If you only listen to certain media outlets, you might believe that America’s major cities are horrific hellscapes with evildoers lurking around every corner. But horror expert John Carpenter would like to you to know that the bucolic suburbs aren’t exactly a heavenly haven. That’s the premise of the filmmaker’s first foray into the streaming age, John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams — a six-episode docuseries that’s launching Oct. 13 on Peacock.
“In our suburbs, evil lurks behind closed doors,” Carpenter says in the introduction to each episode. “True stories so terrifying because the horror is real. You will never look at your neighbors the same way again.”
Chilling words… but Carpenter admits to Yahoo Entertainment that he doesn’t look askance at his neighbors in the hills above Los Angeles, the sprawling metropolis that he’s called home since launching his filmmaking career in the ’70s. “I know all my neighbors, and they’re pretty cool people,” he says, chuckling. “So I’m not worried about it.”
But the director of such horror classics as Halloween and The Thing does remember a time when his neighbors unnerved him. Born in upstate New York in 1948, Carpenter was five years old when his father relocated the family to Bowling Green, Ky. Living in a log cabin on the grounds of Western Kentucky University, he remembers seeing the callousness of the pre-Civil Rights era Deep South up close and personal.
“Growing up, there were a lot of scary things in suburbia, not because of suburbia, but because of the people that were in it,” Carpenter says now. “I grew up in the Jim Crow South, and it was a pretty cruel place.” That’s why he has little patience for those voices that try to romanticize that long-vanished time and place. And, for the record, the world outside of Bowling Green seemed equally scary.
“I grew up during the time when a nuclear bomb could drop and kill us all,” Carpenter recalls. “That possibility was pretty present. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I remember my father telling me to take shelter when I heard the sirens. That was happening right in my face.”
Asked whether the modern world seems more terrifying than the world of his childhood, the director says the past and present aren’t all that dissimilar. “It’s still pretty scary,” Carpenter notes. “There are still nuclear weapons, and there are still crazy people. So it’s not a nice place.”
Still, there are chilling stories ripped from today’s headlines that Carpenter can’t imagine reading about in the ’50s. Case in point: the recent case of Charlotte Sena, the 9-year-old who was kidnapped while bike riding in a state park and found alive after a 48-hour manhunt.
“That could happen anytime — your kid could walk out the door and disappear,” says the director, who has one grown son, Cody Carpenter, with ex-wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau. “When I was little, it wasn’t like that. This has all happened as time marches on. I don’t know — there’s a kind of evil going on out there. I’m depending on you [young people] to take care of it.”
Carpenter explores a specific kind of modern evil in “Phone Stalker,” the sixth episode of Suburban Screams and the only one that he directed. (Carpenter and his wife, Sandy King, executive produced the entire season, and recruited a team of directors that include Jordan Roberts, Michelle Latimer and Jan Pavlacky.)
“Phone Stalker” tells the terrifying six-year ordeal of a Long Island resident named Beth, whose smartphone won’t stop buzzing with threats, taunts and dick pics. The episode features interviews with the real Beth alongside dramatic recreations starring Julie Stevens. Carpenter directed those scenes remotely from his home in Hollywood while King was on set with the actors in Prague where the series was shot.
“I looked at this story, and said, ‘I can do something visually with this,'” Carpenter says of why he wanted to be the one to tell Beth’s story. “A lot of people have experienced prank phone calls, but when it goes on for six years, it’s almost unbelievable. Beth is a troubled person — the experience has really affected her, and she was a tremor because of it. I thought I could do justice to her story.”
As horror fans know, Carpenter directed one of the most famous phone deaths of all time in the original Halloween, when Michael Myers strangles P.J. Soles’s Lynda with an old school phone cord. “We did three takes,” Soles told Yahoo Entertainment in 2021. “I kept telling Nick [Castle, who played Myers], ‘You’re going to have to pull a little tighter.’ He was like, ‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ and I said, ‘You’re not going to hurt me. I’m supposed to die and you’re tickling my neck!'”
That kind of sequence isn’t possible in the smartphone era, of course. But Carpenter thinks that Beth’s story is more haunting than Lydia’s fate, largely because the stalker still hasn’t been identified. “That’s my whole career,” he points out, referring to the famous ending of Halloween where Myers walks away from a seemingly fatal fall, melting back into the shadows. “You can’t kill [the boogeyman], he’s always there. Is it someone Beth knows? Is it a stranger? I don’t know… I just don’t know.”
John Carpenter’s Suburban Screams premieres Friday, Oct. 13 on Peacock.
Carol Dennis is an entertainment aficionado with an eye for all things pop culture. She dives into the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry, from movie premieres to music festivals. Carol’s passion for storytelling extends beyond her reporting, as she’s an aspiring screenwriter in her free time.