This is one of the things that makes JC really stand out as a director, he has long supported the smaller fanzines and publications, and he continues to treat his fans with respect by agreeing to talk directly to them through this site. This site has now been running for over 4 years, from a tiny little site dedicated to extolling the virtues of The Thing it has grown into a large resource, large parts of it created by visitors to the site. Thanks to everyone who has ever visited and contributed to this site, you have made this interview possible. Anyway, enough with the gushy stuff, let the maestro speak his mind before we all start blubbering....

John Carpenter Speaks to ‘The John Carpenter Website’

After over twenty years in the movie business John Carpenter is considering giving it all up ‘to smoke dope and watch porno movies’. Since his initial Oscar success and the incredible financial smash that was Halloween his movies have consistently failed to find favour with both audiences and critics. His latest movie, Vampires, stars manic James Woods as a foul mouthed vampire killer secretly working for the Vatican. Carpenter’s unrestrained pokes at the religious and moral establishments brought down the usual wrath of mainstream US critics, while the film was ecstatically received in Europe.
A regular supporter of fanzines and smaller publications, JC agreed to address questions from his fans posted through The John Carpenter Website. JC discusses his career, his directorial style, and his weariness of the whole movie business as it descends into politically correct tedium…

From: Marc Bright

Obvious question first, have you seen any of the websites dedicated to you? Any thoughts, comments on them?

JC: My 14-year-old son has shown me some of the JC websites on his computer. I'm extremely flattered by all this attention these days.

Are there any plans to follow up the fantastic special edition Thing DVD with The Fog, EFNY, etc?

JC: I would be glad to do any special edition DVD on any of the movies I've directed. I'm not hard to get -- all they have to do is ask me.

Your films often emphasise the virtues of the outsider, the loner; dismissing political correctness before the notion was even constructed. Do you see anyone in film today that you regard as carrying on this outsider theme, this distrust and disregard for the film 'authorities'?

JC: There are several directors I admire these days, but I can't think of anyone who specialises in the outsider or the loner. Paul Schrader perhaps?

Carrying on from the last question, do you think this reputation perhaps kept you from the recognition that was awarded to many of your 'contemporaries (Spielberg, Lucas, etc.)', given that you also had a huge financial success with your earlier movies.

JC: I've gotten a great deal of recognition over the years, so I don't feel as if I'm due anything. One of the realities of directing horror is that you will not be embraced in loving arms by the critics. Horror movies are often seen as slightly better than pornography.

Although, with regards to the last point, there seems to be some ongoing critical re-evaluation of your work (Anne Billson's essays, the recent Film Comment piece, etc.) Does it bother you that it has taken so long for this to happen, or do you think it is just farcical that films can be so reviled upon their release but then gain some sort of respectability when the establishment sees fit to call them classics?

JC: Everyone wants to be loved. So do I. But after years of directing, I understand the nature of the beast, and have come to the conclusion that it's more important for me to make movies that please me. Still, I'm very happy some of my films are being seen in a new light. It's great.

What are your fave films from the past few years? What sort of music are you listening to nowadays?

JC: This year I've enjoyed GODS AND MONSTERS, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN, WAKING NED DEVINE, among others. As for music, my son and godson play me what they like: Bob Dylan, Metallica, Phish, Bjork...


Is there any truth to the rumour that he's doing and original CD for Milan? If so, WHEN??

JC: Milan has begun negotiations with me to do an original CD.

And while we're at it, the press release from Avco for THE FOG claims that Adrienne Barbeau contributed some songs to the soundtrack. What happened with this??

JC: I have no memory of Adrienne contributing anything musically to THE FOG.

From: Mike Kovacs

While you were making The Thing did you back then, or now, have any idea what the Thing creature would look like in its true form before it had a chance to imitate a host?  This is a silly question I know but one that has intrigued me for years.

JC: The question of what the Thing looked like in its original form is far from silly. It's something we obsessed with for over a year during production. Several paintings were made of various concepts on what the original form would take. In the end none of them were very satisfying. Finally, in desperation someone suggested we make it look like the original Hawks film, James Arness in a bald cap and long fingernails. We decided to leave it a mystery.

From: James Chandler

I have one question that has always plagued me for some reason.  Who painted the picture of the knife-hand-jacko'lantern graphic that was used for the American Halloween one sheet poster and where does the original painting reside now?

JC: The knife/hand/jacko'lantern painting: I don't know who the painter was, nor where the original is. I believe the concept was Irwin Yablans'. At least that's what he told me.

From: Marco

I've just seen Vampires here in Portugal, a country in Europe. Like other films of yours I’ve seen, I find that there is a common point in all of them. This makes you one of the most consistent and original directors that the USA film industry has ever had. Since your body of work is much appreciated here in Europe, why do you think this happens? Is it because here we have a more diversified public and so there are people who fully appreciate your work, while in the USA the tastes are all more uniform and so you don't seem to have a significant quantity of people who understand your work?

