John Carpenters Lost Themes
I’ve been a fan of John Carpenter’s films ever since I saw Halloween back in 1978, which is to say I’ve been a fan of John Carpenter’s music since 1978, because the two go hand-in-hand.
Has there ever been theme music so perfectly suited to a film than Halloween? That main title, with its simplistic piano refrain, is a marvel of efficiency, immediately capturing the audience’s attention and setting the scary, suspense-filled mood of the film.
Sure, there have been a few truly unforgettable Hollywood earworms – the iconic JAWS theme, for example. Or Bernard Herrmann’s ingenious “slashing” strings that accompany Psycho’s infamous “shower scene.” But Carpenter’s brilliant theme is not only a cinematic classic, it has become synonymous with the holiday itself. Walk the street on the night of October 31st and you’ll hear that music piping out of every Halloween display worth its salt!
Carpenter has scored nearly every movie he’s directed, and while not all of his themes have achieved the kind of immortality the Halloween theme has, he’s come close. Who can forget the synthesizer-driven main title of Escape From New York, which sounds both futuristic and retro at the same time, perfectly capturing the mood of the film as well its gun-toting, eyepatch-wearing anti-hero Snake Plissken. Or the haunting piano that follows the ghost-story prelude in The Fog.
Sadly, after toiling in Hollywood for a couple of decades, John Carpenter seemed to have lost his passion for making movies. After a series of disappointing films, the Master of Horror retired to a fairly quiet life of video game playing and not much else, save for a few appearances at festivals honoring his past work.
Fortunately, his passion for making music did not suffer the same fate!
Although die-hard fans such as myself long for another (good) John Carpenter film, we’re always up for the man’s music. In 2015, John Carpenter released LOST THEMES, followed up by LOST THEMES II a year later. Both are fantastic – like soundtracks to movies the Master of Horror never made. Recorded with his son and god-son, the resulting tracks are not only worthy pieces deserving of the high praise heaped upon the themes of his classic films, they transcend them. What could have been a disastrous project filled with the musical equivalent of “deleted scenes” from Carpenter’s films, Lost Themes I and II are just damn good instrumental albums. Do you hear familiar riffs that remind you of Escape From New York or Big Trouble in Little China or They Live? Yes! But this is a result of Carpenter’s style, not mere retreads of his past work.
Some highlights from both albums for me are “Vortex,” “Night,” “Distant Dream,” “Dark Blues,” “Bela Lugosi,” and the phenomenal bonus track, “Real Xeno.” All of the tracks are great, though, and both albums are well worth adding to your collection.
If you’re a John Carpenter fan, chances are extremely good that you’re a fan of the man’s music. And this is some damned good music. Put these albums on, and let your mind serve as as the projector in your favorite theater.
A movie house showing twenty-one John Carpenter short films.
Happy listening, Deadies!