There are few horror legends more illustrious than John Carpenter, who over the course of four decades has made some of cinema’s most hallowed genre classics, including Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, The Thing, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China. In terms of both outright scares and lasting cultural impact, however, nothing in his oeuvre trumps Halloween, his 1978 masterpiece about the sleepy hamlet of Haddonfield, Illinois, and a masked fiend named Michael Myers who, decades after his initial family-slaughtering bloodbath, returns home to prey upon its residents, and in particular, Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode. Energized by sterling performances from Curtis (in a star-making turn) and Donald Pleasence, Carpenter’s unforgettable musical theme, expertly suspenseful set pieces, and the director’s trademark 35mm Panavision visuals, it set a new standard for terror while ushering in the age of the modern slasher film.
It also, however, spawned a legion of inferior sequels (as well as two criminally underrated Rob Zombie remakes) that are now being erased from the franchise’s timeline by Halloween, a new entry (albeit with the same title) from director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride.
Green’s latest picks up 40 years after Carpenter’s original, with an older and more fearsome Laurie preparing for an inevitable showdown with Michael, who can’t stay away from his old killing grounds. Even for a series that’s previously messed around with its own mythology (see, or rather, don’t, 1998’s Halloween: H20, which negates all but the first two movies), it’s a bold stab at reinvention, and one spearheaded by Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum, himself no stranger to horror success courtesy of efforts like Get Out, The Purge and Insidious.
Moreover, it’s a follow-up with which Carpenter has been closely involved, serving as an executive producer as well as composer, creating a soundtrack that blends both new and updated-old-school compositions (the former written with his son and godson). Arriving in theaters on Oct. 19, the film once again proves that you can’t keep an iconic bogeyman down. Its release gave us the ideal opportunity to chat with the Master of Horror about all things Halloween, the political relevance of one of his other all-time gems, They Live—which is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary—and those pesky sequels.
It’s been 40 years since your original Halloween and the franchise is still as popular as ever. To what do you attribute its ongoing appeal?
I have no clue. But the new movie is brought to life and given its power by David Gordon Green, the director. He’s just great. But I don’t know why people attached themselves to this. Maybe it’s because at the time it was released, it was the first of a kind of masked killer movie. After that came several masked-killer movies, like Friday the 13th, and various things. But I don’t know why it’s lasted—I can’t figure it out. But I’m happy about it!
How did you get involved with the new film?
Jason Blum convinced me to do it. The Weinsteins lost the rights to make Halloween movies—they went to Miramax, and various people were involved in that. And Jason came aboard, and he talked to me and said, “Well, they’re going to make the movie with or without us. So why don’t we work together to make it good?” Jason has quite a reputation as a horror guy. So I thought, “You know what, that’s interesting. I’ll try it.” So we did.
Were you involved on the story side of the project, or mainly with regards to the score?
Well, I did the score with my son and godson—that’s the big part. But I made comments on the script. Made a couple of suggestions. That was about it. I just stay out of the way; it’s not my movie.
What did redoing the score entail? Was it primarily updating the old music, or writing new stuff as well?
Both things. Updating the old score—basically making it modern with the new technology and new sound. And then we had to write new stuff. That’s how we approached it. When we sat down with David Gordon Green, we did a spotting session. He told me where he wanted it, and what he wanted. He would say, “I want the main theme here,” or something that has tempo to it. We’d go through the whole movie, and then I just went to work.
The Halloween theme is as recognizable as any in horror history, and you’ve been touring over the past few years, playing it as well as many of your other signature score pieces. Is that composition the one that still resonates most powerfully with fans?
[Chuckles] It worked back then, and it still works now. That’s about what I can say. People seem to enjoy it when we play it. And it works in the new movie. It’s fun to play.
You and Debra Hill wrote Halloween II (although you didn’t direct it), and now, the new film “erases” it, and all the subsequent sequels, from the timeline. I assume you were okay with that?
Sure. I’m happy with it. I think it’s great.
Were you unhappy with Halloween II at the time?
In erasing Halloween II, Green’s movie also does away with the long-standing idea that Laurie Strode is Michael’s sister. Did you always object to that twist?
