It's been a long ten years, but one of horror-cinema's legends is back. The mastermind behind 'Halloween,' 'The Thing' and 'Prince of Darkness' -- John Carpenter -- returns to theaters this weekend with his mental hospital-set thriller: 'The Ward.'
Amber Heard stars as Kristen, a troubled young woman who is committed to the isolation ward of an insane asylum. Trying to gain control of her memory and figure out how she ended up in the ward, Kristen discovers that a dark and mysterious figure roams the halls at night; one by one, the women committed to the institution begin to disappear. In order for Kristen to survive her stay, she must discover the horrifying truth of the ward.
Moviefone spoke with Carpenter about his long-awaited return to theaters, his dream projects and if he will ever work with Kurt Russell again.
Moviefone: What drew you to 'The Ward'?
John Carpenter: I hadn't made a movie since my last film ['Ghosts of Mars'] tanked like the Titanic. I had just burned out on movie-making at that point, so I took some time off to get away from it and I realized I just didn't love cinema anymore, and I couldn't make another movie until I regained my love; we did the 'Masters of Horror' and I enjoyed myself, I really had a good time. There's a camera, there's a crew, there's some actors and lights. Then 'The Ward' came along and it was just perfect.
It was claustrophobic and a closed location, a ghost story, an ensemble cast, a little bit of mystery -- it was perfect. Wasn't too big or too long and it had a lot of talented actors to work with.
What do you think is missing in contemporary horror?
There's been several outbreaks of what you call "torture porn" horror movies. Horror movies have always been the same since cinema began in the silent era -- Edison did a version of 'Frankenstein' back then. It's nothing new and most horror films are awful, but some are really good. And this happens year after year.
Horror is such a universal subject because we're all afraid of things. Every human being in every country is afraid of something. And it changes with the times. And it evolves as society evolves. I've watched 'Saw' and I watched 'Hostel' and after I saw these films I thought to myself, "after Abu Ghraib, what more subversive entertainment can you watch as a bunch of American kids are getting tortured and then it turns around and they're torturing Iraqis?" So I can understand where the impulse comes from, but it can't last. It's going to evolve. Look at these low budget films that make a whole lot of money, 'Insidious' and 'Paranormal Activity' -- they make a ton of money.
What new voices in horror are you paying attention to?
I thought 'Let the Right One In' was really nice. It was unusual, it wasn't fast-paced. I also love the 'Girl With a Dragon Tattoo' series -- god I love those -- and [Noomi Rapace] is unbelievable. I thought Zack Snyder did a great job with the 'Dawn of the Dead' remake, but in many ways he's a very classical director.
You're also involved in the world of video games, working on the recently released 'F.E.A.R. 3.' What draws you to video games?
Video games are a different art form than movies because of your involvement as a player. And you notice in most video games, there are cut scenes. And they're trying to imitate movies. That's the part I don't want to watch. I want to play the game. It's the game-play that's interesting to me. Video games can tell a story -- 'Donkey Kong' told a story.
If you had the opportunity to adapt a video game to the big screen, what would it be?
I love 'Dead Space.'
What about that game appeals to you?
Art direction, weirdness. 'Dead Space' was just made for a horror film. 'BioShock' too. I can't believe that 'Doom' didn't have more horror; I don't understand why they changed the basic premise of that. 'Doom' was "there was a door into Hell that opened up," and in the movie they made it a virus. Everybody makes it a virus these days.
What do you think Hollywood is doing wrong with its video game adaptations?
You need a good screenplay for a video game, and I think a lot of the problems with video games is they're not taken seriously by Hollywood, so they're pre-sold. "Oh we're going to make 'Mortal Kombat' and you'll like it because you played the game." So they don't have anybody that's giving it the kind of storytelling love that it needs. It's a different medium, so you have to do it differently.
Another aspect of your legacy that is so unique is your work as a film composer. If you could score any director, living or dead, what would be your dream music job?
If I could do any director in any era, I would love to do the early Hammer films of Terence Fisher. 'Curse of Frankenstein' and 'Horror of Dracula.' I love the scores to those films because the composer was James Bernard, who is one of my big heroes. I would do that a little differently and it would be a fun. I've never been asked to score a horror movie.
That's a shame because your sound is so iconic.
Once I went to get an agent to sell me as a composer. We met, he liked me -- then I never heard from him again! Apparently he went out of business. That shows you what my composing career is all about.
Do you ever reflect on the odd influence 'They Live' has had on modern society? Shepard Fairey re-appropriated the 'Obey' imagery from that movie, which gave him his first national prominence. And then his style was so connected to Obama's presidential campaign.
Shepard Fairey has done a new poster for 'They Live' for the Alamo Drafthouse and it's very nice -- if he gets money for that, I wish he'd pay me just a little bit.
If you look around at the financial collapse of 2008 and the politics of today, you realize that everything about 'They Live' is true and it has not gone away. It is still supply-side economics and it's still greed and... I don't know what to tell you.
July 10 is the 30th anniversary of 'Escape From New York,' and your fans want to know -- when will you work with Kurt Russell again?
He's so rich, he doesn't need to work with me anymore. He has a vineyard, he has a bottle of wine that he sells. Kurt's an entrepreneur, he doesn't need to work with me again. But it would be fun to work with him again.
'Big Trouble in Little China' turned 25 last week; can we expect a 'Big Trouble 2'?
Kurt doesn't want to do it, he's embarrassed by the failure of that movie. He thought his performance was great, but we just got murdered. You got to realize actors are very delicate people, you can't just throw sh*t on them and expect them to love it. He doesn't want to do it. You have to tell him.
Give me his number.
I don't have it on me.