Few names conjure images of nightmares and horror than John Carpenter. The veteran filmmaker practically reinvented horror with 1978’s Halloween, and has since directed genre classics such as The Fog, The Thing, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, and more. The filmmaker has been largely dormant since his last theatrical outing, The Ward, in 2010, preferring to stay behind the scenes and contribute the scores to the recent Halloween reboot trilogy by David Gordon Green.
This Halloween, Carpenter is coming out of semi-retirement with a new anthology series on Peacock, John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams, which blends true crime stories with slasher-style splatter. Digital Trends talked to Jordan Roberts, one of the show’s executive producers and showrunners, and the director of one of the show’s standout episodes A Killer Comes Home, which is perhaps the most terrifying 45 minutes you’ll watch this year.
Digital Trends: How did you become involved with Suburban Screams?
Jordan Roberts: I had done some work with Tony DiSanto (one of the executive producers) and he approached me with this project. He said John Carpenter’s a part of it and asked if I wanted to show run and direct it. I said, “Hell yeah.” That’s the genesis, as easy as that.
John Carpenter is rightly known as a master of the horror genre. What was your initial encounter with him and how did you two work on the series together?
I studied John’s films in film school. I watched them all as a kid, so I know his film language. I’m not John Carpenter, obviously, but I know his film style. When I first met him, I wondered if I was going to be friends with this guy. How is this going to work?
When John talks, he’s heard. He let me do my thing for the most part, and I let him do his thing. I did my best to work with him and tried to spread his aesthetic across all of the episodes while still putting my own stamp on the episode I directed.
Just curious, what’s your favorite John Carpenter movie?
I mean, it has to be The Thing; that’s his masterpiece, right? It’s just an amazing cinematic journey into paranoia.
Suburban Screams straddles the line between fiction and true crime. Why did you use that approach to tell these stories?
I started my career in documentary film so I’m a filmmaker at heart. Why constrain yourself to just one way of telling a story? When you can bring truth into something like horror, the truth actually intensifies the horror experience. When you blend the genres together in a successful way, you can create a new experience. With Suburban Screams, I’m hoping to create a kind of a new genre that doesn’t just apply to horror.
In addition to producing the series, you also directed one of the episodes, A Killer Comes Home. What made you want to tell that story in particular?
I wanted to ensure that the genre was being respectful to the victims. I didn’t want to glamorize the killer. I wanted to create a sense that the audience was being hunted by this real-life monster. A Killer Comes Home had all of the elements of truth and it appealed to my storytelling techniques. It just made sense for me to be the one to do it. You know, the other directors are wonderful, but this one resonated with me and I wanted to take a crack at it.
Because of his deep involvement with the series, did Carpenter influence how you shot A Killer Comes Home? Did he influence, consciously or subconsciously, how you approached the material?
It’s all of the above. You can’t help but be influenced by him. I mean, the show is called John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams. [Laughs] So, I used long takes and did some Steadicam stuff that are hallmarks of Carpenter’s classic style. But I wanted that to come across in all six episodes, not just mine.
A Killer Comes Home is sort of like a real-life Halloween. I mean, the movie’s tagline was ‘The Night He Came Home.’ There are all these parallels in the episode that echo Carpenter’s film. There’s even a sequence where the killer hijacks a vehicle early on to get to his hometown.
It’s interesting. When that story came up, I asked John if he wanted to do it because of all the parallels to Halloween. And he declined. So I was like, well, then I’m gonna do it.
What do you hope Suburban Screams accomplishes besides simply scaring the audience?
I mean, scaring the crap out of people is a part of it. But I think there’s a profoundness that can come out of the primal emotions of fear. It makes you look at yourself and wonder what you’re afraid of. I think horror as a genre enables you to do that.
When you scare the shit out of people, maybe on some sort of subconscious level, you’re asking questions about the nature of the human experience, and that’s pretty profound for a scary TV show. But that’s how I look at the world. What can I tell you?
John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams is now streaming on Peacock.
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