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Q & A

A Veteran Director's Legacy of Horror


Tonight, director John Carpenter and the cast of the original 1978 hit slasher film "Halloween" will get together at the Egyptian Theater to view a new print and reminisce about the making of the film. The event is sold out.

Carpenter made his reputation with that movie and went on to direct such horror flicks as "In the Mouth of Madness," "Village of the Damned" and various "Halloween" sequels.

Carpenter says he is "doing exactly what I wanted to do when I got into this business." His genre of films, however, has come under fire lately from politicians in Washington, D.C., who have objected to Hollywood's marketing of violent R-rated films to youths under 17. Carpenter is one of a group of 25 Directors Guild of America members who recently signed a petition asking the Motion Picture Assn. of America to alter the ratings system. Carpenter says the ratings are not clear enough for parents to gauge what movies are appropriate for children under 17.

The 52-year-old director says most of his films are targeted toward adults. Carpenter is currently filming a mystery/horror/science fiction movie called "Ghosts of Mars," starring Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge. He spoke with The Times this week about the original "Halloween," the horror genre and the political turmoil surrounding Hollywood.

Question: When you watch the slasher movies today and compare them with your first "Halloween," do you see the older movies as sort of innocent?

Answer: I hope so. It was a different time. I was writing this movie from my childhood and my high school memories. That was a different time in America. There is a little nostalgia in the movie now. It's quaint in a way.

Q: For the most part, your movies are rated R. But they are not just for adults--they actually appeal a great deal to the junior high [and] high school audience. Where would you see your movies fitting into the recent DGA statement about the ratings system?

A: They are not really made for junior high or high school students. If you really take a look at them, they are not geared toward kids. If you are making a film for kids, you tend to know what the archetypes are going to be targeted to. That is not really what I'm doing.

If we are going to have adult ratings then we need to take down this barrier [of an NC-17 label], which comes out to be like the old X rating. The point is that a lot of serious movies have to be restricted for kids under 17 unless they have a parent or guardian with them. I don't want a 12-year-old wandering into my movies.

Q: But won't that affect the popularity of your films among that group of kids?

A: A change in the ratings will make a difference for the studios and the theater owners in terms of box office. The theaters are going into bankruptcy, [the industry] is reeling from strikes and upcoming strikes; the last thing the business wants is anything that will result in a lack of revenue.

Q: Were you surprised by how big a hit the original "Halloween" was?

A: I was shocked at the way it became a hit. It was opened in a regional release and it began to grow. The reviews were uniformly horrible. They were saying, "This isn't scary. It's a turkey." To my great joy the movie caught on with the audiences.

I became known and typecast at the same time. I wanted to make westerns when I got into this business. But a friend of mine said to me that horror movies are the westerns of today. They have the same archetypes--the loner against the elements. The good guy versus the bad guy.

Q: Do you think the series of slasher films, which are now increasingly graphic, dulls teen's sensitivity to violence?

A: They become dull and insensitive but that doesn't mean that they are turning into killers. It's the opposite. What you should worry about is the kid who is inspired by the violence itself. And there is nothing you can do about it. There is a certain percentage of the population that is dangerous.

A steady diet of this kind of thing is bad for kids--that's probably true. Does it turn them into natural born killers? No! You get into a sticky situation when you start talking about this stuff. . . . All of this is an ancient battle between freedom and safety. You can't make the world completely safe. There will always be hazards and dangers. Allowing people to say things and expressing ideas can be dangerous.

Q: Was the ending in "Halloween" intentionally made to spur the series of "Halloweens"?

A: No, actually it was done to be creepy, eerie and to leave you with a chill. I never had a thought in my head that there would be another one. The whole point of the film is about this force of evil that would continue to disappear again and again. Now, if a movie becomes successful immediately they want to make a lot of other movies like that one. There were not a lot of [remakes] happening in that time.

Q: Some critics said "Halloween H2O" (the 1998 series sequel) was unnecessarily gory. Did you see a need to up the ante? Does more gore sell?

A: It depends on the story that you are telling. It's not dependent upon a formula. . . . Kids are expecting to have a good time. They don't care how. They are expecting to laugh and scream.

Q: So why is there a "Halloween" reunion on the 22nd anniversary of the film and not the 20th or the 25th?

A: Honestly, I don't know. I'm not behind this, I'm just a traveler on this train. I'm shooting another movie. Regardless, how delightful to think that an old movie like that can still be seen today. Especially for a horror movie which can look so dated.

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