An Interview with John Carpenter

I lived in Chicago between 2004 and 2012. John Carpenter’s last movie, The Ward, didn’t play in the third largest US city during its limited theatrical run in 2011. It did, however, show briefly in Austin, TX. I worked at Whole Foods at the time and just happened to be traveling down to the weird city to receive some special training with the company. If memory serves, the very last screening started at 8:00 and our plane was supposed to land around 6:30. I thought, if I was lucky, I could sneak out of my hotel room and high-tail down to the movie theater where it was playing just in time to see it.

But our plane was delayed by over an hour. I didn’t even get to the hotel room until after 9:00 and there were no other screenings I could see while I was there. I had missed my only chance to see John Carpenter’s first feature-length movie in ten years on the big screen. I had failed Mr. Carpenter. I can still taste the disappointment. 

I think I was born a Carpenter fan because I feel like I’ve always had his movies in my life. I grew up watching the classics and always had a particular fondness for Christine because I watched it with my brother, Joe, all the time. However, I was born in 1986, and came into my own during the period he was making his more idiosyncratic, underrated work in the ‘90s – movies like Village of the Damned, Memoirs of an Invisible Man andVampires – to name a few. I had no idea until much later in my life (when I revisited almost all of his movies with a certain horror-loving friend) that not a lot has been written about the movies he made after They Live, which is bewildering to me because I think he’s grown as a filmmaker with each movie he’s made.

I recently got the chance to ask Carpenter a few questions and made sure to touch upon this point. What follows is an interview that was conducted via e-mail shortly after the Halloween holiday came to a close.

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SARA FREEMAN: How do you think your work changed once Sandy started producing your movies? What are some differences you see between the work you made in the ‘70s/’80s and the flicks you made in the ‘90s/’00s? 


JOHN CARPENTER: I don’t think there was a formal, storytelling change. My quality of life improved.


FREEMAN: You’ve worked on video games, comic books, television shows, movies, and more. Considering this, how does your approach to visual storytelling differ across various media? Based on their strengths, which type lends itself best to your artistic style?

CARPENTER: I will always be first and foremost a movie storyteller.

FREEMAN: You’re known for being a horror/action filmmaker. However, it seems like most of your protagonists are mentally tormented more often than they are physically harmed. What is your approach to movie violence? Is it difficult to find the perfect balance of psychological and physical horror?

CARPENTER: How to depict violence in cinema depends entirely on the circumstances of the story. There are no hard and fast rules. And I don’t think Snake Plissken nor Jack Burton were mentally tormented.

FREEMAN: Do you consider yourself to be a “modern” filmmaker? How do you think your cinematic style meshes with contemporary aesthetic and technical trends, like digital filmmaking? How have these technologies helped you evolve as a storyteller?


CARPENTER: I’m not sure I know what ‘modern’ means. Digital is certainly a great filmmaking tool. I’ve used it for a variety of reasons and effects. But I dislike 3-D. Shaky cam (hand-held, once called Soviet cam) is great sometimes, but it’s often overused. I maintain the basics of movie storytelling haven’t changed since silent films.

FREEMAN: What are you working on next and how can fans help?

CARPENTER: I’m still recovering from eye surgery so I’m not rushing into production anytime soon. What can fans do? Remain loyal to the Vulgar Cinema.

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Major thanks to John and the Storm King company for setting up this interview.

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