John Carpenter, the director of such genre-defining shockers as Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, and Christine, permanently scarred our collective childhood with his knack for spooky storytelling. Now, at the age of 69, he’s not only experiencing a deserved career Renaissance, he’s also embracing his status as — plot twist! — a recording artist.
Carpenter, whose father was a college music professor, often found himself scoring his own films to keep the production costs low. He later collaborated with son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies for two albums of instrumentals, 2015’s Lost Themes and 2016’s Lost Themes II. Last year saw the trio hit the road in support of the LPs.
Carpenter and sons now have third album Anthology: Movie Themes 1974–1998 out this month via Sacred Bones. On it, the three of them give a modern day take on 13 of the filmmaker’s creepiest theme songs. An accompanying trek across North America will see them play 14 dates, including, appropriately, a Halloween night stop at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles.
In addition to the music, Carpenter has three new projects cooking with Universal, the studio that released his heart-pounding take on Howard Hawks’ The Thing in 1982. Most notable are two forthcoming TV series — Nightside and Tales For A Halloween Night — plus a 2018 sequel to Halloween that has Jamie Lee Curtis set to reprise her role as Laurie Strode.
Horror master John Carpenter may be experiencing his busiest decade since the 1980s, but that didn’t prevent him from giving us some insight on what’s lurking up his sleeve. Read a Q&A with the horror legend below.
STEREOGUM: We last spoke in 2014. You’ve become quite the rock star since then.
JOHN CARPENTER: [Laughs] Well, that’s very kind of you. I don’t think I have, but thank you.
STEREOGUM: What was life on the road last year like for you, traveling around with your son and godson?
CARPENTER: Oh, it’s fabulous. I just had a great time. It’s funny, because I hate traveling. But this was just so much more fun than making movies.
STEREOGUM: Anthology is now your third album. Are you digging the process of making records more so than scoring films?
CARPENTER: It’s just a different process. You’re after a different effect. When you’re making an album, it doesn’t have to support an image or a scene. It exists for itself. It’s just different. I’m used to music not having to be overly complex.
STEREOGUM: How did the decision to re-record your classic movie themes come about as opposed to, say, making another album of original material like Lost Themes?
CARPENTER: My son and godson and I had talked about doing this album. “Well, why don’t we do the movies?” So we picked some themes that we liked and we thought would work from a different era — from ’74 through ’98 — that lent themselves to the synthesizer. I also [re-recorded] scores that were written by somebody else — Jack Nietzsche did Starman and Ennio Morricone did The Thing. I did “The March Of The Children” that Dave Davies had written for Village Of The Damned. So it was fun, too, doing what was essentially other people’s music.
STEREOGUM: Which was your favorite to revisit for Anthology?
CARPENTER: I really enjoyed playing the “Santiago” theme from Vampires.
STEREOGUM: You recently stepped behind the camera for the first time in seven years to direct the new video for your Christine theme song. What can you tell us about the star of it, Rita Volk.
CARPENTER: Her agent had reached out to my wife and I. She had seen my movies — she’s Uzbekistani, I think, or Ukrainian. But anyway, she had learned to speak English by watching movies. I met her and I really liked her a lot, so I thought, let me give her a chance with this; she might be really good. And it turns out she was! She makes the whole video. Everything else [in it] is just kind of silly bullshit. She had to carry the whole thing with her expressions. It’s all non-verbal acting.
STEREOGUM: Where did the Plymouth Fury featured in the video come from?
CARPENTER: That was from Florida, as I remember. We drove it across the country [to Los Angeles]. It was one of the cars from the film. It has the blackened windows and everything. There were a whole bunch of them. I had the chance to take one with me back when I made the film. But what am I gonna do with the damn thing? I don’t want a damn car.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of Christine, Harry Dean Stanton recently passed away. What sticks out in your mind from directing him in that movie and Escape From New York?
CARPENTER: You could always count on Harry Dean. He was a consummate actor. He had just an amazing career as a character actor for years. He was in How The West Was Won. I saw that when I was a teenager! He was such a wonderful man, and I’m really gonna miss him. But he made it to 91. That’s incredible.
STEREOGUM: Congrats, by the way, on Zoo, which has turned out to be a hit for CBS. How did you end up recording the theme song for it?
CARPENTER: Thank you. Daniel, Cody and I did it. We were just asked to, and I said, “Hell, finally somebody’s asking me to do music for them. I’m there!” It was easy and fun.
STEREOGUM: You’re touring and putting albums out, plus you have two series, Nightside and Tales For A Halloween Night, in development. Are you getting asked more to contribute scores for television and film now?
CARPENTER: No. Hell no. Nobody wants me to do anything for them. They want me to go away. We’ll see. I may do the music for the new Halloween movie. That would be pretty easy to do.
STEREOGUM: Since you brought it up, let’s talk about Universal’s upcoming Halloween sequel. You’re executive-producing the film. Scoring it seems like a natural fit for you.
CARPENTER: Sure. I’d like to do it. I’ve worked with them a little bit on the script. I’m just around to be a cheerleader for everybody.
STEREOGUM: Jamie Lee Curtis is coming back for the new Halloween. Did you get involved with getting her on board?
CARPENTER: No. She talked to the director. Her part was written into the script and they had this idea — it’s kind of a… I don’t know how to describe it. It’s almost an alternative reality. It picks up after the first one and it pretends that none of the other [sequels] were made. It’s gonna be fun. There’s a really talented director and it was well-written. I’m impressed.
STEREOGUM:You and Cody and Daniel are going on tour again soon. What can we expect this time around?
CARPENTER: The majority of the show is movie-based. There’ll be some music we haven’t played before, and we have clips for that. I’m a movie composer, so we’re gonna show movies.
STEREOGUM: Let’s end on a movie note, then. It’s been seven years since your last film was released. Is directing another one off the table for you at this point in your career?
CARPENTER: No. Oh, no. I’d do it. I’ll be directing for [Nightside and Tales For A Halloween Night]. You know, you get to be my age and you have to pick your shots. I’m just slower than I was when I was young. Back then, you put on a pair of shoes, got some coffee and it was, “Off you go; let’s go make a movie!” But now, oh, god — are you kidding? It’s hard to get up in the morning. But, sure, I’d love to do a movie if it was the right film and I thought I could do a good job with it.
John Carpenter tour dates:
10/29 Las Vegas, NV @ The Joint at Hard Rock Casino
10/31 Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Palladium
11/02 Anaheim, CA @ City National Grove
11/04 San Francisco, CA @ The Warfield
11/05 Santa Cruz, CA @ The Catalyst
11/07 Maplewood, MN @ Myth Live
11/09 Chicago, IL @ Aragon Ballroom
11/10 Detroit, MI @ El Club
11/12 Toronto, ON @ The Danforth Music Hall
11/13 Montreal, QC @ Metropolis
11/15 Boston, MA @ Royale
11/16 New York, NY @ Terminal 5
11/18 Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero
11/19 Syracuse, NY @ The Palace Theatre
John Carpenter’s third album Anthology: Movie Themes 1974–1998 will be released 10/20 via Sacred Bones. Pre-order it here.