Escape With John Carpenter

by Kim August

After years of trying, I finally landed the chance to interview Director/Composer/Writer John Carpenter, MY fave Genre Auteur. This chat, conducted during a junket for IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS reveals all sort of nifty things on MADNESS, and other aspects of John’s many talents. However, the staff were thrilled by the news of the long-awaited sequel to ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, ESCAPE FROM LOS ANGELESE, read on baby!

VV: What’s going on with ESCAPE FROM LOS ANGELES?
JC: "We are at work on it as we speak! Kurt and I are developing the story to see if it’s something we want to do together. I think we’re going to get cracking on it here pretty soon. We both love the character, it was a fun experience. And besides, LA seems right to escape from! Why not?!"

VV: Will it be another prison situation, do you have the story planned…
JC: “Yes, we have the story, the script is almost done. It’s a similar situation. Again ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK came out of the time that I wrote it in and this ones comes out of the time too: LA is Babylon… it’s after the big one, and earthquake… it’s an island. And anybody guilty of a moral crime in the United States is deported. That includes a good deal of the population. There are gangs here, it’s very similar. But there’s a lot more that takes place in LA, LA has a lot of disasters. It’s kind of a place where people can’t seem to leave. You always ask people well why don’t you just leave?! And people say, ‘Well I don’t know, it’s paradise.’ So that’s the kind of thing that Kurt and I are going for. Nobody wants to leave this place. Also, the remnants of the movie business are still here, there’s a lot to play with in terms of the story.”

VV: So this is definitely your own script - not some outside source…
JC: “This is mine.”

VV: Then it definitely has nothing to do with the script Peter Briggs wrote?
JC: “Peter Briggs?!?”

VV: He did the treatment/script for the ALIEN vs. PREDATOR movie.
JC: “Oh! Do you know what happened to me, it was unbelievable. I was in London. I was over there for the GUARDIAN fest - they did a retrospective of my movies - and I’m standing there talking when it’s over with, and this guy comes up and says ‘I just want to show you the title page of this script’, and he opened it up and it said ‘ESCAPE FROM LA’! I said ‘What!’ I had no idea who he was, and he says ‘I want to give this to you!’ I said ‘You can’t!’ I mean, I’m working on this thing and if I read yours and there’s one idea that’s the same I could get sued! I can’t read your script! It was in front of witnesses too, so I feel better. It may be a great script, don’t get me wrong! I started out in this business being very naïve; and I learned very quickly you lose a lot of money if you’re naïve…”

VV: Let’s talk about one of your more recent films. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS. Was there any correlation between Cane’s following being able to see (the majority) and the scientists (minority) doing the same in THEY LIVE?
JC: I was wondering whether or not Michael (De Luca-MOUTH screenwriter) thought of that, but I didn’t ask him. You know, I still have those special glasses, hell you watch C-SPAN and they’re all over the place!”

VV: Most of your horror films deal with the supernatural, or unnatural forces which mask reality like THE THING, yet in MADNESS, the reality is masked by Cane’s fiction.
JC: “That’s and interesting point, I hadn’t thought of that. The supernatural is always a difficult area to make movies in. People think it’s easy because they make a lot of Horror pictures - or BAD Horror pictures - but it’s hard to make an audience believe in something they know can’t possibly be true; ghosts, goblins so forth, most adults don’t believe in them. But these days, I’m getting surprised in what people DO believe in; demons, aliens from outer space so…. I’ve always loved to play around with things aren’t like you think they are, that basic idea. Just because I wandered into a book store. I was in NEW YORK on a press junket for BOG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA back in the eighties. I wandered in and picked up a couple of books on quantum mechanics and my mind was completely blown! And I got news for you; things aren’t like you think they are on a physical level. I love playing around that! “

VV: IN THE MOUTH lightly satirised the Horror genre, but did you also do that with the music? The opening number has a Very Heavy metal feel….
JC: “What you do when you’re screening for audiences you put temporary music on, when you don’t have it done. And we put on METALLICA’S ‘Enter Sandman’ and the whole audience, their heads were bobbing and I said ‘You know what, why don’t we start the movie with something like that?’ So one of my pals is Dave Davies (the lead guitarist from the KINKS) wrote the song. It was a great way to get the movie going, it gets you cranked, it gets you going!”

VV: What gives you the most pleasure from directing films?
JC: “Just directing. Telling stories, it’s just the right place to be. I love it. It’s my career, I’ve always wanted to do it since I was a kid, and I just love to do it!”

VV: Would you ever work with Rob Bottin again?
JC: “Rob Bottin! Oh sure. Sure I would! I love working with Rob, Rob’s crazy….” (The mad special effects artiste who did all those sick things in Carpenter’s remake of THE THING; he also did make-up and played the lead ghost in THE FOG -KA)

VV: And when can we see your full-blown Western?
JC: “Every movie I make is a western in one way or another. I don’t know. I always think about doing one. We’ll see.”

VV: Would you ever redo a Leone movie?
JC: “I don’t know if you should redo those, those are pretty unique aren’t they? They’re ballets, opera… they’re beautifully shot, just legendary kind of looking things. They’ve got great stories…”

VV: Well, I always thought that ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, especially in the characters, was very LEONE…
JC: “Absolutely. Yeah, Snake is The Man With No Name in a sense. I suppose you could… you could remake it. I don’t know if it would be as good, but it would be interesting. Which one would you do?”

VV: I would have to say THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY…
JC: “I was just going to say that! That’s the one, it’s the funniest! See, I don’t know if I could do it any better so, I don’t know if I could do it any better so, I don’t how you could change it either to make it any better. Interesting idea, I’ll have to think about that…”

This interview first appeared in Violet Veil magazine in August 1995. Reprinted with kind permission of the editor Kim August ( Kim is currently publishing a new magazine entitled Pharr Out. Pharr Out #4, Special double issue: featuring EFLA's Leland Orser (Test Tube) and Lo Pan (James Hong) will be released in late February. Also pix of Rob Bottin's latest monster in DEEP RISING. Contact Kim at the e-mail address given to enquire about obtaining Pharr Out.

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