In late December, filmmaker and composer John Carpenter moseyed around his Los Angeles home, fielding calls to discuss his new music. A few days before Christmas, the “Master of Horror” was in good spirits. It turns out the iconic scary-sci-phi aficionado has a soft-side for holiday cheer, family time and gathering around the tree.
While anticipating a conversation with one of the greatest purveyors of the abnormal, it’s easy to romanticize where the chat might go. Would it be an off the rails dive into the supernatural? Surely, at the least, it must be a psychoanalytical dissection of the mirroring themes from his cult-classic films and the sociopolitical climate of the Trump Era? Maybe he’d lay into the film industry for what it’s doing wrong, explain why the economic elite deserve to be dethroned and confirm how prescient his foreshadowing of class warfare in America actually was?
Somehow Carpenter completely subverts those expectations, but leaves you feeling satisfied.
Despite a chaotic 2020, the 73-year-old creator of epics like Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from New York prefers to discuss the mundanities of everyday life, the weather or make small-talk about your hometown. But, he’ll also interject with a tidbit perfectly suiting his storied personality.
“Franklin Graham is on the television right now, telling me that I’m a sinner,” the Halloween (1978) director announces, scoffing at the Evangelical figurehead.
While Carpenter may have strong feelings about current events, the Hollywood veteran couldn’t care less about sharing them. He tends to agree—in an exhausted sigh—with sentiments regarding outlandish politics and religious fanaticism, but doesn’t care to pontificate in detail on such matters. It’s common for him to throw some rhetorical questions as a caveat, too, when broaching a controversial subject. He’ll sarcastically discredit himself or charmingly ask, “Now, why would we want to talk about that?”
Perhaps the director prefers to avoid making outrageous headlines at this stage in his career. In fairness, no one wants to become the personification of the “old man yells at cloud!” meme. Or maybe, at this stage, he just doesn’t give a crap.
One thing Carpenter does make clear, is that he’s grateful to be breathing and creating. And while the moviemaker turned touring musician doesn’t know if or when he’ll return to the road, he’s excited to share his band’s newest album, Lost Themes III: Alive After Death, out February 5 via Sacred Bones Records. The synth-heavy group consists of Carpenter, his son, Cody, and godson, British multi-instrumentalist Daniel Davies. Davies’ father, Dave Davies, played guitar and sang in The Kinks.
Below, Carpenter discusses Lost Themes III, the delayed release of Halloween Kills and his unfamiliarity with The Mandalorian. And in his own ambivalent way, The Horror Master addresses conspiracy theorists, the concepts of Simluation Theory, the Multiverse, the Technological Singularity, and for good measure, UFOs and aliens.
Fans and critics have connected the themes from your films like They Live and The Thing to the current state of the world. I think one angle that hasn’t been addressed is how there are all these anti-science right wing people who claim they’re the antithesis of the “sheep.” They believe they suddenly have their own all-seeing sunglasses.
But, instead of believing in “Big Brother” or the “Powers That Be,” many are just jumping on a similar bandwagon of blind-faith conspiracy. Do you see that irony? A few years ago you knocked down conspiracy theories about They Live and Judaism, in the time since conspiracy theories have become totally mainstream.
I do. Some of these conspiracies… it’s weird. These conspiracies about Jewish people, have been around, since, forever. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a Russian hoax! Now it’s being regurgitated by these fools. God, really? I don’t understand, man. The anti-science, the anti-vaxxers, I don’t get it! Thank God I’m old.
If I may make one more nod to They Live, I was recently driving on a highway between Tennessee and North Carolina and I saw a big billboard that basically said that Jesus would save us from the pandemic. To me, that seemed like the quintessential “OBEY” sign.
[laughs] Of course it is!
Ignore the doctors, ignore the science! Jesus has this under control!
I know, I know. That stuff never goes away.
Let’s talk about music. Lost Themes III: Alive After Death isn’t a film score, but you’ve got the word “themes” in the title there. Do you always see a cinema-esque quality to your music?
This is what I do. I make this kind of music, I’m gonna put it on you. You have to come up with the story, but I will provide the soundtrack.
There must be some difference between going in to record a super synthy record like this as opposed to scoring a film. What’s the former like?
It’s all instinct and improvisation. Nothing exists when we start. We’re creating out of whole cloth. What’s the sound? Sometimes you take a long time just getting the sound right. Sometimes it comes quickly. It’s all different. If we’re doing a soundtrack, we have a visual image to guide us and that’s easier. That goes quickly.
Did you record the album in 2020? Was it born during the pandemic?
It was born right as we were finishing the  tour. We had a couple of tunes that were rattling around, then it began to grow a little. It took a while. It wasn’t like “we have to do this.” And we did the score for the first Halloween (2018) remake, that came in the middle. Actually, the score to the second, Halloween Kills (2021), came right at the end. So we did two scores while we were doing this album.
In general, not real specifically. This is what worries me, that this is the future here. These theaters are closing! That’s really bad. Ay! It seems like this business is changing once again.
