Dialogue: John Carpenter Talks The Ward and How He Really Feels About Remakes

Dialogue: John Carpenter Talks The Ward and How He Really Feels About Remakes

Jun 08, 2011

Today marks the release of John Carpenter's The Ward.  Yes, you read that correctly, today you can see a new horror movie from the man who gave the world Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Prince of Darkness, In The Mouth of Madness and many, many more classics.  

The Ward, starring Amber Heard as the latest inmate of an all-girls ward in a haunted mental institution, actually hits theaters on July 8th, but you can catch it early on VOD starting today.  This gave us the opportunity to talk to the legendary master of horror about his latest film, but also where he's been, where he's going and just how exactly he feels about so many of his films ending up on the remake chopping block.  It shouldn't be a surprise considering he's been in the business for decades and has nothing to hide, but his honesty about it all is still surprisingly refreshing to hear.  Turns out this Hollywood legend is as down to Earth as you and me.


Movies.com: What is a day in the life of John Carpenter like these days?

John Carpenter: [Laughs] It's actually changed from what it was.  I get up early in the mornings!  I have a couple cups of coffee, watch a little news.  I decide if I'm going to play a video game that day.

Movies.com: What kind of games do you like?

Carpenter: I love first person shooters, but almost any kind.  I just played Pirates of the Caribbean and I'm about to start L.A. Noire.  But back to my day.  I check the schedule to see if there is a basketball game, especially now that the finals are on the way.  I check to see what time it's on, so I plan my day around that.

Movies.com: Well you've more than earned yourself a life of relaxation.

Carpenter: I have maybe a third or fourth cup of coffee during the day, get a little nosh.  I sometimes go out, visit a book store or a video game store... We have on Sunset a big store called Ameoba, they have a lot of records, but they also have a lot of movies.  It's great.  So I go and see if there are any new releases I wanna check out. 

Then evening comes around and me and my wife make jokes, make a little dinner and watch some TV.  It's kinda like that.

Movies.com:  It sounds wonderfully normal.

Carpenter: And I don't mind that one bit.  And occasionally I make movies.

Movies.com: Well it's great to know you're back to making features.  Speaking of, what was it about The Ward that brought you back to feature films?

Carpenter: This was the right movie at the right time; the right kind of movie at the right time.  The story was interesting enough, a ghost story in a mental institution, which is somewhere we've kind of been before in other movies.  But, its ensemble cast was all females, which I'd been looking forward to working with because I've never done that.  I've worked with a bunch of women before, but not specifically in this way.

Then I started casting it and found some really talented folks and thought it was getting more and more fun.  After I did the Masters of Horror cable series, I did a couple of those and I had a great time making those.  But they were small.  Not too many days of shooting, limited in their time to an hour.  I had a great time, so I thought, if I can do something small, I'll come back.  And The Ward was perfect!

Movies.com: I'm curious about the process of it coming across your desk.  Was it a case of, "Hey, I think I'll make a movie now" and you were actively seeking, or did it, like I imagine many scripts do, just show up one day?

Carpenter: I get so many scripts that are just awful, man.  Most of them are unreadable.  I started back looking at material again probably in 2007 or 2008 and this was one of several properties I came across that I was interested in.  I thought, "This is good, this is interesting." Don't think Hollywood is knocking on my door every day. [Laughs]

Movies.com: Oh they're not?  At least they're clearly interested in remaking your movies.

Carpenter: [Laughs] And I let them remake them because they have to pay me!  That's the profession I'm actually best at.

Movies.com: Well you're even one of the pioneers in that regard as well.  You built multiple generations worth of fantastic movies and have then allowed others to pay you for the privilege to try and revisit them.

Carpenter: And what's wrong with that?  It's like being a pimp in a whore house.

Movies.com:  That's an interesting way to put it.  Do you have any investment in those remakes other than giving your approval and collecting the checks.  Do you watch them?

Carpenter: Frankly, when another director is making a movie, that's his film; his or her vision, not mine.  Because of the way I was trained, the times I have ever interfered in someone else's vision have proven mistakes.  My movies will last, my vision will live on.  If anyone else comes along and proves that, that's great.

Movies.com: The strangest thing about remaking your films is that it's such an ambitious thing to do; to call that shot, to try and reach or even top the high bars you've set.

Carpenter: Well that's very nice of you to say.  All these decisions, my friend, are made on one word: commerce.  It's all about commerce.

Movies.com: I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with that.  It's business, it's an industry and I think a lot of film fans forget that.

Carpenter: Well, it's called "showbusiness" not "showart."

Movies.com: Exactly!  Now getting back to The Ward, you have such a great tradition of creating memorable openings and title sequences that grab you, what was the approach here?

Carpenter: That was an interesting process.  We had the opening scene a couple of ways.  I shot it the footage where you saw the ghost walking down the hallway, and then I shot footage where you couldn't see what was coming.  It's all about a balance of what you can and can't see.  We had a lot of fun with it.

Movies.com: What about the actual credits, was that something you were involved with or was that an outside unit.

Carpenter: It was an outside unit, a credits company that comes up with ideas.  They did storyboard for the ideas, and there were several that were very good, but this particular one had real photographs of the way mentally ill people were treated.  The pictures, collected over the years, showed bedlam.  Some of them we couldn't use, because when you use a picture of a real person you have to get permission from their next of kin and stuff, but they're all very real looking. 

Then the broken glass was added, then Mark Killian's excellent music was added, and we had something going!

Movies.com: Why did you opt for Mark Killian's score instead of doing it yourself?

Carpenter: Well, for A), he's better than I am! [Laughs]  Do you realize the amount of work it takes to score a whole film?

Movies.com: That's one of the things that's always blown my mind about you-- how many different hats you're capable of wearing.  I'm not surprised in the least to see you hand one off.

Carpenter: It's hard!  Doesn't mean I won't do it in the future, I think about it, but happily I found someone better.  I thought Mark did a very nice little variation on the Suspiria theme.

Movies.com: What are you working on right now?

Carpenter: The playoffs, dude!

Movies.com: [Laughs] What about after basketball is over?

Carpenter: Oh, I don't know.  I've got a handful of projects I'm working on.  A comic book we've got a really good screenplay on, we're working on a budget now.  I've got a Gothic Western I'm working on.  There are irons in the fire for sure.

Categories: Horror, Interviews
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