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Tuesday, October 24, 2023 | Interviews


Fresh from an appearance at New York Comic Con, legendary director John Carpenter is in a jovial mood, which, if not uncharacteristic, is unexpected. Carpenter’s no-nonsense reputation precedes him. He has no time for small talk or bullshit, and his get-down-to-business attitude often manifests as a perceived crankiness or cynicism. However, his penchant for cutting any situation (or conversation) to the bone has made him a respected genre institution and a celebrated master of horror. 

At this point in Carpenter’s career, he can do anything he wants, and much of that involves composing and performing music and helming his production company, Storm King Productions, with his wife and creative partner, Sandy King. Storm King’s most recent TV project, JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN SCREAMS, a six-part, “unscripted” anthology focusing on the real-life terrors lurking below the surface of idyllic North American neighborhoods, premiered on the steaming service Peacock on Friday, October 13. Its final episode, “Phone Stalker,” sees Carpenter returning to the director’s chair.

Carpenter’s return to anthology TV, his first since 2005’s Masters of Horror, is motivated by the filmmaker’s low-risk, high-reward ethos. “I thought it’d be fun,” Carpenter explains. “It’s a light commitment, and it seemed like a big, fun deal to do.” As for the reality angle of SUBURBAN SCREAMS, the novelty of the concept was too compelling to pass up. “I haven’t done it. I don’t know what it’s like, you know? It’s different. It’s cool to do something different – a challenge.”

John Carpenter remotely directs “Phone Stalker,” an installment of JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN SCREAMS. (Photo by: Trae Patton/PEACOCK)

Not only did the veteran filmmaker find the subject matter challenging, but he also found the opportunity to push the limits of innovation. “I directed remotely,” Carpenter says. “I was in a different location than the cast and crew. That’s really interesting and fun. The cast and crew were in Prague. We had a hook-up, so I was sitting in my living room, and I could talk to the cast and crew through my television. I can see through the lens of the camera. I can call the shots and see them as they happen. It was great. I had a great time.”

Although the reality format is new territory for John Carpenter, he’s no stranger to tales of hidden evil and the rot lying just below society’s surface, themes he’s repeatedly explored throughout his career in everything from Halloween and The Thing to They Live. “This is stuff that happens in the suburbs. [There’s] terror, evil all around you that you may not be aware of. I tell scary stories for a living. I’m a storyteller. So, everything is neutral to me in reality. I just tell the stories.”

However, instead of a fictional boogeyman like Halloween‘s Michael Myers, in “Phone Stalker,” Carpenter explores an ongoing real-life incident in which a faceless evil continues to haunt a Long Island woman (referred to as Beth in the episode) with horrifying phone death threats and intimations that she is always being watched. The 75-year-old filmmaker was especially fascinated by her story. “We had researchers who scoured around for true-life stories, for real people who have had things that happened to them,” Carpenter says. “All we did was focus on the lives of the victims. I thought that was interesting. And I found a story I thought I could do something with.”

Julie Stevens in JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN SCREAMS – “Phone Stalker” Episode 106 — (Photo by: Gabriel Kuchta/PEACOCK)

Interviews with the real Beth and her friends are intercut with Carpenter’s suspense-filled recreations of actual incidents from her life. Six years later, the stalking continues unabated, a situation that the director himself finds frustrating. “It’s weird because they haven’t found her stalker after six years – probably more. That’s crazy,” says Carpenter. “I can’t believe it. Come on, guys. We can do better than that!” Nevertheless, the reality of the story had little effect on his approach to bringing it to the screen. “The storytelling – that remains the same. I didn’t have to worry about that. I knew about that. Remote directing? That I didn’t know about.”

Of course, depicting a real-life, continuing horror story raises an ethical question: Does Carpenter fear that SUBURBAN SCREAMS will bring unwanted negative attention to his subject or intensify the stalking? “I hope not,” Carpenter states. “I hope not, but there’s nothing I can do about that.” Ultimately, telling Beth’s story as effectively as possible was his only concern. 

This month marks the 45th anniversary of the release of the original Halloween, a film that, much like its iconic villain, refuses to die. Michael Myers, the franchise’s immortal Shape of Evil, has become the uncontrollable “force of nature” Carpenter designed him to be. In a New York Comic Con panel, Carpenter described the Shape as “an all-purpose character” who, like Godzilla, returns to the genre as needed to serve the tastes of a broad swath of horror fans. Still, he’s ambivalent about Michael Myers entering the pantheon of great horror characters along with Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster. “It’s fine,” Carpenter nonchalantly replies. “Yeah, it’s fine. Now, somebody else could make a version of it. I don’t have to do it.” Nevertheless, he doesn’t rule out returning to the franchise and perhaps even directing another installment. “Never say never. Maybe. You never know. I don’t want to say, no, I’ll never do that again. I don’t know.” However, as of this writing, the fate of  Halloween remains out of its creator’s hands, with Carpenter knowing nothing of  Miramax’s recent acquisition of the franchise’s TV rights. “I don’t know anything about that. No one tells me anything,” Carpenter says. “But, sure, if I can help make it better, I’d love to.” 

John Carpenter remotely directs “Phone Stalker,” an installment of JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN SCREAMS. (Photo by: Trae Patton/PEACOCK)

As for the future of SUBURBAN SCREAMS, Carpenter prefers to keep his options open. Will he bring the series back for another run? “I don’t know,” he candidly remarks. “My basketball season is coming up next. I’m just excited by that! I love the Golden State Warriors and the Milwaukee Bucks. And I gotta do some music. I’m always doing music. Nothing else big [is coming up]. I’m just hanging out.”

JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN SCREAMS is now streaming exclusively on Peacock.

“Never say never. Maybe. You never know. I don’t want to say, no, I’ll never do [Halloween] again…”

William J. Wright
William J. Wright is RUE MORGUE's online managing editor. A two-time Rondo Classic Horror Award nominee and an active member of the Horror Writers Association, William is lifelong lover of the weird and macabre. His work has appeared in many popular (and a few unpopular) publications dedicated to horror and cult film. William earned a bachelor of arts degree from East Tennessee State University in 1998, majoring in English with a minor in Film Studies. He helped establish ETSU's Film Studies minor with professor and film scholar Mary Hurd and was the program's first graduate. He currently lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his wife, three sons and a recalcitrant cat.