Are you happy they’re holding Halloween Kills until people can see it in theaters? [Carpenter scored the film and is credited as original creator]
I don’t know. They have to make business decisions. But there’s nothing to say that’s gonna last. There’s nothing to say that everybody won’t be putting their slates of films on television. But what do I know? I worry about it. Theaters are important to the movie experience. They’re communal.
I know you’re into video games and basketball, but have you watched anything good lately?
I just saw the Herman Mankiewicz movie with David Fincher, Mank. It’s good! It’s good. It’s not great. But, it’s good! I like David Fincher a lot.
Are you into the Star Wars world at all?
No, not really.
Can I spoil something for you? [Warning: Mandalorian spoilers ahead]
Hell, I hope you do.
They just finished the second season of The Mandalorian on Disney+, it’s meant to take place after the original Star Wars trilogy. In the final episode, they brought back your buddy Mark Hamill, who appeared in a few of your productions, like Village of the Damned and Body Bags.
At the conclusion of The Mandalorian, Hamill appeared as a young Luke Skywalker. They did some sort of deep fake CGI thing—Mark Hamill was on set, but he’s portrayed just as he looked in 1977. What do you think about using technology to deage or bring people back from the dead?
Most of the time it doesn’t look real. Most of the time you can tell. You can tell because you know the person doesn’t quite look like that or is no longer with us. But they’re just servicing the story. So, I don’t know. I have nothing against it nor do I think it’s the greatest. I’m not gonna complain about a thing. I’m a happy guy.
I was wondering what implications it has for the business side of film and likeness. In 50 years, when someone decides to cast a young De Niro or Pacino, what’s the legality of that?
I don’t know. A person has the right to their own image, I think! You would have to get permission and all that s***, but I don’t know! What the hell? [laughs]
Let’s make a turn here. Are you familiar with Simulation Theory?
No, what’s that?
It’s the concept that we could all be living in a simulation. The idea is that the Earth could just be a fabrication in someone’s video game in another universe…
I’m not quite sure if I grasp it yet… I’ve heard of the timelines business before in physics. It’s an explanation for a lot of things that they don’t understand. But, Simulation, they call it?
Alternate timelines are connected to Multiverse Theory, right? Do you think there’s any possibility that could be real?
I don’t know. There’s no evidence for it. But, I guess it’s possible!
Have you heard of the concept of The Technological Singularity?
What’s this Singularity business?
Futurists embrace the idea that man and computer will form and be one sentient being. With exponential technological growth, The Singularity could help you live forever and have access to the internet in your brain. That type of thing…
It sounds like bulls***, but okay.
If given the chance, would you live forever as half man and half robot?
Hell yes! Are you kidding, of course? Sure!
You’ve mentioned that you believe Contagion is a great film. Do you think that any director could make a good film based on COVID-19 or the year 2020?
That depends on the story. If you’re talking about, “Okay, here we are in a civilization and we get a virus, contagion, and we get a pandemic going.”
Okay, well, we’re living it! So, what else is there to the story?
Plus, it’s been done. So, how does that work?
Many sci-fi and horror fans watch films as a momentary escape from reality. I’ve noticed that now, outside of film, everyone seems to be living within their own version of the real world. You could go door to door, and people might believe a completely different list of truths about what is going on in the world. Do you think it’s always been like this or are things getting way trippier?
It’s a crazy time, man! I don’t know. What scares me is maybe this just revealed what’s going on and it’s always been like that. I mean, I always knew there was racism, I didn’t think that ended. I grew up in the Jim Crow south. I know how deeply that belief is ingrained in people. But some of this nutball stuff, it’s unbelievable.
But, there are people who believe there’s a satellite orbiting the Earth and it controls our thoughts. People believe crazy crap! They always have. There’s always been stuff that, if you do some critical thinking, you realize that it’s horse s***.
Have you found that as a director of science fiction and horror films that people expect you to believe in absurd stuff? Do you ever have to explain that you’re a filmmaker and you don’t believe that people like Starman exist?
Well, I have to differentiate. I know what you mean. Look, the supernatural exists in the movies but not in real life. Look at it that way. In the world of directing and telling stories, that’s where all the ghosts and goblins are. But not in real life.
Have you kept up with all the new UFO footage and stories being reported by places like The New York Times? Many legitimate sources are beginning to give credibility to the possibility of extraterrestrial life.
Well, now… did you see the footage that they released? Wow! I don’t know what that is! I have no idea what that is! You can usually tell a fake. But that doesn’t look like a fake to me.
Would you like to live in a world where alien life could exist?
I don’t know. I suppose. I don’t want to live in a world where the aliens that I depicted in The Thing are real. I don’t like that idea. That’s bad. That means the end.
What’s in store for John Carpenter when the world restabilizes?
I’ll go back on the road again when it’s safe, maybe, or maybe not. At my age, you just take it one day at a time. If I wake up, boy, I’m doing great.
That’s a great outlook to have.
I have no choice!
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Source Hollywood & Entertainment
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