John Carpenter Talks New Album Anthology, Halloween Sequel and More: iconic filmmaker composer gives the scoop on his new album, recent tour, upcoming Halloween sequel and much more in our exclusive interview.
John Carpenter occupies a truly unique place in the pop culture landscape. He’s not just one of the most revered genre filmmakers, but he’s also one of the most memorable film composers as well.
His multi-tiered talent has served him well throughout his career: one can’t think of his landmark films like Halloween, Escape From New York, They Live or Assault on Precinct 13 without recalling his eerie, minimalist electronic scores that accompanied them.
Carpenter has capitalized on his musical clout in recent years by branching out into original compositions (that aren’t film related) on 2015’s Lost Themes and 2016’s Lost Themes 2. The director has also taken to the road, performing his new material along with his classic film scores.
In light of playing live with a full band (including son Cody and godson Daniel Davies), Carpenter has just issued the album Anthology Movie Themes (1974-1996), featuring a collection of new recordings of his classic scores.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Carpenter to discuss the new album, the upcoming sequel to Halloween (to which he’ll produce and score), his new SYFY original series Tales For A Halloween Night, and more for Screen Rant, but given they wanted a truncated news piece, and I had just spoken to one of the most influential figures of my childhood, I feel obligated to share the full Q&A. Enjoy.
So you played a show in L.A. on Halloween, what was it like playing a show in your (adoptive) hometown?
It was great. The Palladium is a great place to play. Just amazing. It’s just kind of a legendary venue and the sound is just fantastic in that place. So we had a great time.
I have to ask, how does the director of Halloween typically spend his Halloween? Do you have any traditions that might surprise people?
Well I live up in the Hollywood Hills and as a general rule it’s pretty quiet up here. So I watch basketball or the news or something. I don’t do anything very special. You know it’s not like you think! I don’t go out dressed up like a monster.
I love your new album Anthology, which sees you providing modern renditions of your classic film scores. What I found interesting is how you added some new elements to themes like Prince of Darkness, Christine and They Live. Did that sort of evolve when you began performing them live?
Well we thought about it when we started to record it. It was about being faithful to the original but also updating it slightly, because the technology today is much improved from the way it was back when I (originally) recorded it.
In other words the mixing techniques, the recording techniques, everything has gotten better over the years, so in essence at the same time we were recording being faithful to the old material, we were also updating it.
It was fun to do that on the cruder pieces ( laughs). Dark Star was an example–it was a pretty simple piece of music that I did when I was in my twenties, so we updated it and made it slightly more modern and listenable.
I’ve read in other interviews that you can’t watch your old films because of mistakes you see in them–so I wondered if you found things in your old scores you wanted to update? Or did simply playing with a full band naturally lend itself to mixing it up?
Not in the same way–you have to realize that when you’re scoring a movie, you’re playing for images to support the scene. So so the music isn’t necessarily to be listened to like popular music or something like that. It’s meant to support images in the movie. So what may sound to the listener like “ah, that’s simple, that’s just one note” may work really well when you watch it in a scene. So with that in mind we tried to pick the pieces of music that would be the most interesting for the listener.
I think that one thing you do so effectively in all your films, be it Halloween, Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, etc, is to create a sense of isolation, even while filming in populated areas. Is there a trick to scoring that adds to that feeling?
Well that all depends on the individual mood or the story and what’s happening. I don’t have a button I push that says isolation on it, no.
Ennio Morricone did the original score for The Thing, but I’ve heard rumors that the main theme, which is included on Anthology, was actually performed by you. Is there any truth to that, or did you collaborate with him for that piece?
No he did all that. Now I did compose some interstitial music for the movie. It’s hardly anything, they’re going to do a re-release of The Thing soundtrack and it’ll be on there, but as you’ll see there’s nothing substantial. Morricone composed pretty much all the movie, so it is his music.
When I look at current pop culture, be it Stranger Things or bands like SURVIVE and Carpenter Brut, your influence is everywhere. They Live is still politically relevant. There’s even a board game for The Thing coming out this month. Even though some of your films weren’t box office hits, they feel more relevant than ever before. Why do you think that is–have you ever tried to process that?
