I never realized how much of an influence John Carpenter was on my worldview growing up. He was responsible for so many of my favorite childhood movies – Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From New York, Starman and so many more. It wasn’t until I became a dedicated horrorphile that I realized John Carpenter was responsible for those movies and oh so many more of my favorites in the horror genre. Halloween, The Fog, Christine, The Prince of Darkness, In The Mouth of Madness and so many other undeniable horror classics came from his directorial hand.
As a fan and certified horror geek – I knew that Carpenter’s movies shone with greatness but it wasn’t until we started Mutantville Productions in the winter of 2003 – that I began to look at horror films with a more critical eye. I suddenly realized that Carpenter’s works were not only the work of a true auteur – but the work of inspired genius.
(Continue reading the article and watch the interview after the leap!)
Halloween. The Thing. Escape From New York. In the Mouth of Madness. Each movie served as a blueprint for it’s respective genre. During our time working on our first horror effort – the supernatural slasher film – C for Chaos – John Carpenter’s Halloween served as a bible for everything we did. From entertaining me during my childhood with movies like Big Trouble In Little China and Escape From New York to terrifying me in my adulthood with uncanny horrors in movies such as Halloween, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In The Mouth of Madness and Cigarette Burns – John Carpenter has wielded more influence on my taste than almost any other filmmaker in history.
In the early part of the year – MVP was offered a chance to interview John Carpenter at the Fright Night Film Fest in Louisville, Kentucky. Needless to say, after we picked ourselves up off the floor, we jumped at the chance to talk to the Master of Horror in person. In the buildup to the festival, we put together a seven part interview with Ken Daniels the promoter of the Fright Night Film Fest and Fandom Fest. We released the interview with Mr. Daniels periodically on Youtube right up to the start of the festival in July.
Now that we had the chance to talk to John Carpenter – I had to think of something to ask him. I immediately started thinking of all of the interviews that I had read or seen with Carpenter and tried to think of something that he might not have been asked before. Fortunately, over the years I’ve read everything that I could get my hands on about John Carpenter from classic Fangoria interviews to biographies such as John Carpenter: The Prince of Darkness to online articles. I’ve seen all of the documentaries such as American Nightmare, every special feature on his DVDs to dedicated documentaries such as John Carpenter: The Man and His Movies. Unfortunately – Carpenter has done about a million interviews and has been asked every conceivable question.
I figured that I should approach it like any writing assignment and focus on what I know. I make movies so of course I wanted to ask Carpenter about making movies. I wrote down as many questions as I could think of and then set it aside. I picked it up and revised it after a month and then again on the day of the interview.
On Saturday, Carpenter did a Q&A session at the Fright Night Film Fest. I thought that I would use this as a dry run for a couple of my questions to see how he reacted to them. I asked my first question and he gave me a simple answer so I thought right away that I have to be very careful about how I phrased my queries. The line to the microphone was very short and since very few other people were stepping up to ask questions – I figured what the heck – I’ll ask him another one. My second question I formed while I waited in line. If you’ve seen MVP’s video of the Q&A with Carpenter – then you’ve already heard my question about Carpenter working in various sub-genres of horror. He answered simply by stating that he never thought about it like that and that he only wanted to tell good stories.
Now mind you – I asked him that question during the Q&A and since I’m mentioning it here it should be obvious that I rephrased the question and asked him again during our interview. I asked Carpenter if there were any sub-genres of horror that he wanted to work in that he didn’t have the chance to work in yet. At this point, Carpenter gave me the most honest response I had seen all weekend by stating that he had no idea what that meant.
You can hear our exchange in the interview – but he went on to say that it was “all horror” to him. We finished our interview and I was able to shake his hand and thank him for his time. It was a dream come true and an experience that I won’t soon forget.
We made the trip home and back to the world of producing projects of my own. We’ve been working at making our own projects for the past seven years and in that time we’ve had a chance to make a couple slasher films, a zombie movie and a ghost hunting thriller. I always felt like we were doing a good job at covering the basic sub-genres of horror. Now that we’ve had a few films such as Devil Comes Down and Scarecrow At Midnight play in festivals across the country, I’ve been able to receive feedback from fans and critics alike.
I always take feedback into account when thinking of our next project. I would often sit and think of the various sub-genres in horror and which ones we have yet to work in. I like to think that MVP can continue to expand by working in a different sub-genre with each new project.
I also like to contemplate the problems that I’ve seen in my own work. I know that despite the fact that he birthed modern horror as we know it, George A. Romero says he hates to watch Night of the Living Dead because all he can see are the mistakes. I see plenty of mistakes when I look at my own movies. I always feel like the biggest mistake that I make is that it’s just not scary enough. I look at my past efforts and ask myself how can I make it scarier?
Then it hit me like a lightning bolt and Carpenter’s words to me became clear. “It’s all horror.” He was reminding me not to limit myself to the supposed known sub-genres. Carpenter was a man that didn’t work in sub-genres – because he was quite literally creating them as he went along. Halloween. The Fog. Christine. The Thing. They Live. The Prince of Darkness. In The Mouth of Madness. Ghosts of Mars. Cigarette Burns. The Ward.
Almost every one of Carpenter’s movies served as the catalyst for a sub-genre of horror that mimicked his work. in 2005, John Carpenter directed two installments for the Masters of Horror series on Showtime and no one on that series deserved that title more than Carpenter. I asked the Master of Horror about working inside the fan-made academic boxes of sub-genre classification and he told me that he didn’t understand what I meant.
In reality, what he was saying was that I didn’t understand. Horror is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Horror is slasher films, ghost movies, and alien monster movies but horror is also none of those things. As filmmakers we have to go beyond classification and try to create new sub-genres of our own. Contemporary directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Takashi Miike and David Lynch create films that defy classification. They not only eschew sub-genres – but they avoid genres on a whole.
It is up to us to keep challenging ourselves to keep expanding on the language of horror. In order to create something truly terrifying, we have to take up the challenge like Carpenter before us and set out into the unknown.
Horror isn’t just about slashers, ghosts or aliens. Horror is about everything as we know it. I know this because the Master of Horror told me so.
“It’s all horror.”
This Saturday, October 29th, MVP’s own Scarecrow At Midnight will be playing at the Third Annual Myers House NC Halloween Bash in Hillsborough, North Carolina along with Michael Sharpe’s Deviling, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Night of the Demons. To celebrate the occasion – Mutantville.com has brought you an exclusive interview with the Master of Horror himself – John Carpenter.
Click the link to check out John Carpenter films at Amazon.com!