John Carpenter Looks Back on ‘The Thing’, Talks Horror and Trump’s America at Cannes
John Carpenter is receiving a major Cannes prize.
Tomorrow in Cannes John Carpenter will receive the French Directors’ Guild’s Carrosse d’Or Award for creative achievement in filmmaking during the opening ceremony of Director’s Fortnight. The award will be presented following a screening of his cult 1982 film The Thing. Collider sat down with the 71 year-old living legend at the Director’s Fortnight beach café this afternoon.
COLLIDER: What does the prize mean to you?
JOHN CARPENTER: It’s very flattering, it’s very nice. It’s wonderful that they recognised me. I think it’s because I’m old now.
Do you recognize yourself in this prize, which recognizes creativity and an independent sprit?
CARPENTER: Every director makes films with creativity. You should be kind to directors. We need your love.
How do you feel about your effect on other filmmakers? For example, you are credited with starting the slasher genre. Did you realise your films would have such an impact when you made them?
CARPENTER: It’s been great but I had no clue. We didn’t know what we were doing with Halloween. We wanted to make a movie, that’s all.
How has the genre changed?
CARPENTER: Genres always change. Horror has been with cinema since the very beginning and every generation makes it with their own sensibilities and fears. It will always be with us because every human being is scared. We were all born afraid. We’re afraid of our own death–every fear you have I have. It’s universal. Humour isn’t always universal. Fear is. That’s why horror is so incredible.
Would you be able to make the same films today?
CARPENTER: I don’t know.
Has the industry changed?
CARPENTER: Yes it has changed enormously. The kinds of movies have changed. Superhero movies are what they make. They release horror movies because they’re sure things. They know they will make money. They don’t take risks.
You took risks, you made films with your own money.
When I was at college we studied your films as being subversive, They Live, The Fog, The Thing. Horror films aren’t so subversive now. Did you deliberately make them subversive?
CARPENTER: Yeah, Yeah. I’m a subversive person. Without commenting on its quality, didn’t you think Get Out was subversive?
Jordan Peele is quite an exception.
CARPENTER: Yeah, he’s ok.
The Thing, which is screening tomorrow, came out just after E.T..
CARPENTER: You know it!
So it’s a good revenge for the film to be here!
E.T. was a good movie for other reasons. You worked on the dark side.
CARPENTER: Yeah big time! It’s good that it’s had a second life. I’m very happy about that.
Why were you attracted to annihilation and the end of the world in your movies?
CARPENTER: I grew up in an era in America when they still read the bible in school and that ended in the second grade. I was very young and impressionable and they read the Revelations. Holy shit! Are you kidding me? The end of days! Wow! The imagery was bizarre. Turns out it was Jewish imagery and symbolism going on, but I didn’t know. My mind was blown. I learned a lot more about other cultures and their end-of-time stuff. We all think about what’s afterwards. I just got so fascinated by it.
You’re an atheist, aren’t you?
CARPENTER: Yes, put it this way: I don’t believe in the supernatural. Supernatural exists in movies, not in real life. Horror in real life is Bashar al Assad dropping chemical weapons on children.
Would you make a film about the America of Trump as a horror movie?
CARPENTER: No. It’s too real and awful. I truly am scared for my country right now. We’re in really dangerous times.
What are you afraid might happen?
CARPENTER: I’m really afraid he won’t let go of power. He’s laid down the red carpet for bigots, for people I knew when I was young in the South. He’s turned over the rock and the things that crawl out! And they’re not ashamed. That scares me. There’s cruelty, there are killings, there’s hatred of other people, of immigrants. But I think that’s worldwide. Why did this come back?
Was Howard Hawks your cinematic hero when you were young?
CARPENTER: Yeah I loved his movies. Let me recommend two movies: Angels Have Wings and then watch Rio Bravo.
Why didn’t you direct a western?
CARPENTER: I had a chance to once. Maybe fear in that I couldn’t do it very well.
Now you’re a rockstar and even played the Rex in Paris.
CARPENTER: That’s a fabulous venue. I play the synthesiser. We’ve run out of stuff that’s new so I have to do a new album and play that. Americans are not supposed to have second acts and I got one. It’s unbelievable.
Why did you also create the music in your movies?