Tall and thin with his pale face framed by fashionably incorrect long hair John Carpenter wearing jeans and a sweatshirt in a washed-out grey which matches his flowing locks arrives quietly in the room like a ghost. It is a most appropriate entrance. At 48, he is a veteran of the cinema of the supernatural. Or schlock-horror depending on your viewpoint.
He is most assuredly a cynic. His blue eyes twinkle with mischief as he talks about the merits of independent and mainstream film.
Carpenter has a strong reputation as a storyteller rather than being one of today's ‘shooters' -- action directors who shoot miles of film but have few narrative skills. He has been telling spooky and offbeat tales since his Californian film student days and ‘Dark Star' in 1974.
His Tam o'Shanter of a franchise Is ‘Halloween' which he co-wrote and directed four years later. He has been involved -- usually just as a co-producer or with the music -- in five sequels. The original is its own industry being re-released every witching season, a fright night pension for the creator.
He once again went back to the past for ‘Escape From L.A.' the long awaited follow-up to ‘Escape From New York' which created a cult following and Kurt Russell's eye-patch lowlife anti-hero Snake Plissken.
After some so-so success like 1992's ‘Memoirs of an Invisible Man' and last year's unfortunate remake of ‘The Village of the Damned' as well as the misstep ‘In the Mouth of Madness' it would seem Carpenter was seeking some gold and glory from yesterday. Not so, he says.
Inspiration for ‘Escape from L.A.' arrived at precisely 4.32 am on January 17, 1994, when he woke up to experience his Hollywood Hills home shaking. Like all earthquake veterans he only blinked a little:' I stopped a giant mirror from falling over and went back to sleep.'
If that sounds too cool it is indeed normal behaviour in ‘shaky town' as Carpenter explains:' I''ve been through bunch of earthquakes and they don't bother me.'
It was only after breakfast as he was getting to leave home for work that the force of the ‘quake became apparent to him. There was no there, there. ‘ ‘My wife said:'' You can't go to work.'' I said:'' What are you talking about?'' She said:'' There is no work. There is no city.'' That was when I knew how big the jolt was.'
He had time to think. A few days later he called Kurt Russell and producer Debra Hill. They had all worked together on the original film. Now, it seemed the time for Los Angeles to be a futuristic island where America has dumped all its nasties -- a perfect spot for Snake Plissken to do battle in and around.
‘It was the culmination of coping with several disasters, mudslides, floods , fires in the hills and the city's biggest riot over the Rodney King verdicts. During the riots over my balcony you could see the flames -- it was like watching Beirut .'
The movie brought Carpenter and Russell together again for the fifth time: there was the original ‘Escape', the television biography ‘Elvis', ‘The Thing' (1982), ‘Big Trouble in Little China' ( 1986). And he believes Russell is worth every cent of the $10 million he was paid. He is blunt about those who might disagree calling them a nasty work:' When the media goes on about Kurt getting the money as though he doesn't deserve it I have only one thing to say....'