John Carpenter, the patron saint of Halloween, on playing live and scaring fans

Horror icon John Carpenter – the man responsible for must-see films including Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982) and They Live (1988) is back to reclaim the spooky season. Firstly, there’s a new Halloween sequel, confusingly called Halloween, in cinemas from Friday, for which Carpenter acted as executive producer and creative consultant and even reworked his tense, unnerving theme music. And in his capacity as musician, he this week brings his stunning live show to the UK. We caught up with the 70-year-old director and latter-day rock god for a chat.

Hi John. At an age when many people retire, you started touring with a band. Did you have always have designs on being a rockstar?

John Carpenter: “No, this was not my teenage dream! It’s just an opportunity for me to have a second career, playing music live. I never expected it.”

Do you get a big kick out of performing live?

“Oh yeah, I’m enjoying the hell out of it, I’m having a great time. It’s still surprising to me. It’s just awesome.”

As a director, is there anything in the film world that’s analogous to the approval you get from a live concert audience?

“No, there’s nothing like it. In a movie, everything is plotted it out and it happens later – you get the reaction later on, after you’ve cut the film together. This is instantaneous.”

People at your shows turn up in horror film T-shirts the way fans of a band wear band shirts to gigs. How would you characterise your audience?

“They’re probably fans of my movies who want to come and see me fall on my face.”

You have these amazing supercuts of each film that play while you do. Did you edit those yourself?

“No no no no no – that’s actual literal work.”

How did you end up doing the music for your films? Cost-cutting?

“Yeah, I come from student filmmaking, so we never had any money to hire a composer – we had to do it ourselves. So I was able to do it, and I did score some of my classmates’ student films and it was fun to do so I took that into the low budget filmmaking I was doing. It was necessity!”

How would you describe your style of composition?

“It’s, I don’t know, I’m improvising everything I’m doing, so it’s things that have been rattling around in my head for years being spit out via this process. That’s what’s happening.”

The sound of modern horror films was defined by your soundtracks. Have you noticed your influence of it on modern day TV and film scores – like Stranger Things, It Follows, Drive even?

“I haven’t noticed that influence at all, but, well, that’s great. I haven’t seen Stranger Things, so I can’t comment on it.”

I reckon you’d like it…

“Maybe I’ll check it out. It sounds like from the descriptions that it’s sort of Stephen King influenced, so that’s Stephen King, not me…”

The new Halloween movie is the first Halloween film you’ve been involved with in any capacity since writing 1982’s Halloween III: Season Of The Witch. How happy were you with what they did with your characters in the meantime?

“I look at it in a specific way – those are somebody else’s movies, not mine. I didn’t direct it, I didn’t write it, so whatever the Halloween movies they, they were not mine. So I kind of didn’t watch them and just kind of let it go.”

Did you have any reticence about returning to Halloween?

“No, Jason Blum (producer, Blumhouse) convinced me to do it – he said, they’re going to make a sequel, the rights reverted back to Miramax from the Weinstein Company, so he said it’s going to happen, why don’t we get together to work on it and make it better? And I thought, That’s a great idea, you know. Instead of criticising from the sidelines, why don’t I try to make it better?”

Some Jack O’Lantern inspo for you

And the new one takes the sequels out of the continuity?

“Yeah, the new movie takes place as if there were no sequels, so Jamie Lee Curtis’s character Laurie Strode has grown up since that terrible night. She lost her friends and she encountered extreme violence so she has kind of PTSD and she’s a survivor of violence, so that’s what we go into in the new Halloween movie.”

You’ve also reworked the famous theme for the new movie. What have you done to it?

“We made it a bigger theme and brought new technology, new sounds into play, made it more modern.”

Do you watch a lot of modern horror movies? What do you think of the state of the genre at the moment?

“It’s doing very well. I’m very proud of it! I think the one that really stands out to me was done a few years ago, I think maybe 2007, a Swedish film called Let The Right One In, and I thought that movie re-invented the vampire myth in a way that modernised it.”

After Halloween, is there another of your films you’d consider being involved in a sequel for?

“Well, there are two kind of sequels of my work. If they’re making a sequel of a movie I wrote, then they have to pay me. But if the studio owns the work, then they don’t pay me. So I prefer the first! I usually say no to doing them myself – I don’t want to do sequels now. It’s not to say I won’t.”

I read that the original idea for the Halloween films was for each to be a standalone movie set around Halloween, hence why Halloween III: Season Of The Witch didn’t have Michael Myers or Laurie Strode in it. Ultimately, that path wasn’t followed. What were the other ideas had those films been made?

“Oh, I don’t know, because we didn’t do them. The audience wanted to see the guy with the mask and the knife.”

Do you feel vindicated that Halloween III has found a cult audience now?

“Absolutely. People really like it now. And they should! It’s a really great movie.”

What’s next for you?

“I don’t know, I’m going to take it easy. I’m an old man now, I can’t run around like I used to! I spend most of my time watching basketball and playing video games. I think maybe I’m addicted to playing video games. It’s just so much fun.”

Do you go on multiplayer games?

“No, I don’t want to be shamed by a 13-year-old. I play in isolation. Right now I’m waiting for the new Fallout game, so I’m playing the old Fallout 4 to prepare.”

A lot of people around the world watch Halloween on the big night. What do you do on Halloween night yourself?

“As an adult, I’m not a big Halloween fan! I watch basketball!”

John Carpenter’s UK tour begins tomorrow, with dates as follows. Grab tickets here.

Oct 16: London, UK @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire
Oct 18: Newcastle, UK @ Tyne Theatre
Oct 19: Glasgow, UK @ Barrowlands
Oct 21: Manchester, UK @ Albert Hall

The Halloween soundtrack is also released this Friday, October 19, via Sacred Bones

John Carpenter in the studio