John Carpenter Masterclass: The Future of Horror, Changing Careers, and More
Here are ten things we learned from the John Carpenter Masterclass.
The Thing Reboot in the Works at Blumhouse
Although Carpenter denied the claim that he had been working with producer Jason Blum on directing his own projects, he did mention a possible reimagining of The Thing. For anyone who isn’t a hardcore horror fan, Carpenter’s 1982 arctic thriller The Thing starring Kurt Russell and his beard is technically already a remake of Christian Nyby’s 1951 sci-fi horror film The Thing From Another World, so any new iteration of the shape-shifting snowbound extraterrestrials is actually a riff on the original story by Howard Hawks. However, it’s easy to understand why the black and white picture might have fallen under the radar once Carpenter came onto the scene and blew everyone away with his grand new vision. Given the fact that Carpenter will apparently be involved with the latest spin on the monster in the ice, it’s pretty clear that this new movie will be more closely related to Carpenter’s take on the subject. Aside from that, at this point, it seems that everything is still pretty up in the air, but Carpenter says he has spoken with Blum about moving forward.
“We’ve talked about, I think he’s gonna be working on The Thing, rebooting The Thing, so I’ll get involved with that,” he said.
Prince of Darkness is inspired by Dario Argento’s Inferno
It’s always exciting when one master of cinema inspires another, and Carpenter is no exception. Halloween took a budget of around $325,000 and turned a profit of $47 million, which, adjusted for inflation, would come to roughly $150 million in today’s current economy. This unexpected monumental success thrust Carpenter into the world of big studio filmmaking, where he went on to make movies like Escape From New York and The Thing, which contained budgets ranging anywhere from $6 million to $10 million and regularly turned profits upwards of $20 million, and movies like Big Trouble in Little China and Starman, wherein Carpenter turned minor league baseball player Kurt Russell into a big league movie star, and even crafted a film that earned Jeff Bridges an Oscar nomination. Given all of his financial success and critical acclaim in the industry, Carpenter could’ve just sailed onwards and upwards, making bigger and bigger blockbusters until the end of time, but instead, in the year 1987, the renowned director decided to get back to basics and make another indie darling. What caused this random inspiration to return to his roots? According to the man himself, it’s all thanks to Dario Argento.
“Prince of Darkness was my first turn back to independent filmmaking,” remembered Carpenter, “and what I got inspired by was Inferno, a movie by Dario Argento, because just anything can happen. He just let his imagination be the driver of the film. So, I just took that as an inspiration for myself, and I thought, ‘I’m just gonna let this go. I’m just gonna pull out the stops on this baby.'”
CGI Does Not Make or Break a Movie – Vision Does
The Discourse over whether movies have been helped or hurt by the advancement of CGI is a debate that has spanned generations, a real catch-22 of the film industry. There have certainly been notable instances where computer generated imagery has allowed for fantastical apparitions to come forth – the grim reaper’s gown in The Frighteners, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the character of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. When used sparingly and in addition to practical effects, CGI can be a very helpful tool. However, there are also instances like Superman’s upper lip in Justice League when they tried to digitally remove Henry Cavill’s mustache, or Renesmee’s face in Twilight: Breaking Dawn. It’s easy to overindulge.
When asked what his thoughts were on the advancement of CGI in the film industry, and whether or not he believes this device makes it easier to make movies in this modern era, Carpenter points out that it’s not the instruments you use, but how you use them.
“You embrace them; it doesn’t make anything easier. The basic filmmaking has not changed since oh, I don’t know, you could argue Citizen Kane or you could argue D.W. Griffith, it hasn’t changed since the old days. Basic storytelling devices and the things that are disposable, so it’s how you do it that’s important. And yeah, the editing process is fun, it can be quick, it also can be a little frustrating. The digital camerawork is good, it’s great, I mean stuff can look great, but these are all tools. They’re all tools to fortify a vision.”
Memoirs of an Invisible Man Almost Broke Him
Carpenter once described the theme of Memoirs as “a man who finds himself by becoming invisible.” Sadly, he’s described the film itself as the project he “hates thinking about the most.”
“That was a rough movie,” Carpenter told Tony Timpone. “I almost wanted to quit the business after that film. Anyway, let’s don’t talk about that. Let’s talk about happy things.”
From the moment Carpenter came onboard Memoirs of an Invisible Man, he faced scrutiny. Producers worried that the man who directed They Live would make their highbrow thriller a little too gory. Warners’ executive vice president Mark Canton and senior vice president William Gerber were on the phone to the location in San Francisco complaining about dailies, complaining about the humor. The studio wanted another National Lampoon midnight movie. Chevy Chase wanted to be taken seriously as a dramatic actor. John Carpenter wanted to be at home watching basketball on TV. It was a horrible experience for Carpenter, who grew to loathe the studio system after experiencing such restrictions on his creative freedom from the producers, and receiving such daily torment on set from his lead.
