Ever since his first non-soundtrack album, Lost Themes, released in 2015, legendary horror director John Carpenter has entered what could be called a second wind of his illustrious career. The moniker of musician was fully cemented by his homecoming to the Halloween franchise in 2018, which saw him take the titles of both Executive Producer and Composer. With him returning to score sequel Halloween Kills alongside his son Cody and Daniel Davies, expectations are high for another propulsive score. If anything, though, it’s good to know his eerie synth sounds will soon rumble out of multiplex speakers across the world.
A man of simple, concise answers, Carpenter made time for a phone interview to discuss music and Halloween Kills. Naturally, knowing Carpenter’s vocal public persona, questions had to be asked about his two greatest passions: basketball and video games.
The Film Stage: You’ve before cited your father, who was a professor of music at the University of Western Kentucky, as instrumental in getting you interested in the form. Out of curiosity, what kind of music did he introduce you to?
John Carpenter: Classical music. Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms. That’s what he taught and that’s what he loved.
So growing up, were you pulled between listening to Mahler and listening to Chuck Berry?
Absolutely. I listened to both, and I loved them both.
In terms of your initial musical aspirations, what was the first instrument you played? Did you play piano, guitar?
It was the violin. My father was a violinist, and he decided that, when I was eight years old, it was a good time for me to learn to play the violin. Unfortunately, I had no talent, so it didn’t work out very well.
Did you move on to any other instruments after that?
Keyboard, guitar, other things.
When you were young, did you ever entertain the thoughts of becoming a musician before becoming a filmmaker?
Yes, I did. I was in a band when I was in high school and college. We made some money—we made pretty good money playing locally. I was pretty short-sided, and at the time I thought, “I could do something with this,” but I couldn’t. I decided movies was for me.
When you had your band, The Coupe DeVilles, in the 1980s with your friends Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick Castle, were you trying to launch a music career, or was that more just you guys having fun?
Us having fun.
When you did your first tour for Lost Themes, I believe it was four or five years ago, was that a reinvigorating experience artistically?
Oh, yeah. It was huge. I suddenly, at my age, had a second career in music.
Did it make you think that you should have been a musician from the very beginning?
No, no, no, no. I’m glad I did what I did.
There’s a great featurette on the Ghost of Mars DVD where you’re in the recording studio, working with Anthrax and Buckethead for the film’s score. Are you at all influenced by contemporary music in the way you were with those later films?
Somewhat. My tastes go back to when I was younger, to the ’60s, ’70s—then I’d still listen.
On to Halloween Kills: is David Gordon Green very hands-on with what he wants from the music, or is it really just him letting you alone to compose?
He knows what he wants and, both, he lets us go. He has some specific ideas. We have spotting sessions with him: we decide where the music’s going to go and where he wants it. Then we take it from there.
I’m just curious, too, because I know there are certain films you’ve made where you didn’t compose the score, like The Thing or Starman. With the process of making those films, were you very hands-on with what you wanted with the composer? When it’s Ennio Morricone, are you just like, “He can do whatever the heck he wants.”?
That’s right, whatever he wants. Let me get out of the way.
For those films, was there a conscious reason why you didn’t compose the score?
I don’t remember. I remember on The Thing, they didn’t want me to compose. I wasn’t considered, so why not go with somebody who’s like Ennio Morricone, the Maestro, as opposed to me, the bum. On Starman, I don’t remember what the issue was.
Wes Craven said that before he made his return to the franchise with New Nightmare, he watched the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series and found that, by the end, he basically couldn’t make heads or tails of the films. With Halloween, was it a similar experience where, as soon as you stopped being involved, you ignored the sequels, or did you keep up with them?
I watched them, or tried to, just to see what they were going to do with the material. I was not involved anywhere near being booked.
You didn’t really like any of them?
I don’t know. I’m not in a position to give an opinion on that, just because I did the original one. That’s the one I like the best.
Halloween Ends, the third film, has already been announced. Has the process of composing music for that film already begun, or is that a ways off?
You mean the third one? It hasn’t been shot yet, and the three of us—myself and my son Cody and Daniel, my Godson—are doing a score for another film.
Can you reveal what film that is or is that secret?
No, I can’t right now.
I’m curious: are there, in contemporary films, trends you notice in the music that you really dislike and want to avoid when composing scores?
I don’t know. Everybody approaches it differently. There are a couple of different ways of scoring a movie. One is the old-fashioned, Mickey Mouse way, which is like Max Steiner—you score everything. Then there’s more of a minimalistic, Philip Glass way, I guess, which is to just provide an overall [theme]. I don’t know what’s the best. I really don’t.
I have to ask these questions, are there any good video games you’ve played lately?
There’s a lot of good video games. Let’s see, the last really good one was Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart.
I also have to ask: what do you think is going to happen this coming NBA season? Do you think the Bucks are going to repeat, or you think it’s the Lakers’ or the Nets’ year?
Boy, oh boy, there’s a lot of good teams. I don’t know. I want the Bucks. I want the Warriors. We’ll see.
I know you used to be a Lakers fan. Do you still root for them, or is that a long gone thing?
Not as much, no. No, not as much as I used to.
The soundtrack for Halloween Kills is released on October 15, along with the film itself in theaters and Peacock.