Home Entertainment Horror Legend John Carpenter Talks About Life Onstage and a New “Halloween”

Horror Legend John Carpenter Talks About Life Onstage and a New “Halloween”

John Carpenter will bring his legendary career of haunting sights and sounds to The Pabst Theater on Monday night. (PHOTO: Kyle Cassidy)

From some of the greatest horrors put on screen to sci-fi romances, action heroes and evil fogs, the entertainingly ridiculous and the unnervingly prescient, director John Carpenter and his legendary career have had it all.

His brilliantly crafted B-movies have inspired more than just legions of filmmakers – from Quentin Tarantino to, well, pretty much any good horror/thriller over the last few years. Throughout the years, he’s inspired the street artist behind the now iconic “OBEY” and Barack Obama “Hope” posters. He’s inspired intense critical reevaluations of his once-underappreciated work (Roger Ebert originally referred to his icy masterpiece “The Thing” as “just a geek show, a gross-out movie in which teenagers can dare one another to watch the screen” – which, sure, but that’s just the slimy, gory surface to a chilly paranoia parable). At the minimum, he’s inspired arguably one of the greatest movie quotes of all time.

After dominating the screen (more so now than ever before), the only place left for him to go would be the stage, where, for the first time, the director is performing his iconic movie scores – as well as some of his new, just as synth-ily satisfying compositions – live on tour. And for a man whose legacy has summoned some of our greatest collective nightmares and monsters, he describes the tour with a surprising word: joyous.

That’s no joke, either. Chatting with the movie maestro before his tour arrives at The Pabst Theater on Monday, July 18, the most common word Carpenter used was “fun.” He talked with the energetic effervescence of someone finally getting his big break, not a 68-year-old Hollywood vet, as we hit on his new tour, his iconic music and movies, and tipping his toe back into his most famous creation: “Halloween.”

OnMilwaukee: This is the first time you’re taking this music live with this tour. What’s it feel like to perform? Nervous?

John Carpenter: I was at the beginning, but now I’m just having a blast. It’s just almost criminal how much fun I’m having. I’m loving it.

What was that first show like?

We had a friends and family show, and it was doing a show where, “OK, let me get this under my belt. Let me try this out,” because I’m not used to any of this. I’m used to being behind the camera; I’m not used to being in front. I don’t know what this is like. I don’t know anything! So that was the first one; I got the fear out pretty much. Everything has gone great from then on.

Have you picked up on anything in these first sets of shows, working through the early shows?

Just to go have a good time, that’s what I’ve learned. See, 70 percent of this is my scores, scores from movies I’ve made, and then I think 20 or 25 percent of the show is music from the last two albums I’ve made. So it’s a mixture of things – plus we have visuals going of the movies, so it’s a total experience for the audience. It is loud; I’ll warn people on that. It’s rockin’ out. There were a couple people in Dallas who were a little frightened of the noise level. They weren’t ready for it to be loud; I can’t understand that.

What’s the process for you for composing this new music from “Lost Themes” and “Lost Themes II”? Do you still work with visuals the way you would with a movie?

The process is really about improvisation. The music just comes out of some instinctual place, probably from all of the movies that I’ve watched throughout my life and various things and issues. So it’s improvising, which is just fun! I mean, god, I can’t tell you how much fun this is; it’s amazing. I hope the audience loves it as much as I love doing it.

Is there anybody working today with scores that you think is making the kind of iconic scores you wrote? Do you think anybody is working on that inventive, iconic level?

Well, I wouldn’t put it that way. I’m just doing my music. I have minimal chops as a musician, I guarantee you. I’m just barely getting by (laughs) so let’s just say I’ve been lucky in my career. But there’s a lot of great composers working right now, just a lot of great ones, so I couldn’t even choose.

Are there any scores that stick out in your mind?

Hans Zimmer’s work, from the ’80s and ’90s on. It’s just unbelievable. He’s the greatest.

You have so many classic films from over your career, but in a lot of cases, they didn’t get the respect when they were first released that they have now, dismissed as genre films. How do you feel about the increased respect your films have received over recent years?

It’s great! It’s better than taking a crap on my head, I’ll tell you that. You always want people to like your stuff. There’s mixed feelings about me; I think there still are. I think a lot of the serious cinema folks think I’m a piece of trash, but I don’t know.

Do you think it’s the genre thing?

Sure! Of course, man; it’s their pornography. “You can’t do this horror movie stuff.” They think I’m overrated; the French like me, so they think I’m Jerry Lewis. That’s what it’s all about.

Do you think those attitudes toward genre films have improved at all?

No. Oh, hell no. They haven’t improved; people still think they’re those kind of movies.

The fact that a movie like “The Witch” can be filmed and beautifully shot in natural light but will never be considered for Best Cinematography, while “The Revenant” did the same thing, people flocked to it and gave it awards because it’s a drama.

That’s right; one’s a serious movie and the other’s just a horror movie. And this is the attitude. It’s unbelievable. But hey, that’s what my career has been. But I don’t care now. I’m playing music now. The hell with them. F**k ’em.

Well, not completely. I have to ask: They’ve recently announced that you’re going to be executive producer of a new “Halloween” movie. Why revisit it now? What brought you back to the world of Michael Myers?

I thought to myself that I’ve been sitting around for years complaining that they’re doing sequels; why don’t I get off my ass and help? I’d love to work with a young director and maybe we can make something good! Maybe not; maybe it’ll be a piece of trash, but we’ll try!

What do you think is the biggest pothole that writers and directors step into when they’re making a reboot or a sequel or a remake? What’s the one you want to make sure you don’t make?

I just want us to have a good story. I think that’s the most important thing.

How much involvement do you have on this film?

I’m an executive producer, and I may do the music. We’ll see.

Are there any ideas circulating for it yet?

I can’t tell you that; you’ll tell other people, and I don’t want them to know yet! We’re very early; we’re trying to reach a director and a writer. It’ll take some time; you have to be patient.

Is there something you’re particularly looking for in a director? Or are there any directors that intrigue you?

One of my favorite young directors is Adam Wingard. He intrigues me. I think he’s got a lot of talent. He knows how to direct. We’ll see.