Just like you, John Carpenter found solace in professional basketball this year. “I don’t change my habits too much,” the 72-year-old filmmaker and musician chuckled during a phone conversation in December. “Even a pandemic can’t stop my basketball.” Before the NBA bubble, the director known for gruesome and beloved films like Halloween, The Thing, and Assault on Precinct 13 was indulging in his regular routines—video games, television, household chores. Then, the hooping began. “It was awesome!” he exclaimed. “They handled it well. My business—the movie business—can’t figure out how to do that.”
Carpenter hasn’t directed a film in a full decade-plus; prior to the pandemic, the last film he’d seen in theaters was David Gordon Green’s Halloween remake. When I ask him his thoughts on Warner Bros.’ plan to push their entire 2021 slate onto the HBO Max streaming platform—easily one of the most monumental decisions for the movie business in the last several decades—he admits to not having any idea what I’m talking about before professing, “I don’t know. What would I know?”
Instead, over the past half-decade or so Carpenter has more or less reinvented himself as a full-time musician—expanding on the scores of scores he’s composed for his own films. Next month, he’ll release Lost Themes III: Alive After Death, the third installment in a series that kicked off in 2015. Teeming with eerie synths and the type of atmospherics that make you keep the light on at night, Lost Themes III arrives with archival score projects and a full-scale tour with his collaborators, son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, at his side.
“I keep reminding myself that I have a second career at this late date,” Carpenter marvels while discussing the freedoms of devoting his creative energy to music. “It’s a whole lot more fun and easier than movies—a lot less stress. When you’re directing a movie, it’s just constant stress. That’s not a lot of fun. Making movies is my first love, but it’s not a pleasant way to be. But making music…” he trails off for a second. “Wow.”
GQ talked to the veteran entertainer about getting used to live performances after decades behind the scenes and how he feels about his filmography in the rearview—and we also went long on one of his favorite hobbies: video games. He loves ‘em. A lot.
When you’re making music, how are you using your brain compared to when you’re directing?
A lot of directing a movie is just communicating to other people and talking to them—being a coach on a basketball team, explaining the plays to people. “Don’t do this, put a camera here.” But music is just spontaneous. Creating music comes from an instinctual place. It’s all pretty much improvisational. You can’t quite be that way [with filmmaking]—it has to follow a screenplay. Music is a staggering art form. It shows us that there is something great about being a human.
What’s it been like making music with your son and godson?
My relationships with Cody and Daniel have grown a great deal. Cody’s chops are unbelievable, way beyond mine. I can hum something to him and he can play it—complicated stuff. I bring in the musical ideas. He has his own music that’s vastly different than mine as Blue Dream. His playing is incredible.
I rewatched The Thing a few months ago, and it feels very much like a pandemic movie at this point.
[Laughs] It is! It’s about contagion of a different kind that’s taking over the world. The world’s gonna end?
Do you feel like there’s any lessons we can take away from the film in terms of our approach to the pandemic?
[Laughs] Is there a lesson? Be careful of who you trust! Or you’ll catch this disease! It’s not a real positive message.
It feels like a lot of your work is still prescient. I’m sure I’m not the only person that’s ever said that to you.
It’s happened for years and years. It seems like I’m just ahead. I’m making movies for an audience that doesn’t quite exist yet.
Do you have any regrets about any of your films?
Are you kidding? Every movie! I can’t watch my own movies. I’m too critical of myself. I see a scene and I go, “What did I do that for? Why did I put the camera there?”
Do you feel more comfortable making the remakes of your films?
No? [Laughs] I’d be more comfortable if I had nothing to do with it! No, that’s not completely true. I love the new Halloween. David Gordon Green, what a director. And I loved doing the score for it, too. I’m very proud of that work with him.
I know you’re a fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog games. Did you see the movie?
[Laughs] I did not. Sonic was a great game, but I’m not sure that translates to movies.
There’s a Wikipedia page about your unrealized projects that claims you once had interest in being involved with a Sonic film.
No! I have no interest in that! I wouldn’t get near it! It would screw up something that was great.
You did almost make a film out of the Dead Space franchise, though.
I’d love to do that one. But no one’s even near asking me to do that, so I don’t have to worry about it. [Laughs]
Did you get a Playstation 5 yet?
What video games have you been playing?
I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which is very good, and for a long time I’ve been playing Fallout 76. It really grew on me. They keep giving you adventures and storylines.
You’re the first person I’ve spoken to that’s recommended Fallout 76.
I know. It was a terrible launch. But I got into it! What can I say?
You were playing Destiny 2 for a while, too.
It’s a mixed bag. The loading is always an issue because of the amount of memory it takes up. You have to cannibalize your collection. The gameplay’s good, but I could never figure out a story—if there was a story. Something about a traveler? That’s all I could figure out.
You previously praised Horizon Zero Dawn’s storytelling. When it comes to video games, how important is story to you in relation to gameplay?
It all comes down to the gameplay. You can have a great story, but it’s tricky. Red Dead Redemption 2, I can’t play that game. The aiming is off, the riding horses is off—it’s weird and primitive. Stories are always important though, especially in movies. But I loved Horizon Zero Dawn, I played through that several times.
Did you play The Last of Us Part 2?
Ay. Yeah. I couldn’t get through that. The main character was trying to start a generator, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to do it. There was nothing intuitive about the controls, so I just stopped playing. It’s just starting a generator! Come on, man.
Are there any recent video games that you’ve considered wanting to make a movie out of?
I don’t want to ruin great games. The Borderlands series is great, but I wouldn’t want to see a movie made out of that. You can’t capture the humor of it.
I have terrible news for you. They’re making a Borderlands movie.
Eli Roth is directing it.
Stop! Well, okay.
Cate Blanchett is supposed to be in it, too.
Well, that could be good.
You have a commercial pilot’s license. When’s the last time you went flying?
Years ago. I got a helicopter license, and the thing about a helicopter is that if you don’t fly it every day, you’re not safe. I wasn’t able to fly it every day for a lot of different reasons, so I said, “I can’t do this.” I would’ve been putting myself and perhaps a lot of other people in jeopardy.
Are there any unrealized film projects that you wish had come together?
The Stars My Destination, a book by Alfred Bester. I would’ve loved to have done it, but I’m afraid the budget would be close to a trillion dollars. [Laughs] Expensive movie.
How do you feel about the future right now?
The future of what? Humanity?
Oh dear. Somebody accused me once of being a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. I know that’s odd. I want humanity to survive, as deadly as we are. I think part of us is real good. Art and music are reasons to live and distinguish ourselves above other creatures. So I hope for the future.
Originally Appeared on GQ