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SYFY WIRE John Carpenter

Carpenter Takes Us Inside Wildest Episodes of Peacock's New Horror Series Suburban Screams

For John Carpenter's Suburban Screams, the horror legend tried some technology to direct his episode, "The Phone Stalker."

By Tara Bennett
Three children in a (L-R) cowboy, bunny, and witch costume walk toward a pond in the woods in John Carpenter's Suburban Screams 104.

Spoilers ahead for Season 1 of Peacock's John Carpenter's Suburban Screams!

Although director/writer/composer John Carpenter hasn't directed a film since 2010's The Ward, that doesn't mean he hasn't been exceptionally busy in that time. He produced and co-composed the reinvented Halloween trilogy; went on world tours with his music; collaborated with other synth bands; released five albums and developed video games. Sandy King Carpenter — his creative partner of 40-years — told SYFY WIRE that trying to find free-time in his packed schedule to work on everything has been a challenge.

In fact, it was only because the producers of their new Peacock series, John Carpenter's Suburban Screamsoffered them an alternative way of him directing an episode so he would be able to do it. 

RELATED: How John Carpenter Was Lured to TV for Peacock's Suburban Screams

John Carpenter points to a TV on a wooden entertainment center in John Carpenter's Suburban Screams 106

"He actually directed it remotely," King Carpenter said of his episode, "The Phone Stalker." "Because music [projects] were going on here at the same time with him scoring another movie and finishing up two other albums. This way he was able to keep the music projects going."

Production for John Carpenter's Suburban Screams occurred in the Czech Republic, and that's where Sandy King Carpenter traveled to scout the locations and be his on-site "eyes and ears on the ground" so he could then be remotely connected via international servers that tied him in real-time to the overseas production hub right from their home office in Los Angeles. "John and I kind of have a Vulcan mind meld anyway," she joked. "We were on the cell phone and I'm asking, 'Okay, I'm setting up the next set down here. Let me run you down there and show it to you.'"

On a tight budget, King Carpenter said they shot the whole episode in four days. "We were able to make the most of that because we had two exceptional rotating crews."

She added, "Directors in television have been directing remotely forever. People like Francis Ford Coppola direct from his Silverfish [production trailer]. A lot of directors are directing more remotely and it works because [John] had all the communication with his actors. It was actually pretty seamless. We were able to move location to location and he was still hooked up and communicating through Zoom with the crew and actors, while the big connection was going directly to his big screen television. The longer you're in the business, everything changes all the time every couple of years, so using this technology is fun."

"The Phone Stalker" Episode

A frightened woman holds onto a stool in a shed in John Carpenter's Suburban Screams 106

Carpenter's episode, "The Phone Stalker," closes the first season. It features the on-camera interviews of "Beth," a woman from Long Island, New York who has constantly been stalked by an anonymous man since 2017. Featuring her sincere on-camera testimonials, and those of her close friends, Carpenter then directed the recreations with actress Julie Stevens playing Beth. 

King Carpenter said this story had particular resonance because the topic was personal for her too. "If you've been stalked — and the funny thing is, I was — you think that you don't have any residual stuff from that," she said. "But I still don't like answering phones. I still don't like talking on the phone. There's little things that you don't realize are still haunting you. For this woman, there's never been a resolution, six years later. She's still stalked." 

RELATED: John Carpenter may return to the director's chair, but it won't be for a 'Dead Space' adaptation

One of the most impactful elements of all of the Suburban Screams episodes is the veracity of the interviews with the people who were involved in real life. King Carpenter said, "The interesting part with Beth was that we had these friends of hers — who were really grounded down to earth people — and they experienced it all with her. She had the actual text messages. We saw the police reports, so there was a lot of backup to that."

It also reflected in Beth's physical tremors which were captured on camera. "She does still shake a lot," King Carpenter confirmed. "It was a question that I got the interviewer to go back and ask about. I said, 'Ask her if she's always had that kind of palsy?'  Turns out no, it started with the calls."

"Bunny Man" Episode

A man wears a "bunny ear" mask made of tattered fabric in John Carpenter's Suburban Screams 104

King Carpenter shared that one of her other favorite episodes of Season 1 is "Bunny Man." It's not only very scary, but the topic is all about how localized urban legends often evolve into outsized stories that put certain towns on the folklore map. The Bunny Man legend comes from the Fairfax, Virginia area and has morphed into a collection of "murderous events" that date back to the town's origin. 

"The Bunny Man legend looms so large there," she said of how locals in Fairfax still actively reference the story. "It was everything from an insane asylum to a chain gang to all of those things which you could never sort out, or verify. But what's really interesting, are the people who live it the whole time. Like the lady who is so obsessed with the history of the Bunny Man that she writes the book on it. She's immersed in it. Or, the other guy who as a little kid broke into the cottage that the Bunny Man shows up in.

"I don't know if he did," she emphasized. "But his truth has become fact. And that's his claim to fame."

RELATED: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and other retro horror books for children

She said one interview with a local didn't fit much into the final edit, but it really stuck with her because of its empathy. "He actually owns "The Bunny Man Brewery," and grew up in that town," she shared. "And he really researched because he wanted to make sure before he and his partner opened a brewery [with that name] that real murders actually didn't happen. That they're the stuff of legends — which are great legends, and real terrifying — but he didn't want to hurt any families."

As it turns out, the legend itself has been proven to be a patchwork of many urban legends stories that got resurrected over generations. "The Bunny Man legend really amped up around the time of John Walsh's child abduction," she said of the infamous Adam Walsh kidnapping in 1981. "Parents started using the Bunny Man to terrify their kids into coming home during those years, and got revived more from the old legend of the escaped murderer. And then later, it was true that two young people in the car got attacked by the Bunny Man. And the security guy who busted the Bunny Man axing up a house. Those made the newspaper and the police blotters," she said of their documented verification. "But there was a third who they think may have been a copycat who tried to grab two kids off the street on Halloween night. That one was seen by people who interceded and saved the kids."

John Carpenter's Suburban Screams Season 1 is now available exclusively on Peacock. In the meantime, some of his other great work can be seen on the streamer, including The ThingThey Live, and Prince of Darkness.