." That's how I came up with it, but it evolved — it wasn't exactly Yul Brynner. [Pause] I'm watching the Kavanaugh hearing now on television. Do you know about that?
I DO. HAVE YOU BEEN WATCHING ALL DAY?
Yeah, oh man, it's unbelievable. Right now, he's just walked in — he wasn't very happy.
WHAT DID YOU MAKE OF CHRISTINE BLASEY FORD'S TESTIMONY?
It's just really credible. She's an amazing witness. I'm riveted by the image of Kavanaugh on my TV screen.
THAT SORTA TIES INTO HALLOWEEN, WHICH IS ABOUT A FEMALE VICTIM WHO COMES TO SUFFER PTSD FROM HER ORDEAL.
Oh sure, big time.
THAT ORIGINAL HALLOWEEN DOES SORTA SPEAK TO OUR TIMES — THIS NOTION OF MEN PREYING ON WOMEN.
Well, we didn't think about all that back then. We were just trying to make a little exploitation horror movie. But the new movie pretends that there were no sequels, and picks up with Jamie Lee as a survivor of violence, which is just a whole different, interesting, fascinating story. This was kind of the perfect vehicle for that because people are familiar with the old Halloween — and here's Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee's character, and we see her years later. It's amazing: [Curtis] has just matured as an actress and stepped right into the role. It's just fabulous.
YOU'RE AN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER ON THE NEW FILM. HOW INVOLVED DID YOU GET?
I'm just there to be a sounding board, when I'm asked — they handed me the script and I reacted to it. I gave my comments, but they could be ignored.
GROWING UP, YOU LOVED MOVIES. BUT NOT EVERYBODY THINKS, "I CAN MAKE A LIVING DOING THIS."
That's what I hoped — that was my life's dream. But you never know — some of the most talented people in film school never got a shot.
HOW DO YOU ACCOUNT FOR MAKING IT? WAS IT PERSEVERANCE? DOGGEDNESS?
All of that. You have to stick with it. You can't lose yourself. Just keep working hard, just keep working — that's the big thing. [Pause] Kavanaugh is angry. It's unbelievable.
YOU'VE PURSUED SO MANY CREATIVE AVENUES IN YOUR LIFE.
My father told me, "You need to do something creative." So that's what I did.
AT THE BEGINNING, IT'S SO HARD TO GET YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR — AND IT'S ALSO HARD TO SURVIVE FINANCIALLY. HOW DID YOU MANAGE THAT?
When you're starting out, you don't know what's going to happen. And the movie business is kind of a strange place to enter into — you don't know how much money you're going to make, or are you going to make any money? You know, "Should I do, like, a camera job or sound? What should I do?" Anyway, I just pursued what I thought was the best way and hopefully maximize the amount of money I can get. I'm a happy capitalist. I may criticize capitalism — and I do — but I'm happy to live in this system.
IN THE LATE SEVENTIES AND EARLY EIGHTIES, YOU HAD A STRING OF HITS. THE NINETIES, THOUGH, WEREN'T AS SUCCESSFUL FOR YOU.
Critics have always shit upon my stuff — always, even the early stuff. And, frankly, I just didn't care. I just did the movies I wanted to make.
IT'S IRONIC: CRITICS HAVE SINCE COME AROUND TO UNDERSTANDING WHAT YOU WERE DOING AND HOW GROUNDBREAKING IT WAS.
I'm happy that some of it's being reevaluated — I really am. That's a nice, nice feeling.
BUT, ALSO, IT SEEMS LIKE YOUNGER FILMMAKERS, WHETHER IT'S ROBERT RODRIGUEZ OR DAVID GORDON GREEN, ARE GIVING YOU PROPS. YOUR PEERS APPRECIATE YOUR WORK, EVEN IF CRITICS DIDN'T.
I didn't think about it — I really didn't. It's very flattering. [Pause] Man, I am just listening to [Kavanaugh]. He is just raving.
WHAT'S HE SAYING?
"This is a character assassination." What a whiner.
WITH YOUR STANDALONE MUSICAL PIECES, LIKE LOST THEMES, DO YOU STILL THINK CINEMATICALLY? ARE THERE ALWAYS IMAGES IN YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU COMPOSE?
Well, sometimes, after I've written [something], I think, "Oh, this would be a good theme for a movie." I just generally don't really think about it too much since it's all improv. It's just hitting a groove.
YOUR HALLOWEEN IS LOOKED AT AS THE FOREFATHER OF THE SLASHER MOVEMENT. A LOT OF THOSE FILMS WERE REALLY BAD. WAS IT EVER ANNOYING TO BE LUMPED IN WITH THOSE MOVIES?
No, no, they just wanted to make money — that's all, it's OK. That's what the business is all about.
YOU SAID EARLIER YOU WERE JUST TRYING TO MAKE AN EXPLOITATION FILM. BUT HALLOWEEN IS FAR MORE THAN THAT — THERE'S ART AND INSPIRATION IN IT.
Well, that's very nice for you to say. I don't know what to say to that — that's very kind of you.
DID YOU REALLY NOT HAVE THAT HIGH OF ASPIRATIONS FOR IT?
Oh, no, no, don't misunderstand. I have high aspirations — it's just the rest of the world sometimes doesn't think my aspirations are that high.
HOW DO YOU HANDLE THAT WHEN OTHERS DON'T SEE THOSE ASPIRATIONS?
You just don't lose yourself.
