The Carpenter-Hill Team - Less Is Definitely More (The Salt Lake Tribune/Aug 09/1981/US) By Terry Orme



For movie producer Debra Hill, the old saying "less is more" is more than a cliche.

She and her partner, director John Carpenter, have made a name for themselves in Hollywood by producing inexpensive films that do big business at the box office. They burst onto the scene in 1978 with a little movie called Halloween, which cost less than
$400.000 and was filmed in 20 days. It took off like a shot at the box office, gets re-release every October, and has become the victim of a number of rip-off artists, trying to copy and capitalize on its success.

In Town to Talk

Hill, who was in Salt Lake City this week to talk about the team's latest endeavor, Escape From New York, says turning out a high-quality product on a low budget is the result of "a lot of hard work." But she wouldn't have it any other way.

"First of all, we feel it is irresponsible to overspend money. When you have
$30 or $40 million you become less creative. When your funds are limited you work harder. I think that is a good rule for all businesses to follow."

The writer and producer says what distinguishes her and Carpenter's films from the rest of the horror movie pack is how they develop suspense.

"Our pictures don't resort to the visceral images in order to get the scares over. The people who made Maniac and Friday the 13th wanted to flourish financially by capitalizing on the fact that audiences loved and were scared by Halloween.

But they didn't have the imagination to do it successfully. The one that came closest was When a Stranger Calls. When a Stranger Calls was really good. It was scary and it didn't have to resort to beheadings on camera and things like that.

Stylized Suspense

"What we tried to do in Halloween and The Fog was a stylized suspense genre, instead of killing for the sake of killing."

Hill and Carpenter are putting the last touches on
Halloween II. It's a roller coaster ride," says Hill. Both she and John Carpenter served as writers and producers on the movie. It was directed by newcomer Rick Rosenthal, a recent graduate of the American Film Institute.

"Halloween and
Halloween II overlap by five minutes, according to Hill. The sequel will take place during the same night of terror, during which Jamie Lee Curtis plays a babysitter stalked by a psychopath. "It's a continuation of the night," says Hill. Donald Pleasence returns as the psychiatrist in Halloween II .

Latest Movie

Hill's latest movie, Escape From New York, is set in the Big Apple in the year 1997. A huge wall surround Manhattan as the island has been converted into the country's only maximum security prison. What was once Broadway and Central Park and the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building is now a gigantic ghetto with bands of criminals wandering the streets, starting fires to keep warm and destroying whatever remains in one piece.

While the movie had the budget of $7 million, Hill and Carpenter's largest, it is still inexpensive compared to what most movies cost these days. It is an especially low budget when you consider the task of recreating a dark and dilapidated Manhattan.

Escape From New York is one of those pictures in which every penny is on the screen. Again, Hill attributes that to hard work and a little creative thinking. Very little of the movie was filmed in New York. Instead St. Louis doubled for Manhattan.

"I sent my location man on an all-expense paid tour of the slums of the United States. When he got to St. Louis he said, 'Stop, this is it.' St. Louis has a big fire a few years back which devastated the downtown area, making it ideal for what we had in mind."

About Violence

Escape From New York is a movie about violence, but there is very little blood. The violence, as Hill says, is stylized.

While she puts standards on the movies she makes, Debra Hill is adamantly against regulating what a person, of any age, should be able to see in a movie theater.

"Censorship is a personal thing. I don't think you can tell somebody that they cannot see something because it is going to be damaging. I think it is the responsibility of the parents to teach their children that when they are bothered by something, they don't watch it. If you are bothered by TV, you turn it off; if you are bothered by a movie, you don't watch it."

And why do people enjoy going to see a John Carpenter-Debra Hill movie so much?

"Our films are fun. They're escapist. They are bigger than life. I think all media does on of three things: persuade, inform, or entertain. We entertain."