THE Q&A

John Carpenter: The Sultan of Scare

The original ''Halloween'' director examines the enduring appeal of vampires, the new wave of torture horror, and why ''Texas Chainsaw Massacre'' is hi-lar-ious

John Carpenter | JOHN CARPENTER ''Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or the other. They're us with hats on''
Image credit: John Carpenter: Amy Sussman/Getty Images
JOHN CARPENTER ''Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or the other. They're us with hats on''

It just wouldn't be Halloween without checking in with (original) Halloween director John Carpenter to talk horror movies. In addition to introducing Michael Myers to our collective nightmares, Carpenter has also helmed horror classics The Thing and The Fog, but it was presumably his also doing the 1998 movie Vampires that prompted Starz Entertainment to ask the director to appear in their original documentary Bloodsucking Cinema (premiering Oct. 26 at 8 p.m.), which explores the vampire myth and its evolution in films. In addition to sharing with us his encyclopedic knowledge of the original vampire movies, like Nosferatu and Bela Lugosi's Dracula, Carpenter also weighs in on the so-called ''torture'' horror genre, touches on Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween, and explains why he thinks the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is ''hilariously funny.''

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So where does the whole vampire story come from?
JOHN CARPENTER: Every culture has one of these tales. It's ancient. This is an ancient tale that's been updated over and over and over again. It is an all-purpose myth for humanity. We just keep putting different clothes on him, different lenses on the eyeball, different lengths on the teeth — every culture has one of these. It's gone on and on [for as long as] we've been telling stories to one another.

It's interesting looking at the early movies. One of the appealing things about vampires is the mixture of horror and sex and romance, and yet there we are looking at Nosferatu from the 1930s, and he's this little gnomish guy with bug eyes and spindly fingers. At what point did it start to become sexy and why did that happen?
It became more sensual as the culture changed. The vampire myth as it's reflected in the movies reflects the culture around it, the people who are living. When you look at Nosferatu, that's the time in which it was made. Pretty stunning back then. But we look at it now and we say — as you just said — ''Look at that gnomy guy [laughs] with the long fingernails. Then Bela Lugosi comes along, and he looks like Rudolph Valentino…his slicked back hair, the come-hither look. At the time, that was some pretty steamy stuff. You cut down the road to 1958, England, Hammer Films. Christopher Lee, he has a different take on the sensuality in that film. It's because the culture has changed. It's starting to change toward the '60s when the censorship rules lost their punch. People wanted to see more explicit sexuality. So now the women have low-cut bodices, they can't wait for him to come through that door at night and bite them. So we keep advancing, as the culture does. It advances — or some people might say it goes backwards — but the vampire is an all-purpose monster that fits any time, any place.

Where do you think we are today with the vampires in terms of their reflecting the modern culture?
We're going to look at one that [was released Oct. 19] called 30 Days of Night. There are vampires up there in Barrow, Alaska. They put on different clothes, like I said; they put on a little different makeup, but it's all the same. It never changes. It's like George Romero's zombies. He influenced a whole culture. Now everybody's making zombie movies, and the zombies do the same things. They move a little faster now, they're a little more ferocious, but they're zombies. Same with vampires. I don't know. We'll see what they dress them in.

With your movie, Vampires, you had Valek, the tall, good-looking guy. But then you had some of the other vampires that would kind of grunt and almost make some zombie-like noises. What were you going for with your vampires?
Gee, I don't know exactly. It was sort of a Wild Bunch. It's like they said in this [Starz special], they're sort of like rats. They're hiding in the dark. Then you pull them out and they sort of explode into flames in kind of an interesting way. But it's just the same thing. People dressed in black walking around with teeth. I don't know if they were grunting like zombies exactly [laughs]. You see, they were less European. One of the offshoots of the vampire myth from Dracula is the death of the aristocracy in Europe. You see, as the aristocracy decayed and its rule became decadent, well guess what — that's what Dracula was. He was an aristocrat, and he was trying to drink the blood of his people. So that's what that was about. Well, mine wasn't so European Gothic. Mine was Southwestern. So we just changed it a little bit. It's the same f------ story.

And you had a vampire killer (played by James Woods), which is part of it. There always seems to be a vampire killer in there.
Yeah, this kind of ancient myth stuff, like Beowulf and whatever, it all kind of goes back to Siegfried slaying the dragon. That's why myths are so great. You can use them anywhere.

NEXT PAGE: ''I think all the Scream films and comedies all come from one source: Airplane.''

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