The director who brought us Halloween, The Fog and the gloriously gory remake of The Thing, John Carpenter is synonymous with the horror genre, and I was lucky enough to chat with him about his career recently. Scream Factory has given his 1988 film They Live—about a small group of people who use special glasses to uncover the consumerist messages, and their alien creators, that lurk in our midst—a souped-up reissue treatment that features an excellent transfer and bonus features. Check it out.
You’ve made some very dark movies, and there’s a common theme of possession that runs throughout them, whether it’s possession by an alien force (The Thing), entities (Ghosts Of Mars) or media (They Live). I guess that’s your more paranoid view of society?
Well, look around. I think it’s real. I think people can totally be influenced by their darker sides.
Your 2010 chiller, The Ward, was your first film in nearly a decade. You’re rooted in a very classical narrative style. Do you think a lot of modern horror films are on overdrive?
Some of them are, and some of them are incredibly tedious. Some are really good. I don’t know if you saw this European movie, Let The Right One In. It was really good but understated. I just thought it was tremendous. I didn’t see the remake of it, but it was a throwback to an older style of filmmaking. There’s a lot of thud and blunder in movies today, and this is part of the style of them.
One of the things that’s made you unique over the years is that you compose many of your own scores. Were you ever a trained musician, or did you just start creating these soundscapes?
I was trained. I wasn’t very good. Somebody described me as somebody with minimal chops. I play the piano—I can do okay with it and fake my way through it. My father tried to teach me violin, and I played in a rock ‘n’ roll band, so I knew my way around that. I did it [composing] in self-defense to start with because I needed cheap and fast. We didn’t have any money in the old days for music, but then it became a part of the creative process. It’s hard to do now.
I’m fascinated with the supernatural, but that stuff never happens to me.
The supernatural is alive and real in the movies and in literature, but not in real life. At least it hasn’t happened to me either. I don’t believe in it.
I’ve been to one or two creepy places and felt weird vibes, but maybe that came from knowing where I was?
When you become a horror director, those things don’t bother you. I went looking for a location for a prison, and I went into an abandoned prison in New Mexico. There had been a riot there, and there was a gas chamber. So I walked in and sat down. It didn’t bug me. I remember Ice Cube saying, “Oh, man!” What, nothing is going to happen to me in here. It’s just this big old metal thing. It’s all in your mind.
But you still need people to be freaked out by those things to go watch John Carpenter films.
There you go. Loving it.
FEAR OF NAUSEA
The multi-director V/H/S riffs on the classic anthology idea through found footage stories found on VHS tapes in the house of a deceased old man that four miscreants have been asked to rob. They each watch a different video at different times—the five tales expose everyone from human to supernatural killers—and then disappear afterward. While none of the concepts are new, at least three of the six stories (if you include the bookends) are interesting. But ultimately they are not linked together, nor is the use of VHS tapes to archive everything from nanny cams to Skype chats ever explained. Beyond the gratuitous boob shots and misogynistic douchebags that populate much of the movie, the biggest problem here is what I called the Cloverfield Effect. If shaky camerawork does not agree with your sense of equilibrium, and I do have a problem with it, you might feel a little sick and won’t be watching this all in one sitting. (It took me three.) The first and last two terror tales are pretty cool for sheer shock value. Just don’t expect anything deeper.
THE DARK KNIGHT SUPER SIZED
Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman got some undesired press when a gunman massacred people at a midnight showing in Colorado, but it still went on to be a huge success. Beyond the idea of onscreen violence as catharsis, fans have debated the finale in many different ways, but needless to say Nolan’s smarter approach to superhero filmmaking will be missed. (Unless he chooses a new character to tackle.) The best way to watch The Dark Knight Rises, the operatic, action-packed finale to Nolan’s trilogy, is on Blu-ray, and the HD release comes jam-packed with hours of extras, exploring everything from the characters to the making of the film. For über Batgeeks, one can even purchase The Dark Knight Rises: Limited Edition Bat Cowl set, which should still be available online.
NETFLIX: TO STREAM OR NOT TO STREAM?
A few months ago, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for Netflix streaming. I have known a few people in the past who have enjoyed the regular DVD mail service and the incredible selection it has to offer, but I wanted something quicker and more immediate, especially as I often need to watch a lot of movies for work. I figured as I have been using it now since the late summer that I should weigh in on the pros and cons of this convenient service.
If you’re a fan of horror movies, particularly those lurking in the underground, Netflix streaming delivers with vintage and modern titles. They have many ’70s and ’80s movies—Deadly Blessing, The Initiation and Bob Balaban’s long-lost Parents, not on DVD—that are now cluttering up my instant queue. Awesome. But when it comes to new mainstream titles or even multiple installments in a franchise—A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday The 13th and Paranormal Activity—you’ll generally be out of luck, often completely. Availability of some titles varies; titles go up and come down, possibly due to various contractual obligations or space issues. (Or perhaps just to drive you nuts.) This applies to titles across all genres, and new mainstream releases are not commonly added upon release. (That just makes economic sense for the studios.)
The fact that Netflix has so many titles in HD is a plus, especially in the age of HD TVs. I would advise unplugging your PC from the modem while streaming so that your Blu-ray player commands the bandwidth, especially if you fast forward or rewind a lot; the image may freeze. My only recourse in these circumstances is to shut down my player and restart it. To the credit of Netflix, it will remember where you left off, which makes it easier to start anew.
While I imagine signing up for a regular Netflix account would allow me greater access to a deeper catalog, it also means waiting for titles to come in and watching them individually. At least if I want to absorb all nine Hellraiser movies in a row, I can by streaming them. (Not that I have.) If you want to test out Netflix streaming (normally $7.99/month), there is a month free trial that makes it easy to see if you like the service. I have found it to be pretty good so far, and I’m hoping it will improve over time.