John Carpenter on Still Helping to Tell Michael Myers’ Story in ‘Halloween Ends’: ‘I’m Loving It and There‘s No Pressure’
The season of All Hallows Eve has once again returned the Halloween franchise to theaters and TV screens. The box-office performance for Halloween Ends, which caps the David Gordon Green-directed trilogy that includes 2018’s Halloween and 2021’s Halloween Kills, proves that eternal boogeyman Michael Myers is as much a holiday tradition as haunted attractions and scary costumes. Despite scoring the lowest-grossing opening of the three movies, it scored a healthy $41 million domestic gross while simultaneously streaming on NBC’s Peacock platform, according to Variety, when it debuted the weekend of Oct. 14.
The original Halloween that debuted in 1978 was a sleeper hit that, when adjusted for inflation, is still the second-highest-grossing chapter in the franchise, bringing in $207 million domestically in today’s dollars, according to figures adjusted via the U.S. government’s CPI Inflation Calculator. Although the original is the only John Carpenter-directed installment in the (coincidentally) 13-movie franchise, the filmmaker also made significant contributions to later episodes of Myers’ story. He co-wrote the screenplays for Halloween and 1981’s Halloween II, co-produced Halloween II and provided the synth-driven scores for both installments, as well as for 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, with the assistance of composer/sound designer Alan Howarth.
Carpenter continued his successful directing career with ’80s classics like The Fog, Escape From New York, Christine and The Thing, but he didn’t return to Halloween until the 2018 sequel was planned and producer Jason Blum (the Paranormal Activity franchise, Get Out) reached out to him. Actor Jamie Lee Curtis was again returning as protagonist Laurie Strode, and the story was picking up 40 years after the original, ignoring all subsequent storylines.
“He came to me and said that the movie is going to be made now, whether we like it or not,” Carpenter recalls. “[He said] ‘Do you want to be involved? I suggest that you come aboard and do the music and sort of act as the godfather, and go from there.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’ll do that. That’d be fun.’ That’s how it started. I thought it was a pretty good idea. At first, I wasn’t sure, but the more I thought about it, [I thought], ‘This could be a lot of fun.’”
Adding to the enjoyment was the fact that it became a family affair. Carpenter had already been working with his son Cody (keyboards) and his godson Daniel Davies (guitarist and the son of The Kinks’ six-stringer Dave Davies) on original music that since 2016 has formed a three-part series called Lost Themes, plus a few movie soundtracks, with a fuller and more nuanced sound than Carpenter’s film scores. The trio, which has also toured America three times and Europe twice with the rhythm section for Tenacious D (at times giving the music a thicker rock sound), scored Green’s trilogy, and Carpenter executive-produced those films. (In addition, the Carpenter-Davies team contributed the theme to the Foo Fighters’ funny fear flick Studio 666 that debuted in February, and scored the Firestarter remake starring Zac Efron that arrived in May.)
Despite being family, the father, son, and godson push one another to make the best music possible. “We have different strengths that we bring to it and just respect those strengths,” explains Carpenter. “Daniel is a guitar virtuoso, and he comes in with ideas and new sounds. He is the ball of fire that moves us along. Cody is a virtuoso on the keyboards, so if I have an idea for a musical line, I’ll sing it to him, and he’ll play it. And I bring experience. We put those all together and come up with a score.”
Meanwhile, Carpenter is pleased with his fellow director’s Halloween trilogy. “They’re David Gordon Green movies, and I think he did a great job. I’m proud of him,” he says, and later adds, “He’s a terrific director, and it’s a whole different feel. [Halloween Kills] was probably the one that was the ultimate horror [entry]. [Halloween Ends] is more dramatic. I like it a lot.”
Asked what it’s like to score other people’s movies — particularly a series inspired by his own work, but not be behind the camera — Carpenter says the experience has been fabulous.
“One of the things about directing a movie, and it’s something that I learned early on, is it’s like working in a coal mine,” he explains. “It’s that kind of brutality on your system, and doing what I’m doing now is just a joy. I’m loving it and there’s no pressure. And that’s the thing — the anxiety you carry around as the director, the pressure you carry around, is enormous. The director feels it. [Producers] have all this money riding on it.”
When scoring someone else’s movie, Carpenter says the edict is simple — do the best job you can. “These are moody, scary movies, so we know that terrain, and we can do it,” he says. “It’s not a mystery, and we’re having fun doing it and love it. So all that’s good.” He adds with his usual humor, “I can’t say anything negative, except [when] working, you have to get up, get coffee, wander down …”
Carpenter recalls having to create his own movie soundtracks out of financial necessity, “but then, it became another creative voice in the moviemaking process. It became hard to do because always at the end of a project, after you’d beaten yourself up, now it’s time for the score, so you have to rev up again.” Letting go of one set of reins has been liberating, and “creating a score for somebody else is just fantastic.”
Although Halloween Ends is allegedly the last film of the franchise and reportedly Curtis’ final turn as Strode, Carpenter doesn’t seem to view this possibility in bittersweet terms. As he points out, one never knows what could transpire.
“I know Hollywood tends not to have any lasts,” he says. “They tend to redo, but I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I’m not going to say.” He would even be game to score another entry if one were to emerge; in reality, horror franchises are like classic rock bands that announce a farewell tour that then never ends. “It’s like The Rolling Stones, how they keep refreshing their catalog,” notes Carpenter. “What we want to do is keep the story and the character alive but still do something new, which is hard to do.”
Regarding any upcoming projects or ambitions he has — for instance, being a video game aficionado, he would love to score one — Carpenter is taking a laid-back approach. “What I’ve learned in my life over the last 10 to 15 years is to let things come to me,” he says. “It’s better that way. I’ve stopped chasing stuff. So that’s what I’m going to continue to do: let it come to me. If it comes up and I like it, I’ll do it. If I don’t, I’ll sit home here and watch the NBA.”
Back in the 1980s, a lot of horror was viewed very critically by the mainstream establishment. But as the genre has accrued more clout and acclaim in the 21st century, does Carpenter think his legacy is more fully appreciated now? “I think maybe so, but it doesn’t matter,” he replies. “I’m just a horror director, and that’s fine. That’s what I love. That’s what I’ve wanted to be. It’s all fine.”