He’s baaaaack! After a self-imposed retirement from the film business, John Carpenter, a man who has etched his way into the bleeding black hearts of horror fans everywhere with movies like The Thing, Halloween, The Fog, and Christine – has come home to his roots with the low budget movie The Ward. Killer Film goes in-depth with Carpenter on his latest fright of flight flick that looks to be a real white knuckler and a return to form for the maestro.
Jason Bene: The Ward is your first feature film since Ghosts of Mars. Why haven’t we seen you directing besides your two episodes of Masters of Horror(Cigarette Burns, Pro-Life)?
John Carpenter: I just had to stop for a while. I just had to take a break. I found myself burnt out a little. I was tired of the business and I was tired of working. It didn’t help that Ghosts of Mars didn’t do very well at the box-office. I decided it’s time to sit down and relax for a while. I had a lot of basketball to watch.
Jason Bene: The timing was bad for Ghost of Mars because 9/11 happened a few weeks after its release. Fans need to remember that from Halloween to Ghosts of Mars, you didn’t take that much time off in between movies.
John Carpenter: You got it, my friend. You got it. It was just a necessity for my own life. I had to just stop for a while. I really had to stop.
Jason Bene: I have a two-month old daughter and it has put my future in perspective. What I do for a living is not my life.
John Carpenter: (Laughs) That’s true. That’s true. How is your two-month old daughter doing?
Jason Bene: She is doing great! She is almost twelve pounds. She is starting to sleep a little longer during the night. For a while she was getting up every two hours to eat and it was killing us. But you look at that face and it’s all worth it.
John Carpenter: I know. I know. They are cuties. Just wait until she gets to be a teenager. Just you wait. Your time is coming.
Jason Bene: Is it true that The Ward is the first film you haven’t shot in Panavision since Dark Star?
John Carpenter:I shot it widescreen and not Panavision. You are right. You are absolutely right. It was budget. I wasn’t really in control of that stuff. I had to meet a budget and had to do it. We shot widescreen, but it was not Panavision. It was interesting. It was real interesting to do opposed to Panavision, which I dearly love. Nothing looks as good as Panavision. Nothing does. No film looks any better. But that was not the way it was done in this film. So I just accepted it, like I accept everything else about life.
Jason Bene: You didn’t write or score the film. Did that give you breathing room so you could concentrate on your directorial duties?
John Carpenter: It’s all too hard. Man, oh, man. Mark Kilian is a very talented composer. He is really really talented guy. I thought we’ll make this guy do the work. He just did a tremendous job for me. I’ve kind of slowed down now. The Ward was a perfect movie to come back and do movies with. What I mean by that is, it was a low budget film with a small cast. It all took place in one area. It was confined spaces. And it had a small cast. It was right up my alley. I didn’t want to do anything bigger than that. Masters of Horror was a lot of fun to do. But they were a week’s work, where this is thirty days. It was a deal and a great time. I love my cast! I love each of them. What can I say? I’m in a mental institution with beautiful Hollywood actresses. Nothing is better. Nothing. It’s awesome! It was great. I had a great time.
Jason Bene: A lot of naysayers think Amber Heard is a pretty face and can’t act. Maybe this type of meaty role will prove them wrong.
John Carpenter: She’s got a lot of talent. She’s got a whole lot of talent. I think her time will come. You never know. Sometimes fate plays tricks on you, but I think she’s going to be fine. I really loved working with her.
Jason Bene: Getting back to the score. Did you consider having your son, Cody, do the composing?
John Carpenter: He was in Japan at the time. He was in Japan teaching. He’s back now, thank God. I thought, well, okay, I’ll work with somebody I haven’t worked with before. That will be interesting to do.
Jason Bene: I haven’t seen The Ward yet, but from the theatrical trailer the music had a very Argento feel to it.
John Carpenter: We discussed it. The director kind of guides the music like he does everything else. I did a little guidance here and there. Mark brought it. He was just fabulous. I loved working with him.
Jason Bene: This is your first period film since Christine. How did it feel to do a horror film set in the 60’s?
John Carpenter: It’s not that hard. I was there. I remember what it was like. It takes place in ’66. The reason we did that was because we had to choose a period of time when there was still involuntary incarceration in a mental institution. In other words, by 1966 you still could be put away for an extended period of time. But that all changed in the 70’s. It all changed. So that was the reason to do it then. It was great. We had a great time doing it. It was fun. The girls did a little dance for me one night. It was great fun, just great fun.
Jason Bene: For The Thing,the creatures were out in the open to be seen, whereas with In The Mouth of Madness, you kept them in the shadows. How did you approach them in The Ward?
John Carpenter: Just very briefly seen. Very briefly. Hidden is the wrong word. It was done not out in the open so much.
Jason Bene: Monster nerds like myself really love seeing the creatures.
John Carpenter: Me too! But it wasn’t that kind of film.
Jason Bene: The movie to me looks like Jacob’s Ladder meets One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. How would you describe it?
John Carpenter: (Laughs)It really is Shutter Island. That’s what it is. You’ll see. It’s an old school horror film, because I’m an old school kind of guy.
Jason Bene: How hard is it to scare audiences today when you have terrible events happening all around the world? Can they be scared?
John Carpenter: They can be scared, but real life is scarier. My God! What’s been going on is unbelievable. I’ve had several people come to me and say, “What’s going on with our world? Is it the end of the world?” I don’t think so.
Jason Bene: I think people have been watching films like Roland Emmerich’s 2012 too much.
John Carpenter: I didn’t see that. I don’t think so. Not yet. It’s crazy times.
Jason Bene:The Ward has already been released in the UK. Is there a domestic release date yet?
John Carpenter: Yes, it is coming out in three months. Very soon.
I’m just an average man/
With an average life/
I work from nine to five/
Hey, hell, I pay the price/
All I want is to be left alone/
In my average home/
But why do I always feel/
Like I’m in the twilight zone