JC: In general, the USA looks down upon the horror movie/genre directors. I can only think of one (Roger Corman) who has ever been honoured by a major USA critic’s organisation for the body of his work. As for the public, conformity is the norm.

By the way I’d like to tell you that here in Portugal the critics were unanimous in acclaiming Vampires as an excellent movie and one of your best to this date. I just have to say that your movies are an inspiration to us (fans), please don't stop making magic!!

JC: Thank you for your kind words.

From: Derek Stewart

What's your opinion on the new breed of teen horror flicks coming out as of late?

JC: I've only seen SCREAM, so I can't comment on the others. I was flattered by the references to HALLOWEEN. Wes Craven has been a friend for many years and I'm delighted at his success.

What, in your opinion, makes a good horror film work?

JC: What makes a good horror film? It has to have a good story and scare the shit out of you.

What is it with critics and horror films anyway?

JC: Critics don't like horror films. It's genetic.

From: Cathal Bergin

Here's a question for JC: How does he feel about horror's response to increasing, and increasingly broadcast, horrors in real life? Would he agree that the film genre has reverted to fairy tale archetypes and comic violence and internal logic (meaning the threat only has validity within the film itself e.g. In the Mouth of Madness vs. Psycho)?

JC: Good question. Are there really increasing horrors in the world today, more so than, say, earlier in this century? Isn't the world a less horrifying place now? I'm not by any means suggesting that unspeakable horror isn't taking place, I'm questioning the magnitude. Is it increasing? Maybe I've been asleep, like the city of L.A. in THEY LIVE. As for horror films, they have indeed become more archetypal and self-referential, but remember all those 50's radioactive monster movies? The monsters were stand-ins for nuclear weapons. And Dracula can be seen as a decayed European aristocracy feeding off the lower classes. There have always been archetypes. But to the point, I believe political correctness; especially regarding feminism and the portrayal of women as victims has had some impact on horror. Some of Dario Argento's earlier films, with their graphic yet sensual scenes of violence against women, would not be acceptable today, at least not in American society. Part of Argento's intention, in say SUSPIRIA, TENEBRE, or PHENOMENON, was the sexualisation of graphic violence. I'm a fan of Dario's work because his movies are the only horror films to really get to me. And isn't that what a good horror films is supposed to do, scare and disturb you? The argument against sexualised violence is that these images can cause a similar behaviour in a certain deranged percentage of the audience, the sociopathic copycats. At the moment there are several lawsuits against NATURAL BORN KILLERS for causing copycat murders. Perhaps it's time to take out product liability insurance on horror films and place a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie.

From: Mattmacy Giaquinto

Many feel that your film The Thing, is amongst your best directorial efforts and while the film was banished by critics and poor box office it has developed quite the fervent following. While the release of the Special Editions of the film has helped convert a few more followers, it still remains unjustly categorised as just a special effects film. What is probably the most surprising notion is that, in the past fifteen years, the film has never undergone that positive critical reassessment that is so often bestowed on other fantastical films from the same era. Films like Blade Runner, Brazil and The Shinning, which all had rocky receptions when first released but which are now widely regarded as masterpieces of the genre. Would you chalk this up to the idea that most of those movies were re-released under the banner of "a director's cut" (something unattainable with The Thing since it's initial release was your director's cut) and therefore given a new breath of life and the ability to find new audiences? Or would you be more apt to lay blame on the legacy of that initial, unforgivingly brutal blast from critics still lingering on, with no one willing to put the case for the defence?

JC: The Thing was hated not just by critics but by sci-fi and horror fans. Apparently it remains unforgiven. A new audience saw The Thing on video after its initial release, and it gained popularity. As for the recent re-evaluation, I have no idea why now.

As for my personal feelings, I stand by all my work.

How does it make you feel when you see ideas, notions, dialogue lines and or elements from your films be the driving force in more successful films of today? Essential, there are various elements in the film, The Faculty which cross way over that fine line of homage and directly into the land of uncreative rip-off and as a fan of your work, it bothers me to see someone making money off of your creativity, how does it make you feel?

JC: In answer to your second question, I've made money off the creativity of Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, John Sturges, Orson Welles, and many many others for my entire career -- how can I complain when it happens to me?

From: Bryan Hurley

This may seem like a silly question, but I've always been really curious about it.  In the fight scene from THEY LIVE, there's a part where Roddy Piper breaks the window of a car with a board.  He then starts apologising to Keith David for it.  Keith David then swears and breaks a bottle against the car.  You then see Roddy Piper start laughing at him and the fight resumes.  My question is, was Piper's laugh supposed to be there or was it just a blooper that got left in either accidentally or intentionally?

JC: Roddy's laugh in THEY LIVE was intentional. It's probably my bad directing of the scene that made it unclear.

