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IT’S CARPENTER’S THING

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the 1982 version of ‘The Thing’ is released in a new Blu-ray edition with bounteous bonus features (see below), it provides an opportunity to look back on my conversation with the director when the film was released. This interview, under the headline ‘Carpenter plans to move on to other things,’ was published in the Deseret News on June 25, 1982.

With “The Thing” under his belt, John Carpenter now plans to begin filming Stephen King’s novel “Firestarter.”

But being typed as a horror director doesn’t suit his future plans. He hopes his next project will be a western, and he’d like to do a comedy and a musical somewhere down the road.

“You get associated with the movies that are most successful for you. ‘The Thing,’ ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Fog’ are associated with me but that’s not all I do. I have mixed feelings about it. I love horror films, I love movies — but I also love other kinds of movies, and I don’t want to be necessarily typed as a horror director.”

Carpenter, speaking by telephone from his office at Universal Studios in Hollywood, said he is pleased with “The Thing” (which opens today in Salt Lake theaters), but he’s puzzled by reaction from film critics that the horror movie is too graphic.

Audience reaction to a couple of national sneak previews last weekend was “very strong, very positive — but not from the critics. Most of them are after me.

“They say it’s too graphic, that I’ve gone too far and that surprised me. I think the film is not that graphic if you compare it with other movies. It’s very weird, very strange. But my films notoriously get bad reviews.”

     

Carpenter went on to say that he doesn’t feel there is any serious film criticism in the United States. “It’s very superficial here.”

“The Thing” is the biggest film Carpenter has ever directed, in terms of budget. “Escape from New York,” a science-fiction thriller, had a budget of around $7 million and was at the time his biggest film. But “The Thing” more than doubled that, due largely, he said, to complicated special-effects work.

Prior to “Escape From New York,” Carpenter’s budgets were very small indeed.

His first feature began as a student project at the University of Southern California. Over the course of four years, it was gradually completed and cost a total of $60,000. It was a science-fiction spoof, “Dark Star,” and is now a cult classic. “Funny how those things work out,” Carpenter said.

He actually began making films in his backyard when he was just 8 years old. His father gave him an 8mm movie camera, and he and some friends got together and did a first effort called “Gorgon the Space Monster,” with special effects and a classical music score accompanying it all (“The 1812 Overture” and “Night on Bald Mountain” on tape).

After graduating from USC Film School, Carpenter, a native of Bowling Green, Ky., stayed in Los Angeles and tried his hand at screenplays, including “Eyes,” which became the Faye Dunaway film “The Eyes of Laura Mars,” after the script was changed by other writers.

Coming across an investor who wanted to get into the movies, Carpenter got him to back “Assault on Precinct 13,” which Carpenter wrote, directed, edited and musically scored. He styled the film after the work of his favorite director, Howard Hawks, who also was responsible for the original version of “The Thing.”

“ ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ was a Howard Hawks western set in a police station.”

Then Irwin Yablans, who distributed “Assault” domestically, gave Carpenter $300,000 and complete artistic control to come up with a movie about a psycho killer stalking babysitters on Halloween night. Carpenter wrote it with Debra Hill, and directed and scored it. He got a piece of the film’s profit, which became a considerable amount when “Halloween” became the top moneymaking independent film ever made. It also spawned a cycle of “slasher” films, all of them much more violent and graphic than the original “Halloween.”

Carpenter, who said he has seen very few of the ripoffs of his modern horror classic, thinks the cycle has deeper roots, however.

“I don’t think ‘Halloween’ started anything new as much as it reinforced an old one, one that stated with ‘Psycho.’ Basically, ‘Psycho’ started the whole area of the psychotic killer.” Horror got a big boost with “Rosemary’s Baby” in the late ’60s, he said, and a film comes along every now and then that keeps it going. He cited “The Exorcist,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Carrie,” “Alien,” and his own “Halloween,” of course.

Though he had co-producing and co-writing credit on “Halloween II,” he admits, “I’m not particularly fond of it myself.” He has co-producing credit as well on “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which he says is a very good film, very different from its predecessors, and one that will surprise everyone when it comes out this October.

     

     Adrienne Barbeau, John Carpenter in the early 1980s

Carpenter has also directed two TV films, “Someone Is Watching Me,” during which he met his wife Adrienne Barbeau, and “Elvis,” one of the highest-rated TV movies ever made and whose star, Kurt Russell, also starred in Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” and “The Thing.” Barbeau was also in “Escape” and starred in “The Fog” for her husband. Carpenter said his association with Russell has been most fulfilling (“He’s simply a great actor”) and he also hopes to work more with his wife in the future (“If we both like the project and feel it’s right for us”).

Now, at age 33, he has a string of financial successes, some critical acclaim and a potential summer hit with “The Thing.” Getting back to the subject of screen violence, Carpenter said several of his favorite films are graphic, “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Night of the Living Dead,” but he appreciates subtle horror as well. “Gore for its own sake is never frightening. Being graphic for its own sake is never frightening. There should be a purpose behind it.”

“The Thing” is also his first venture in the major-studio mainstream, and “Firestarter” is for Universal as well. “But I’d like to go back to little films again. I’d do another small one.”

Meanwhile, he’ll go on scaring people, secure in the knowledge that his films are fantasies, and the audience knows it too. “I don’t know how any movie hurts anybody. If you are a parent, you have to evaluate the emotional stability of your kids. Are they mature enough to understand that this is a fantasy, that it’s not real? I don’t think movies really harm people.

“ ‘The Thing’ is the strongest movie I’ve made, but it’s a fantasy film. It’s about monsters. And I think the kids know that.”