In order to appear invisible on camera, Chase had to wear a blue hooded mylar body suit, blue cosmetics on his face, blue food coloring on his teeth, and blue, eyeball-sized contact lenses. Despite championing the film from the very start, Chase hated wearing the makeup and special effects, and would regularly order the cameras to stop rolling after only about fifteen minutes of shooting so he could remove the contact lenses from his eyes. He’d ruin hours of filming by ripping off his makeup whenever he felt like it. Chase and Daryl Hannah knew they had immunity from the studio, so they walked all over Carpenter and his crew. It was an unpleasant time in the filmmaker’s life, but lucky, it introduced Carpenter to Sam Neill, and the pair went on to work together on In The Mouth of Madness.
John Carpenter Has Never Been Offered a Video Game Adaptation
John Carpenter has been playing a lot of video games in quarantine.
“I’m playing Fallout 76 like a fiend,” he says. “I love that game. I’m looking forward to the new Crash Bandicoot game coming out next October, and I’m looking forward to the new Assassin’s Creed Valhalla coming out in September.”
If you’re a devoted Carpenter fan, you’re probably already aware of the man’s genuine love of gaming. Whether he’s swooning over BioShock, obsessively playing Sonic the Hedgehog with his son, or even narrating Fear 3, the filmmaker has made his passion for playing strikingly clear for many moons. There have been several occasions when Carpenter has admitted that at this point, he’d usually rather stay home and play video games than go out and direct a movie, and honestly, you have to respect the transparency. Despite his devotion to the gaming world, Carpenter says that nobody has ever offered him a video game adaptation.
Close your eyes and imagine this: John Carpenter’s The Last of Us. Tentacle clad monsters drawing near under hazy blue neon lights. Two rogue citizens doing their best to survive dystopia. A steady, heavily synthesized score kicks into gear, pulsating, signifying trouble up just ahead. There are no rules now. Each person is his own law. The end of it all. The horror. The effects. Dean Cundey’s photography. John Carpenter wants to adapt a video game, and you should want that, too.
Halloween Kills is the “Quintessential Slasher Film”
Carpenter has never been a fan of sequels, and with good reason. Nigel Kneale, the creator of the Quatermass films, was extremely rude to the filmmaker while the pair was working together on Halloween III: Season of the Witch. William Peter Blatty eventually pushed Carpenter out the project completely on the set of Exorcist III because he wanted to direct the picture himself. It’s no wonder the man refused to direct any Halloween sequels for so long.
What then, were the magic words that Jason Blum uttered which managed to rope Carpenter in to work on David Gordon Green’s 2018 straight sequel to the original 1978 Halloween film?
“Jason Blum came and talked to me and he said, ‘Well, they’re gonna make this movie whether I’m involved or not and whether you’re involved with it, John,'” reflected Carpenter. “So, why don’t you come aboard and stop criticizing these movies from a distance, and actually get an in and try to make it better?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.'”
It was a quick meeting, but an effective one. Carpenter came on board as a collaborator to Green and Blum, as well as conjuring up some brand new music for his big return to the franchise that made him famous. Even Jamie Lee Curtis came back, reprising her iconic role as Laurie Strode, the survivor of Michael Myers, now hell-bent on revenge.
“The Halloween movie came along, and I talked to David Gordon Green and he said he wanted me to do the music and I said sure, I’d love to, and so off we went,” said Carpenter. “We had a great time doing it. So, we’ve done the music to the first one, and we finished up the score to Halloween Kills and next year or so, we’ll be scoring Halloween Ends.”
When asked what he thinks of the upcoming Halloween Kills, Carpenter replies, “It is the quintessential slasher film. It is so intense and oh my god, it even stuns me how incredible it is. David just did a great job. Can’t wait to have you see it.”
Horror Movies Will Always Be Popular
Asked if he thinks horror movies will be more popular or less popular when the pandemic plays out, Carpenter replies, “It will be the same. It isn’t really…it never changes. Horror is always with us, it always entertains us, it’s always fun. It’s fun to be scared. To be fake scared, not real scared in real life. I hope we can get back to normal. I don’t know that we can, but I hope we do.”
Albert Whitlock Did Not Work on the Matte Paintings in The Thing
Milicent Patrick designed the look of the Gill Man in Creature from The Black Lagoon, but for the longest time, nobody knew. That’s because the makeup department head at Universal Studios, Bud Westmore, grew jealous of his own prodigy and took credit for her work.
Apparently, things didn’t change much in twenty years.
“I want to say this,” said Carpenter. “I’ve never said this, but in The Thing, the matte paintings were not done by Albert Whitlock. He didn’t paint one of them. Punk. He had his assistants paint them. I don’t know why. I always had a feeling he didn’t like me. He was a difficult guy and anyway…He said, ‘I didn’t take brush to canvas.’ I said, ‘Well, aren’t you cool! Jesus! That’s your job, pal!'”
