John Carpenter

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

BY Cam LindsayPublished Feb 5, 2015

For 40 years, filmmaker John Carpenter has been called the "master of horror" for directing such spine-chilling classics as Halloween, The Fog, The Thing and Prince of Darkness. And though he contributed music to each of those films, it's only now, at age 67, that he's decided to release his debut solo album, Lost Themes.
"This album happened by accident. It wasn't my choice," Carpenter explains. "My son and I were together a couple years ago playing video games and we went downstairs to my Logic Pro computer music set-up and improvised music for a couple of hours. Over a period of time we had about 60 minutes of finished music. Some of it was blues, some of it was rock'n'roll, but most of it was score music."
Carpenter didn't exactly jump to release what he and his son recorded. "[My son] went off to teach in Japan, and I sat on it with no plans to release it," he says. "And then I got a new music attorney and she asked if I had anything new. So I thought I'd send her what Cody and I had been working on and then two months later I had a record deal! How easy was this?"
Lost Themes offers the same kind of exploratory synthesizer compositions Carpenter wrote for his influential scores. In fact, the title could easily confuse listeners into thinking he's collected some unreleased jams from the past. But everything on there is new and written completely without any images in mind.
"[The title] was suggested to me by the record company," he admits. "But I went with it because this album is a score for the movies that play in your head. It was absolutely freeing and joyous. There's no deadline, no stress. It's all joy."
What are you up to?
I have a lot of movie, music and television projects going in various stages of completion at the moment. Musically, I'm working on a blues record, another Lost Themes-type record, working on some rock'n'roll. And I have a couple of movies in development and maybe a couple of TV series, but everything at this point is being developed.
What are your current fixations?
NBA basketball and videogames. I love the Lakers. I'm loyal to them, but they suck! They don't suck as bad as the New York Knicks though. But we did beat the Toronto Raptors this year, so we're capable, just not good enough yet. And I'm playing the new Far Cry. It's really good.
Why do you live where you do?
Well, I got to Los Angeles in 1968 and it felt like coming home. I just loved it here, so that's why.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
A bunch of different movies I saw when I was young were mind-altering to this young kid at the time. There was one called Forbidden Planet I saw in 1956 at eight years old. And it was this colour, MGM space opera. The entire score was electronic, there was no orchestration. And then there was another one earlier in the 1950s called It Came From Space that I saw when I was really young. It was in 3D and there was this sequence where a spaceship comes out of the sky and blows up in the audience's face, and I ran up the aisle screaming. But I soon came back and sat down thinking, "This is cool!"
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I saw the Rolling Stones in 1969 at the Forum and I saw Procol Harum in 1971 at the Hollywood Bowl. They were influential bands in my life when I was young.
What have been your career highs and lows?
There have been several highs, but whenever I finish a movie I feel a high. I think the biggest low was a movie I made in 1982 called The Thing, and it was released to critical and fan disdain. At the time it was hated, God, especially by the fans. Yeah, they thought I had raped the Madonna. I cannot describe to you what it was like. But I think it was my time to get attacked. I had made Halloween, The Fog and Escape From New York, all in a row. So it was my time in the barrel.
What's the meanest thing ever said about your films?
God! There are too many to remember. But there was one that was hilarious. I had made a movie in the 1970s called Assault On Precinct 13 and it was shown at a film festival. I was reading through the reviews and there was such a memorable line that said, "This is a perfect example of how not to make a thriller. And the man responsible is John Carpenter." And there was one for Halloween that said, "Carpenter is not gifted with actors." Oh God! But that's whatever.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I like the sum of my instincts a lot. And I dislike my laziness. My laziness comes from when I finish something I just want to sit around and watch basketball.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Lots of NBA games and nothing to do.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I've taken most of everybody's advice and tried to make it work. But my father gave me great advice when I was young. He said the opportunity would come along, I just need to be ready for it. So I made sure I was ready for any movie opportunity that came along. I immersed myself in cinema.
What would make you kick someone out of your film and/or bed, and have you?
I've never kicked anyone out of my bed, no, no, no. That's too precious an activity. I've fired people before, usually for deceit, lying or stealing.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I made a movie in Toronto, so cold weather and great strip clubs. Oh my God! Just great. I can't remember the name of it, but the girls are fully naked in your lap! Awesome! Awesome, I tell you!
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
Oh wow, that's a great question. The Wizard of Oz soundtrack. Oh wait, maybe earlier than that was The War of The World radio broadcast with Orson Welles.
What was your most memorable day job?
Making music.
How do you spoil yourself?
Right now, at my age, I spoil myself a lot. I worked like a coal miner when I was younger. Movie after movie I just pushed it. So I have to slow down now. I'm old. I reached a point where I felt I was burning out so I stopped. But I spoil myself all the time. I don't pressure myself to do work or meet a deadline. I just allow myself not to care.
If I wasn't making films or playing music I would be…
That's a question I asked myself in 1968 and I didn't like the answer! I had no idea. I'm not very talented at anything else. I started a liberal college education, but after I started film school I studied nothing else.
What do you fear most?
I fear what everybody fears. We all fear the same thing. We're all born afraid. I'm afraid of what you're afraid of.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
Strip about 30 years off my life and put a beautiful, willing woman in front of me.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Last year I had an encounter with William Shatner. I met him at a convention. I saw him sitting at a table looking down at his phone, so I went over and said, "Hi Mr. Shatner, I'm John Carpenter. It's nice to meet you." And he said, "Nice to meet you," and he didn't look up from his phone. And I thought, "Fuck you! Fuck yourself!" What a piece of shit! He makes funny commercials though.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
First of all, I'd take them out to dinner because I can't cook. John Wayne or Elvis Presley. I'd take Elvis right to Pink's in Los Angeles, which has great hamburgers and hot dogs. And John Wayne, I'd take to a steak dinner.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
I think she was pretty happy with what I'm doing. She's gone now, but she was at the time.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
"Don't Fear The Reaper."

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