Exclusive: John Carpenter on 'The Ward', 'Fangland', 'The Prince', and 'John Carpenter's Hollywood'


Had John Carpenter never made another film after Halloween, he'd still be considered a horror legend. The fact that he's returned to our favorite genre time and again, crafting The Thing, The Fog, They Live, and Prince of Darkness (as well as Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China) is icing of the sweetest kind. Carpenter's taken a break from feature filmmaking since his last movie, 2001's Ghost of Mars, but he returns with this year's The Ward, the tale of a young woman in a mental institution tormented by a ghost. Starring a bevy of gorgeous young actresses, among them Danielle Panabaker and Amber Heard, The Ward looks to reintroduce Carpenter to a new generation of fright fans and put its director back in the game. Of course, horror isn't the only game that interests Carpenter these days, as he points out in the following interview. But with several other thrillers in development, including Fangland, The Prince and John Carpenter's Hollywood (formerly L.A. Gothic), as well as the recent videogame F.E.A.R. 3 to his credit, it looks like Carpenter might be back for good. Read my full chat with the sultan of suspense after the jump.

You've spoken before about what brought you back to directing feature films with The Ward, and how you found the story's elements compelling. Some of those elements are reminiscent of some of the great films you've directed in the past, like Halloween and The Thing. Could you talk about why you find these components so fascinating?

Well, there are many reasons why I made this movie, but a couple of the reasons are that it was a small enough movie that I didn't have to run around and worry all the time. Because I was pretty much confined, and that was the story. It was a movie about being isolated, and being claustrophobic in one place. And I've always been attracted to that. I've made movies about it for a long time.

One of the things that's fascinating about your work in the recurrence of political themes and subtext. Did you discover any in The Ward while you were working on it?

Not so much. This is more of a straightforward psychological thriller type gig. It's a ghost story. It's got a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But it's the story that really attracted me, and working with a young cast of beautiful Hollywood starlets. I mean when you get to be my age that's like heaven on earth. [Laughs.]

Was there anything about what those starlets brought to their characters that surprised you?

It wasn't that they surprised me. They delighted me. I think talent is something I'm always in awe of in actresses. Acting is rough. I've tried a little myself, and I know how it is for me. And I just love what the actors did; they brought it every day. And it was a delight working with them.

You've been attached to a variety of other upcoming projects. Can I ask you about the status of those films?

Well, I have a lot of projects in development. I can't say anything specific yet. The one specific in my life, and it's very important that you get this down, is in a couple of months basketball season begins. The NBA starts up, and that's the most important thing.

Noted. [Laughs.] That being said… You've mentioned before that L.A. Gothic has undergone a title change. Has a new title been created yet?

Well right now it's called John Carpenter's Hollywood, which I find funny. [Laughs.] We're working on the screenplay, developing it. It's coming right along, and I love working with the two writers I'm working with. It's fun.

Regarding Fangland – is that script still being developed as well?

That's correct. That's being worked on. That's a slightly different project. It's real interesting. We'll see how it goes. It'll be a little change of pace for me.

I must ask you about F.E.A.R. 3, the recent video game you developed with Steve Niles. What did you find compelling about that project?

Steve Niles is a comic book writer, and he's written a couple of things. He had a feature made, 30 Days of Night, which was very good. He and I worked on a project together. It did not get made. But we liked each other a lot. It was fun to work with him. So he had started working on F.E.A.R. 3 and said, "Hey, do you want to help me and work on it together?" I said, "Sure." So eventually we hammered out elements of story. But this is a video game, so the levels are determined by game play, as opposed to us just writing stuff. So our big job was character work, but it was a lot of fun. A different world, but I'm happy with the result.

Going back to The Ward for a moment – you mentioned that there wasn't much of a political undertone to this film, and that you did it for other reasons. Your work has explored different tones, moods, etc. but it's still often firmly rooted in horror. What keeps bringing you back to the genre? What's universal element of horror retains your interest?

Well, horror is the one genre that is worldwide, because everybody on the planet is afraid of the same things. We're all afraid of the same issues. Fear is the same in every culture. When a person is born, they're born afraid. We're born crying, screaming, and we're all afraid of the same things. So it's a way to speak to the world.

Do you see it as the perfect fit for the filmgoing experience, because of the darkened room one enters every time they see a movie?

Well, you know, I grew up long before you were born, in the ‘50s, and I was attracted to horror and science fiction. Horror has been part of cinema since the silent films. It just works. It works because of its subject matter. It works because you can visualize certain things. It just works. It's a powerful genre that never seems to go away. It waxes and wanes, it gets more popular and less popular. But it's always with us.

In real life, do you have a greatest fear?

It's the same as yours. I don't know if you're a parent, but as a parent you fear the loss of your kid. You fear the normal things, everybody's the same. I don't have anything special. I only fear losing the NBA championship this year. It's very important to me that we win, especially with the Heat and the way they are now. It's scary. They have a powerful team.

In past interviews you've commented on some of the younger filmmakers whose work you admire, and you've said you appreciate David Fincher in particular.

Very much. I really think he's great.

Are there any other recent films or filmmakers you've enjoyed?

I like some of Darren Aronofsky's stuff. Some of his stuff is very good. With the exception of the last two films he's made, I think Tarantino's really talented. His last two films haven't been my idea of a great time, but that's okay.

One last question – can you update us on the status of The Prince and Riot?

Well, Riot is not going to happen. It's not working out. I was attached to it, with Nicolas Cage. But he moved on to another project, so I'm not gonna do that one. The Prince is a movie I'd love to do, a real interesting film. I'm working on it. It's an action thriller.

Thank you for your time, sir. We're looking forward to The Ward.

Alright, man. Thank you very much.