THERE'S GOING TO BE A RESTORATION OF SOME OF YOUR EARLY FILMS IN THE U.K. IN THE PAST, YOU'VE SAID YOU HATE LOOKING AT YOUR WORK ...
No, I don't want to go back and look at them.
BUT I HAVE TO IMAGINE THAT, LIKE FOR A NEW BLU-RAY OR SOMETHING, YOU'RE FORCED TO TAKE A PEEK AT YOUR PAST.
Oh, you know, I have to sometimes. I watched Halloween, and I didn't want to do that. I don't want to see them anymore. Oh, god, no.
IS IT PARTLY BECAUSE YOU MADE THE MOVIES, YOU KNOW WHAT THEY ARE — YOU DON'T WANT TO REVISIT THEM?
Yeah, that's exactly it. That's exactly it.
YOU'VE OBVIOUSLY SEEN THE NEW HALLOWEEN. ANY TREPIDATION BEFORE YOU WATCHED IT: "GOD, I HOPE THEY DON'T SCREW IT UP"?
No, not my movie.
WHEN PEOPLE LIKE GREEN COME TO PITCH YOU, DO YOU EVER SENSE THAT THEY'RE NERVOUS? AFTER ALL, YOU'RE JOHN CARPENTER.
Hell, no — they feel sorry for me.
YOU DON'T REALLY THINK THAT, DO YOU?
I WOULD HATE TO THINK THAT'S TRUE. THE BODY OF WORK THAT YOU'VE CREATED?
Well, not everybody feels the way you do, so what can I say?
EARLY ON, IT WAS IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT YOUR NAME APPEAR ABOVE THE TITLE.
I wanted to brand it: "It's mine."
DID YOU GET ANY RESISTANCE WHEN YOU ASKED FOR THAT?
None. They didn't want to. But I didn't ask for any money — I just asked for final cut and name above the title.
WHEN YOU WATCH MODERN MOVIES, DO YOU EVER NOTICE, "HEY, THAT'S AN HOMAGE TO SOMETHING I DID"?
Man, I do not see that.
HOW MUCH DO YOU KEEP UP ON MOVIES?
I do watch, and I am aware of them. I don't watch every horror movie that's being made, I honestly don't. There's too many of them, but that's OK.
FOR THIS NEW HALLOWEEN, YOU'RE WORKING WITH A GREAT HORROR PRODUCER, JASON BLUM …
He is the LeBron James of horror cinema.
WHAT MAKES HIM THE LEBRON OF HORROR CINEMA?
HOW'S IT GOING WITH KAVANAUGH?
Well, he's angry, and then he's calmed down just a bit now, but he's really pissed off at people who call him names. He's flailing away here: "I've never sexually assaulted anyone," that's what he says.
YOU MADE A GREAT POLITICAL THRILLER WITH THEY LIVE. HAS THE WORLD CHANGED SINCE YOU MADE IT?
It hasn't. It hasn't changed a bit.
WHY IS THAT? WHY DON'T THINGS GET BETTER?
I don't know, don't ask me that. I can criticize — I don't have a solution. I don't know. I think it has something to do with unrestrained capitalism. It has something to do with people wanting constant growth rather than stability — something like that. What do I know?
ARE YOU MORE OPTIMISTIC ABOUT THE WORLD THAN WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?
Listen, I'm much more optimistic about my life now. I went through a pretty serious illness — when you survive something that's serious, you're happy every day you get up. No complaints.
DURING THAT TIME, DID YOU HAVE ANY REVELATIONS? DID YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'D LIVED A SATISFYING LIFE?
Oh, I thought about that a long time ago. But when I was really ill, you have to understand, they gave me a lot of drugs, so … I didn't think of that stuff.
PRETTY POWERFUL DRUGS?
Oh, they were great — just great.
AS A KID, DID YOU LIKE HALLOWEEN?
Well, you know Halloween was, in my mind, a great holiday because I was always interested in horror and science fiction. But I didn't go out and trick-or-treat that much. I wasn't that kind of guy. I was kind of a geek. I had geek friends and I had jock friends — I had all kinds of friends.
YOUR MOVIES HAVE BEEN REMADE A LOT IN THE LAST FEW YEARS. WHAT DO YOU THINK DRAWS FILMMAKERS TO WANT TO ADAPT THEM?
I have no idea. Why don't you tell me?
I THINK IT'S BECAUSE YOUR FILMS ARE INCREDIBLY INNOVATIVE, BUT THEY WERE NEVER GLOBAL BLOCKBUSTERS, SO THEY'RE STILL A BIT UNDER-THE-RADAR FOR LOTS OF AUDIENCES.
Well, that could be. I have no idea, though.
WHEN YOU MEET WITH PEOPLE WHO WANT TO REMAKE YOUR FILMS, WHAT DO THEY TELL YOU ABOUT WHY THEY LIKE YOUR WORK?
They're just blowing smoke up my ass.
YOU'RE NEVER TEMPTED TO QUIZ THEM A LITTLE? TEST THEM TO SEE WHAT THEY LIKE ABOUT YOUR FILMS?
Oh, god, no. Why would I want to do that? They may pay me. I'm not going to test them — I'll accept their money.
THAT DOES SOUND PRETTY GREAT: LET SOMEONE ELSE GO TO THE TROUBLE OF MAKING A MOVIE, AND YOU JUST GET A CHECK.
Oh, man, you talk about a dream right there — that's the dream life.