Album review: New 'Halloween' soundtrack helps cement John Carpenter's musical legacy
It's official: the new "Halloween" film is a mega-hit. Its $77 million opening last weekend was the biggest ever for a horror film in the days before the Halloween holiday, enough to all but guarantee that fright fans will see more of the killer Michael Myers in the years to come. The "Halloween" franchise now has 40 years of scares under its belt, and it's likely that it will endure decades into the future.
But let's consider a question, for a moment — would the series be what it is without its iconic music? Would the ongoing saga of masked murderer Myers be as compelling if it had been scored differently? The answer, surely, is "no."
A case could possibly even be made that the original movie's brilliant 5/4-time theme — that insistent three-note melody — is even more famous and well-known than the film that it came from. Not everyone has seen the original 1978 classic or its sequels, but play that haunting tune for anyone, and, chances are, they could tell you where it originated. It's got to be up there with the James Bond and "Star Wars" themes, as far as cultural penetration goes.
One of the best moves the makers of the latest entry made was to enlist original "Halloween" director and composer John Carpenter to create its score. Forty years ago, Carpenter wrote and recorded the entire soundtrack for the first film almost completely solo in just three days, and there are musical cues in there that have been used in almost every subsequent movie in the series. It's a necessity. So, signing up Carpenter to reimagine his original music as well as add new pieces was a major coup.
Interestingly, over the last few years, Carpenter has been far more involved in making music than films. He's always written score pieces for his movies, but it's only recently that he began touring and releasing albums of original compositions with the help of his son Cody and godson (and Kinks offspring) Daniel Davies. At this point, their operation is a finely-oiled machine of ghoulish synth music, and so the "Halloween" gig finds them at a creative high point.
Of course, there are several iterations of the main theme on this new soundtrack. Some of them are more piano-based, while others are more synthetic-sounding. Nothing has been changed too drastically. The doomy blasts of deep notes underpinning the main melody are still present. The ticking rhythm track is there. But there are slight changes and updates that help to freshen things up. "Laurie's Theme," for instance, gets notes removed and high synth lines added.
The real joy in the new soundtrack is hearing what fresh concoctions are present. One of the most effective pieces in the film is the track "The Shape Kills," with its oppressive foghorn-like blasts of noise that seem to portend nothing but bad news. (Spoiler alert: duh.) Similarly, "The Shape Hunts Allyson" marries a tinkling melody and stentorian low-end guitar to announce the presence of evil in the film.
As a standalone soundtrack, it's not a bad listening experience at all, but what it does is kinda make you want to watch the movie. And, given that all the music was created for that express purpose, it makes sense.
But the big takeaway is that it's clear as day that John Carpenter has had as much an impact as a musician as he has as a filmmaker. Take the "Stranger Things" theme, for example — without John Carpenter leading the way, it's hard to imagine that track existing, and it's harder still to imagine modern people trying to reach back for that analog-synth magic. Good stuff.
Artist: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies
Album: "Halloween: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack"
Produced by: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies
Personnel: John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies: all instruments