John Carpenter interview

The John Carpenter Collection has just been released on DVD, featuring seven of the legendary horror director’s greatest films – Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, They Live, Escape from New York, Prince of Darkness. And to whet your appetite, here’s the man himself talking about his greatest contribution to cinema, The Thing:

“We shot in Alaska above Juno in the Alaskan ice fields. Then we came back here to Los Angeles, then we went back up to British Columbia – so it was quite a shoot. Getting to the set was a big deal because you had to drive up this mountain road, this mining road to get there. If we brought the camera equipment and lenses into the heat, then the next day when we’d get ready to shoot they’d fog up and there would be hours waiting for it to adjust to the cold, so we had to leave them outside. Basically we put the camera equipment in a place that was closer to the temperature of the outside. The weather conditions change all the time and when the clouds come over you have something like a whiteout. Everything’s white, and everything’s flat light. When the clouds break and you have this beautiful sunshine, it’s a whole different story. So we start shooting, and the first day is this beautiful day – ‘Oh great!’ And we start shooting the scene and we don’t get it done, the next day we come back and the weather’s changed so we can’t continue the same scene, so we move to another scene. So it became, ‘Let’s look at the weather, today’s the day we shoot that scene, number 17, if it’s overcast, we shoot number 32…’

“I was very impressed with what Rob [Bottin, creature designer] did. We were heavily criticised for the viciousness of the effects, but I think they add a certain vibe to the whole film. I mean without his effects it wouldn’t be the same film as it is. Here’s where you draw the line in Hollywood – there’s a cliché about not showing the monster, you never show the devil, that’s the cliché. I think it comes from this film called The Bad and The Beautiful, a Vincente Minelli movie with Kirk Douglas, which is about making a film. They look at the cat people costumes and they’re ratty and looking terrible, and so Kirk Douglas gives this speech: ‘We’ll do it like the old days – we’ll put them in shadow and it’s better that way, and the audience uses their imagination.’

“And the high culture critic would say, ‘That’s the only way we do these films.’ Low culture critic says, ‘Yeah but if you can have a monster that’s convincing and can knock you back in your seat and you bring it out in the light… if you can pull it off… you’ve hit a home-run.’

“None of us, including Rob Bottin, knew exactly what the monster was going to look like until we shot it in the end. I mean, it just kept being designed all the way through the film. And I will say there was an enormous amount of pressure from my production designer, from the studio, to come up with one look for the monster – ‘What does it really look like – does it look like the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Does it look like James Arness’ The Thing? But I’d stuck with Rob. I stuck with his vision of it…

“The thing that shocked me so much was how so many of the horror fans, the science fiction fans, turned against it. And, it was really weird… it was really eye-opening, but I wouldn’t change a thing about it. You know, I just think it was the right decision. And the home video – its afterlife in the secondary markets – has made it kind of more famous than it was then…”