I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend this years LA Times Hero Complex Film Festival this past Friday evening. When I heard that horror legend John Carpenter was going to be there doing a Q&A bookended by two of his classic films, They Live and the iconic Halloween, nothing was going to keep me from attending.
I grew up loving horror and science fiction, so John Carpenter has naturally been one of my favorite directors since grade school. If Carpenters name was on it, I was watching it. Halloween, Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, Escape From New York,They Live, Prince of Darkness, The Fog, Starman…I watched his movies over and over, renting them and buying them. I even bought an original theatrical release poster for Big Trouble in Little China which is framed. John Carpenter was very influential in my childhood and teen years. And I was about to go see two of his films that I loved and had seen countless times at home, but for the first time the way they were meant to be seen, on the BIG screen.
I arrived at the Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood, where horror fans of all shapes and sizes were filling the lobby and socializing. After chatting with Michael Ironside in the lobby, I took my reserved seat in the 3rd row of the packed theater. I was so excited to see They Live on the big screen. The film stars (at the time) WWF wrestling star (Rowdy) Roddy Piper and Juilliard-trained actor Keith David (who Carpenter wrote the role for after working together on The Thing).
They Live is about a drifter (Piper) who stumbles upon a pair of special glasses that allow him to see the truth- that a large percentage of the human population are actually ugly aliens taking over the world! This movie has one of longest, funniest wrestling inspired fight scenes in cinematic history (between the two stars), and is full of great one liners like “I have come here to kick ass and chew bubblegum…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” After the film, which was great on the big screen (and still fantastic fun in 2013), the moment I had been waiting for was here. Enter legendary filmmaker John Carpenter and Hero Complex editor Gina McIntyre (who hosted), both a mere 15 feet away from where I was sitting.
The two opened the discussion with Carpenters memories of making They Live. I learned fun facts like, due to the modest 3 million dollar budget, every single alien in the film was played by the same man, stunt coordinator Jeff Imada. And that the film was inspired by Carpenters dislike of what was was going on in America and specifically with President Ronald Reagan. Carpenter still loves that this film was “Giving Reagan the finger when no one else would.” The conversation shifted over to the film we were going to watch next, his most iconic horror film, the 1978 classic Halloween.
Michael Meyers and his white mask are still, in 2013, one of the most recognizable faces in horror. When Carpenter was asked if he had any idea his film would still resonate decades later, he replied “No, we were just making a movie, we were kids. We had $250,000, maybe $300,000 to make a 22-day movie, and that’s all we wanted to do.” Carpenter also spoke in length about revered actor and long time friend Donald Pleasance. He stated that Pleasance admitted during filming that he didn’t understand the film, and he only accepted the role because his daughter (who was a musician) was a fan of Carpenters music on his previous films. Carpenter also said he, upon Pleasances request, wrote a multiple page essay on why he wanted him (Pleasance) to play Dr. Loomis! Carpenter and Loomis became good friends and ended up working together again on Escape From New York (1981) and Prince of Darkness (1987).
Carpenter interrupted the interview to ask the audience “Can someone look and see the score of the Golden State/San Antonio game?” which caused dozens of fans to whip out there phones to see who could type fastest and give the director an answer. He then went on to admit he didn’t think there should’ve been a sequel to Halloween, he felt “the story was done.” The studio convinced him to write and produce Halloween II, but it was a very frustrating experience for him, and thus began his dislike of working with the Hollywood studio system.
The audience was then given the opportunity to ask questions. Questions ranged from “What is your filmmaking process?” to “Why did you write They Live under a different name?”. I knew this was possibly my only chance to ask one of my all time favorite directors a question. I had read online just a few nights earlier an article (which in my excitement I forwarded to fellow PPLA writer and friend Todd Schultz) stating the possibility of Carpenter directing a film adaption of the popular science fiction/horror video game Dead Space (which just makes sense for him to direct). I was the last in the audience to ask a question, so I asked him if there was any reality behind this article (to which the audience applauded) and his reply was “I would love to make Dead Space, but no one has asked me and I doubt it will happen.”
John Carpenter then thanked everyone for coming and exited, and we all sat and watched Halloween. It is still an eerie, mesmerizing film 35 years after its release. I would (if it weren’t for previous engagements) have been back to the LA Times Hero Complex Film Festival the next morning to see Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead, The Shawshank Redemption) followed by a screening of The Mist (2007), followed by an evening with Guillermo Del Toro and two of his films The Devil’s Backbone and Academy Award winner Pan’s Labyrinth. Sundays lineup was equally impressive with a matinee discussion with blockbuster director Rolland Emmerich followed by a screening of his Independence Day, and in the evening a discussion with Chris Carter and 3 fan-picked episodes of The X-Files TV series. I was fortunate enough to make it back to the film festival late Saturday night for a surprise screening of the remake of the 1980 cult slasher filmManiac. The remake stars Elijah Wood, who came and introduced the film in person.
Special thanks to John Conroy and the LA Times. I am already looking forward to the 2014 Hero Complex Film Festival!
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