Well, okay. Here’s how it was. I made Halloween, and then Halloween was sold to NBC to show it. But it was too short—they needed it to be a certain length. So I had to go back and shoot some more footage to make it longer. And I was absolutely stuck. I didn’t know what to do. I mean, the movie is the movie—I don’t want to touch it. But everybody will be happy with me, and they’ll make money, and that’s great. So I had to come up with something. I think it was, perhaps, a late night fueled by alcoholic beverages, was that idea. A terrible, stupid idea! But that’s what we did.
Aside from negating Laurie and Michael’s sister-brother relationship, what else sets the new Halloween apart from its predecessors?
It’s David Gordon Green. He’s a talented director, and he’s not a horror director. So he brings a whole different feel to it. And man, is it great.
Were you disappointed that 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch didn’t transform the franchise into an anthology-style series, and instead led to a string of additional Michael-focused sequels?
I really liked Halloween III. I thought it was a really cool movie, and an interesting story and so forth. I’m happy with each and every sequel because every time they made a sequel, they had to pay me! But after a while, you know, okay, I wasn’t fond of the movies. Not all of them. Some of them. Well, not really any of them. I mean, I just didn’t think there was any more story to be told. But David Gordon Green proved me wrong, and this is really a strong movie for the first time in a long time. It’s great.
I love Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I wish you’d done more of those.
After Season of the Witch bombed, nobody wanted to do another. The audience wanted Michael Myers back! Where’s the guy with the knife? Well, okay. Fine. Go make your movie. And that’s what happened. I just left it.
To your mind, did any of the sequels get close to the feel or effectiveness of the original?
Let’s stop talking about these silly sequels, will you please? I beg you.
Absolutely. You’ve only made one sequel in your career: 1996’s Escape From L.A. Is that because you’re not interested in following up your own stories?
That’s correct. I made that movie because Kurt Russell wanted to make it. He said, “Let’s make it!” And I said, okay. Fine. We did.
You haven’t directed a feature since 2010’s The Ward. Why? Any chance your unofficial retirement might eventually end?
Directing is not fun. Directing is hard. Directing is stressful. Directing takes years off your life. So all those reasons combined, I’m just kicking back and relaxing. Plus, at my age, I have a music career. Kind of a half-assed music career. A tiny one. And I’m loving it. So why not do something easy and fun rather than something hard and painful?
Is that what’s most appealing about touring—that it’s simply a fun, expressive thing to do?
You got it. I couldn’t say it better. A fun, expressive thing to do.
During your directing career, were there any films you wanted to make but didn’t get to? Or, are there any films of yours that you think haven’t gotten their proper due?
Well, yeah, there are movies I wish I’d made. But I’m not sorry I didn’t make them. They would have just been fun to make. And I don’t care. Look, the great thing to me is that I got to have a career in the movie business. I got to be John Carpenter. I can’t knock it! I never expected it. So everything’s a blessing here. That’s the problem—that there’s no problem.
Among other things, your films are celebrated for their gorgeous widescreen imagery. Are there any directors working today that you’re impressed with, from a visual—or storytelling—point of view?
There are some good directors working, and there have been some good movies. In terms of general directors working, I really like David Fincher’s work. I think he’s a great visual director—he’s really amazing. And before he passed away, I liked Tony Scott a lot. I thought he was a lot of fun to watch. But sure, there are loads of directors.
Do you see the Halloween franchise continuing onward after this new film? Or does this one put it to bed, at least for you?
I think that there will probably be, in the future, another Halloween. Whether I’m attached to it, or I’m just relaxing in my chair watching NBA basketball, I can’t tell you.
Lastly, They Live turns 30 on Nov. 1. Can you believe how prescient that film’s social critique has turned out to be? It feels more relevant than ever in Trump’s America.
The first thing you have to realize about it is, They Live is a documentary. It’s not fiction. It is real. And it’s gone on ever since I made the movie. In fact, it’s probably more They Live-ish today than ever. So yeah, you’re right—a lot of what we see going on is kind of some of the things I was yelling and screaming about in the old days.
At least in terms of timeliness, that one might definitely warrant a new sequel.
I think so.