I have no idea (laughing). It makes no sense to me! You know they were relevant to me then. So why weren’t they relevant to anybody else? (Laughs) I don’t know man. But yeah I’ve thought about it. and I thought you know what? There’s nothing I can do about this, so why worry about it? I can’t change anything, so I’m not going to worry. I have no answer. NO answer.
I think what’s interesting about that–I pretty much grew up on your films. I was around 12 when The Thing came out and it became my favorite film. And I know a lot of my friends felt the same way, and we couldn’t understand why it got bad reviews, or why people didn’t get that Big Trouble in Little China was amazing. We felt like we knew something the critics and the mass audiences didn’t.
I think that’s probably it. I think you’re right. Plus the fact that when you’re a kid you don’t give a s*** what the movie reviews say!
That’s only when you’re an adult. I remember when I was growing up the movies that I went to see I didn’t care what critics said about them. I want to see them anyway!
So how does it feel to have a new career as a rock star?
(laughs) No! No, no, no, no. Easy now, take it easy with that talk. I’m not a rock star!
How much fun has it been to perform live as well as create new music with your son Cody and godson Daniel?
It’s incredible. It’s just a joy to do this– it’s a joy to work with them. And the band is so good. I’m lucky to have found this. I mean I’m an old man! It’s unbelievable. I can’t believe my luck. I have this new oddball career. And I love it.
Have you started working on new material? Perhaps a Lost Themes 3?
Well no, we wanted to get through this and the Christmas holidays– my son is going to go to Japan, as he always does (laughs) to escape Christmas around here. But we’ll think about that next year.
Speaking of still being relevant, there’s another Halloween sequel in the works. You’ve said a few things publicly about it, but can you elaborate about what you like about Danny McBride and David Gordon Green’s concept–and what you have in store for scoring it?
I really like the script a lot. I think they did a great job with it. It’s a very serious movie. It’s taking what would happen from the first Halloween and treating it seriously. It’s really well done, and I think David Gordon Green is a really terrific director. He’s going to do a fantastic job.
As for the music, you know my work doesn’t start until the movies been cut together. And then we’d sit for a scoring session and I’d ask him about what he wants to do. “What do you feel about this particular scene? Do you want me to refurbish the old music? Do you want me to update it? Do you want me to do a newer score? What are you looking for here?” We could do a combination: I could take the old music and make it new again, I mean there’s all sorts of possibilities, so we’ll see what the director has to say when that time comes.
You also did the opening them for the CBS series Zoo, and one of my favorite soundtracks: Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which you also didn’t direct. What is it like scoring other people’s films vs. your own?
It’s actually a little bit more fun. I mean it’s really fun to do that and I really enjoy myself in those situations. I mean in one sense it wasn’t all that different–I mean it’s still scoring, it’s still work. And I don’t like to work. I’d much rather hang out.
But you know it was fine. I enjoyed myself.
Well I’ve been working right along on that: it’s based on our comic book of the same name. One thing is TV is such a different medium, so you have to start looking for a writer to run the show. Because television is all about the writing. I just have to be honest with you. As much as it depresses me, it’s all about writers!
So they rule the day. So we need to make sure we have a writer that the studio wants and the network wants so that’s what we’re doing now.
So will the show be in an anthology format?
Well we’ll see. I can’t tell you any more than I just did. I’ve told you too much already!
You’ve said recently in interviews that music is a more enjoyable experience than making movies these days, just because of the logistics. But if you could get the green-light to do any type of movie, is there a passion project you’d still love to tackle?
No. I have no passion project.
To be able to watch the NBA continuously, that’s my passion project!
These days television is almost comparable to film in terms of quality and content. What about branching out into a Netflix original film or something of that nature?
I thought about it all. Sure! Then I get to thinking about those things and all the sudden my laziness takes over.
I need to be frank with you: I’ve worked ever since my early twenties. I worked really hard directing. So at this point in my life I’m just taking it slower. You do that when you get older. You have to. It’s much more fun!
Well you deserve it. You’ve earned it.
Thanks, that’s very kind.
Well its been a real pleasure talking to you. I don’t want to geek out too much, but your work has meant a lot to me over the years so this has been a thrill.
Well thank you very much, you’re very kind to say that.
Thanks to John Carpenter for taking time out for this interview.