From: Jason Roth

Any advice for scruffy young filmmaker wannabes on how to break into the business?

JC: The easiest way to break into the movie business is write your way in. If you write a screenplay someone wants to make, you're on your way.

From: Tom Alaerts

After a career in horror and SF, would you like to make a completely different kind of movie, for example a costume drama, an erotic thriller, a Mafia movie, an Ellroy adaptation, a World War 2 movie?

JC: I would enjoy making a different kind of movie, but remember -- a professional director is like a good whore, they go where they're pushed.

In some recent interviews, you give the impression that you think your career is almost over. Reading them, it really seems to me that we can only expect 1 or 2 more movies before you retire. Is this true? I mean, even a lesser god like Kubrick is still filming at 70!

JC: Recently I've struggled with myself over whether the emotional toll directing movies extracts on me is worth it. We'll see...

Please tell us a bit more about the television series and the thriller you're working on! We'll tell nobody! honest! ;-)

JC: I've been sworn to secrecy about any future projects.

Any idea why your movies are so often better received in Europe (for example, in France many critics simply worship you) than in the USA?

JC: Maybe my movies are received better in Europe because I think European women are sexier than American women.

"They Live" is in my opinion a movie which stands apart in you career since it's the only one with a real social subtext (luckily it's also huge fun!). Did you ever want to make more "socially engaged" movies?

JC: All of my movies are socially engaged. Some are just more subtle.

Most of "Vampires" is filmed differently to what we would expect from a Carpenter movie.  Faster editing, more camera angles and so. But Valek's attack in the motel is filmed in your typical, calmer, style. At least that's how it seemed to me. Any comments?

JC: I agree with your comments on VAMPIRES. I copied Sam Peckinpah in most of the straight-forward action scenes. Valek's attack in the motel, however, was different stylistically. I felt the slight slow-motion (36 frames per second instead of 24) and dissolves made the attack somehow more brutal.

Also on filming style: in most of your movies, the camera movements often are "invisible", I mean they do not attract attention. OTOH, someone like De Palma films using very "visible" camera movements. Any comments about effectiveness of filming techniques?

JC: The invisible technique is from Howard Hawks, my favourite director. Maybe I should start with being more obvious with style, what do you think? It's easier to do than remain invisible.

Is there any chance that "The resurrection of Bronco Billy" will ever be added to a DVD or videotape? Now that I think of it, perhaps there space left for "Gorgon the space monster"!

JC: The University of Southern Carolina owns THE RESURRECTION OF BRONCHO BILLY. The decision to release it on DVD is up to them. As for my 8mm movies, no one will ever see them.

Considering your love for westerns, will you ever make a "real" western?

JC: I'd love to make a real western.

At some moments, you were connected to fascinating sounding projects such as Pin Cushion, Shadow Company, and Creature from the black lagoon. etc. Is there any of these unfinished projects you still really want to film?

JC: All of the unmade projects you mentioned are good. I'd do any of them.

Has another director ever asked you to compose the music for his/her movie?

JC: No other feature director has ever asked me to compose a score for his movie.

I have this stupid idea: an Evil Dead 4 movie, this time it takes place in the future. There, Ash meets... Snake Plissken! Cool or ridiculous idea?

JC: Ash meets Snake Plissken? Cool Idea.


Will you ever consider releasing a special edition CD featuring unedited tracks, outtakes, unused cues, etc. from the musical scores of your films?

JC: No Special Edition CD on unused cues.

Since it's unlikely that the great Snake Plissken will ever make a cinematic return, any chance you'd consider developing your ESCAPE FROM EARTH concept in the form of a novel or graphic novel?

JC: Someone want's to develop Escape into a television series. We'll see...

Why was so much cut from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED? Was this a studio move or your own doing?

JC: Nothing was cut from VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. Universal released my final cut.

There's been a lot of rumours about Kurt Russell taking over the role of Batman. If he did, would you be interested in directing him in a Dark Knight film? What kind of Batman would you make?

JC: I would be a terrible director for a batman movie.

What was the jammin' instrumental song playing during Snake's meeting with Hershe aboard the Queen Mary in ESCAPE FROM LA? A Carpenter original perhaps?

JC: The Snake/Hershe instrumental was composed by either myself or Shirley Walker. Sorry, I don't remember right now. I'd have to look at it again to be certain, and as this moment a Lakers basketball is coming on the tv...

Have the Coupe De Villes ever put out an album?

JC: Yes, the Coupe De Villes made an album WAITING OUT THE EIGHTIES in 1986. It was never release commercially. I gave out copies to my friends. Legend has it that the Coupes might get together again to add some tracks and finally release the CD to the public. But you know hoe legends go. You never know...

Thank you. John Carpenter. 24th February 1999.

The John Carpenter Website has been running since early 96, gaining a reputation as one of the primary internet sources for JC news and information. The site is maintained and owned by Marc Bright.


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