John Carpenter is a legendary film director, but he’s also one of those multi-talented people whose ability is matched in another creative field. And he’s just released a new collection of his film music, just in time for Halloween – of course!
I first became aware of John Carpenter, the filmmaker, and in turn the composer, during a late-night TV showing of Escape from New York. The film blew my mind at a relatively young age and the music really got under my skin. It’s one of the most iconic film themes I can think of, so when I found out the director was also the composer, I was very surprised. Oh, to have that level of talent in one thing, let alone multiple disciplines like Carpenter does. I have several of his albums on vinyl and was excited to hear there would be a second anthology coming out, this time chronicling the period 1976 to 1988 (the original anthology covered a slightly longer era, 1974 to 1998).
I’m a filmmaker myself, albeit on a much smaller scale, and I’ve always loved soundtracks and the relationship between visual storytelling and the music that underpins it. I recently directed a short film called Little Brown Bird, I also wrote the film, but when it came to the music I turned to Robert Reed (Magenta, Cyan, Chimpan A, Kompendium, Sanctuary). Getting to work closely with him was an extremely rewarding collaborative experience and I would be lying if I didn’t mention John Carpenter being one of the touchpoints we discussed. What it did make me realise, though, was how difficult it is to brief someone else to add music to your visual creation, as it’s so hard to describe a feel or a mood. On most of Carpenter’s projects he has no such worries and can simply plug in his synth and play what’s in his soul. That must be very liberating if you have the musical ability to back it up.
This collection features newly arranged and recorded tracks performed by Carpenter and his long-time collaborators, Daniel Davies and Cody Carpenter, like its predecessor, and for me this sequel is just as good as that popular collection. This one takes in music from the likes of Prince of Darkness, Halloween (and its sequels), The Fog, Escape From New York, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, and three previously unreleased tracks from The Thing.
Carpenter is synonymous with synth scores, rather than the full-blown orchestral pieces of the likes of Hans Zimmer and John Williams. His films also feel much more handmade and self-crafted, so this lower budget, fewer hands-on-deck approach fits perfectly with how he approaches his films. The popular preconception is that John Carpenter is a bit like the Denis Waterman sketch in Little Britain, where he writes and then sings the theme tune to any show he acts in. Carpenter has worked with other directors as a composer and used other composers as a director, though most fans I’d imagine are happier when he does both.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a film he didn’t direct, although his scores for the first two films were so memorable that it made sense for director Tommy Lee Wallace to have Carpenter along for the ride. The Thing is one where he didn’t compose all the music, he left that to the legendary Ennio Morricone. But he did add some synth work to complement the score, and you can hear those rarely shared pieces here, though I’m unsure if they made it into the finished film, which many consider to be his finest work.
One thing I think about Carpenter the musician, his range is much wider than some would have you believe. Here alone there’s the slightly whimsical feel that suits the satirical nature of They Live, the terrifying isolation of The Fog, the impending doom of The Thing and the brooding intensity of the first three Halloween movies, all on display here. He’s known as a horror director and composer, largely due to Halloween, but on both fronts he’s far more adaptable.
This record is atmospheric, as you’d expect from cinematic scores, but it’s also extremely melodic and memorable. Every Carpenter track has the knack of getting into your ears and staying there for some time. Like the best film music, you don’t need to see the visual context to have a reaction to this collection. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck listening to Burn It. Laurie’s Theme is still as haunting today as when I first heard it, on the surface it’s simplistic but the use of repetition and sparseness is enough to strike fear into the listener.
John Carpenter is one of the true great film composers, he just so happens to be a director himself. He stands alongside the likes of Giorgio Moroder, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis as a true musical pioneer and a master of all things synth. If you like instrumental music, soundtracks and synths you won’t find a better album to listen to. I can’t recommend this highly enough, it showcases what an immense talent the man is.
01. Chariots of Pumpkins (Halloween III) (3:29)
02. 69th St. Bridge (Escape from New York) (2:47)
03. The Alley (War) (Big Trouble in Little China) (2:37)
04. Wake Up (They Live) (3:22)
05. Julie’s Dead (Assault on Precinct 13) (1:49)
06. The Shape Enters Laurie’s Room (Halloween II) (1:49)
07. Season of the Witch (Halloween III) (2:02)
08. Love at a Distance (Prince of Darkness) (3:36)
09. The Shape Stalks Again (Halloween II) (3:10)
10. Burn It (The Thing) (2:23)
11. Fuchs (The Thing) (2:11)
12. To Mac’s Shack (The Thing) (2:57)
13. Walk to the Lighthouse (The Fog) (2:38)
14. Laurie’s Theme (Halloween) (2:33)
Total Time – 37:23
Record Label: Sacred Bones
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 6th October 2023