Horror icon John Carpenter on being a college dropout, ‘Barbie’ and telling true scary stories


LOS ANGELES (AP) — While John Carpenter has become synonymous with fictional horror storytelling, the 75-year-old director and composer is dipping his toe into true life terrors with his new show, “John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams.”

The legendary director, known for genre-defining classics including “Halloween” and “The Thing,” sat down with The Associated Press for a wide-ranging interview ahead of the release of the unscripted anthology series, which fittingly hits Peacock on Friday, Oct. 13. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: I know you’ve talked about how film school helped you understand the plumbing of making movies. But it’s interesting because now with education we have so much more access to information thanks to the internet.

CARPENTER: Tell me about it. It’s all different now. Oh, everything is different. The technology of the business is different. The business is different. I would be starting over completely green if I had to right now. I learned everything about the camera and editing and sound and all that stuff. All that stuff has changed. It’s all different. The sound now is like, ‘What the hell is that? Where’s the NAGRA?’ At USC, we had a lab where you could do processing. We don’t process any more. It’s all digital.

AP: I’m curious if you had any reluctance at the time about dropping out or if it was like full steam ahead.

CARPENTER: No, I knew what I was doing. I just wanted to get out of there, get on with my career.

AP: I have noticed that a lot of recent academic literature has been written about horror movies, even outside of film studies. For so long it was thought of as kind of low brow. Now, scholars are writing about it. And we’re seeing this interest in elevated horror, directors like Jordan Peele.

CARPENTER: His movies are pretty damn good. The UFO movie is great. I loved it. I see horror as a genre that gets reinvented by every generation to fit their generation. You know, I did it with mine. Tobe Hooper and George Romero reinvented it for theirs. It always happens.

AP: But some people still turn their nose up at it.

CARPENTER: They still look down on it, don’t they? We’ve always been looked down on. We’re close to being pornographers. Just a little above, you know? Just a bit.

AP: Have you been playing any good video games lately?

CARPENTER: I’ve been playing one for a long time, the “Fallout” game. I’m looking forward to the new “Assassin’s Creed” game. I don’t know if it’s going to be any good, but I’ll check it out.

AP: I think video games are having a similar kind of moment. They were written off for a long time, and now they’re having a kind of renaissance.

CARPENTER: Roger Ebert said video games will never be art. And I thought, “Wait a minute now. It is.” In its own way, it’s art.

AP: So now you are pivoting to real scary stories — things that actually happened. Can you talk a little bit about what prompted you to make this sort of shift in your storytelling?

CARPENTER: Well, I’ve never done this before — true stories that involve frightening things. True stories of killers are a staple of television. But what we’re concentrating on in this series are the survivors. You know, we don’t care so much about the perpetrators. The thing about “Dahmer,” the character that I remember the most is Niecy Nash — the character from the survivor’s point of view. And that’s something I haven’t done. I also haven’t done a true-life deal, except for Elvis, which — that doesn’t count. But I also remote directed this series and that’s fantastic. The cast and crew were in Prague, and I’m sitting in my living room. I have a full cup of coffee in my hand saying, “Do this, do that.” That’s fabulous. I cannot wait to do it again that way.

AP: And how did the stories come to you? Were they pitched to you and then you vetted them?

CARPENTER: Yeah, that’s it. We have researchers who find the stories out there and we pick the ones that are the most interesting. I picked the phone stalker because I couldn’t believe that this woman was being stalked for six years and they couldn’t catch this guy. What the hell is that? It’s crazy.

AP: It’s been a tumultuous time in Hollywood with the writers and actors strikes this summer. I’m curious what your thinking is on the state of the industry.

CARPENTER: Oh, wow. Well parts of it are thriving, parts aren’t. I mean, look, “Barbie” is the biggest movie of the year and it made like $1 billion worldwide, made by a woman. That’s incredible. That’s progress. I can’t promise you that I understood the damn movie or cared about it that much. It’s just so, you know, it’s just different. However, I appreciate what she did. Appreciate everybody involved in that film.

So, I mean, come on. The movie business has always been cooking along. We all love to go to movies. We still love to go to movies. We’re watching a lot on our TVs, though. And I guess on our computers too. I’m not sure about that. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why that? I gotta see it big. Anyway, what do I think of the business? Well, I love cinema. I love movies. The art of motion pictures. So, wherever the business goes, I’ll follow along and still love it. But I fell in love when I was really young. And it hasn’t gone away.

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