While it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking John Carpenter, the notion of a man in power plagiarizing his pupils’ handiwork to better serve his ego sadly doesn’t feel too far fetched.
You Can Change Careers at Any Time
He may be known for his game-changing horror movies, but Carpenter is really enjoying his recent career change to full time musician. Although he’s been providing his own scores since Dark Star, it wasn’t really until Death Waltz started putting out fresh new copies of Carpenter’s music on beautifully painted wax records around 2015 that a momentum began for the filmmaker to dive head in to the music scene. Along with this newfound push came the enthusiasm of Carpenter’s son and godson, Cody and Daniel, who all worked together on the Lost Themes albums and performed together on tour.
Carpenter’s never been big on travel, but he managed to get on a plane to travel all over the world and rock out with his fans. The reason for his newfound bravery? His family, of course.
“It came from Daniel and Cody and my wife said to me, ‘You know, you get a chance to work with your son and godson in concert, why would you not do it? It’s the chance of a lifetime.’ And so I had to do it. It was just great. The band we played with is the rhythm section for Tenacious D and they are just great musicians, so we had a blast. Started in Greece, I forget where we ended.”
Now that he’s found success in both filmmaking and performing live onstage, it’s tough for Carpenter to say which road he prefers. Where is he happiest? Directing a film? Writing a film? Playing his music to countless adoring fans?
“Well, there’s different degrees of it. The muse of my life is directing, it will always be directing, but this late in life, I get to have another shot at a career in music and that is really sensational. It’s great, and I’ve overcome a stage fright to get up there in front of people and I can’t tell you how fabulous it is. Just fabulous. But I’m happiest in front of a television watching basketball. That’s where I’m happiest.”
Carpenter loves to ramble on about how he prefers the company of his PlayStation to a crew and a camera, but it’s worth noting that the man is now 72 years old and still working almost every day. He’s even got a new album coming out early next year.
“The next album is due out in February,” says Carpenter. “It’s called Lost Themes III: Alive After Death. The first tune, [the] song from it has already been released, called ‘Skeleton,’ and we’re all proud of the album.”
Success at any age might not necessarily be easy to achieve, but as Carpenter proves, with enough hard work and determination, anything is possible.
We Could’ve Had a John Carpenter Fatal Attraction
Peter Cushing was originally offered the role of Dr. Loomis in John Carpenter’s Halloween. His agent laughed at the proposal. Carpenter was set to adapt The Star is My Destination, a novel by Alfred Bester, but it fell through. As with any filmmaker, there are always projects and ideas that never quite come to fruition but always sting with the memory of what could’ve been – or at least provide enough curiosity for a look an alternate take.
Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction is a sexy, suspenseful, expertly crafted thriller, but the fact that the gig was offered up to John Carpenter first begs the question of what such a film would’ve possibly looked like.
“I did turn down Fatal Attraction,” says Carpenter. “I thought it was Play Misty For Me, I wasn’t interested in that”.
We’ll have to keep dreaming for now, but boy, that really would’ve been something.
Sorry Tarantino, Carpenter Hasn’t Seen The Hateful Eight
When asked about his thoughts on the passing of the wickedly talented maestro Ennio Morricone, Carpenter couldn’t help but swoon. “Deeply decent man, deeply talented, famous for his spaghetti westerns and he provided an extra layer for The Thing. You know, The Thing is essentially a tragedy about the end of everything, and Ennio’s score was so…oh my god. It was just incredible. Dark, orchestral, it just made you feel, first of all cold, and it made you feel [like] there’s no hope here. It’s doom. I was just delighted with it, and I loved working with him. Loved it.”
After a brief hiatus, Quentin Tarantino returned to the screen in 2015 with The Hateful Eight, a cold, claustrophobic and shockingly violent 70mm western which contains more than few nods to Carpenter’s The Thing. For the very first time, Tarantino decided to use an original score. Considering his tendency to personally curate a specific soundtrack for his movies all by himself – often going so far as to write the songs into the script – this decision was both a surprise and a massive undertaking. The filmmaker found himself calling up the legendary Ennio Morricone and asking for his help. In the end, Morricone agreed, creating an entire original score that sonically invokes the sense of a horse-pulled covered stagecoach moseying along over gravel and snow and ice – well, almost entirely original. Mostly because he was on a time crunch due to simultaneously scoring Giuseppe Tornatore’s Correspondence, Morricone conjured up about 90% of a full original score for Tarantino, and sprinkled in about 10% of previously unreleased music from his score for John Carpenter’s The Thing to fill out the rest.
Carpenter’s thoughts on Tarantino borrowing his tunes for The Hateful Eight? “I haven’t seen it so I don’t know.” Even when Carpenter is just stating facts, he still manages to spill the tea.