John Carpenter: Master of atmospheres

ON Twitter he is known as @TheHorrorMaster, but the man behind the seminal ‘stalk’n’slash’ thriller Halloween is no run-of-the-mill film-maker.

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As anyone familiar with the work of John Carpenter knows, he is also an accomplished producer, writer, director and, of course, a prolific composer and musician.

He is one of the very few left on my wish list of people to interview… but where to start?
Actually it probably is his incredible soundtracks that would get first nod.

On October 22, Carpenter will play some of those live, and demonstrate his performance skills at the Usher Hall, touring for the first time ever to promote the albums Lost Themes and Lost Themes II. The concert will also highlight the recent release of limited edition 12 inch vinyls of his iconic themes – Halloween, Escape From New York, Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog.

Like many of my generation, I was a teenager when Halloween introduced me to Carpenter’s wonderfully skewed take on the world around him. The heightened realities he created on screen, often with limited budgets, were dark, exciting and raw.
Needless to say, I made a point of seeing each new movie as it emerged, whether in the cinema or on VHS video.

Clear from that very first viewing of Halloween, was that Carpenter’s scoring is intrinsic to his story-telling; his music sets the pace, the feel for what is to come and colours the narrative.

Escape From New York in 1981, for example, boasted a brooding, futuristic melody, while 1987’s apocalyptic supernatural thriller, Prince of Darkness, was suitably doom-laden. A year later, They Live, juxtaposed Carpenter’s dystopian vision of an Earth controlled by aliens with a laid back, smoky, jazz vibe.

Another change of style for Vampires in 1998 introduced an arrangement that would not have been out of place in a spaghetti western, while 2001’s Ghosts of Mars opened with gritty, yet ethereal, strains.

It’s the Halloween theme, with its simple but effective piano and ever growing sense of tension, however, that remains Carpenter’s signature piece and remains one of the most spine-chilling pieces of music ever. Nothing, it seems, screams ‘sinister intent’ quite like a good old-fashioned piano melody.

Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, released on Sacred Bones Records, prove Carpenter can’t only score his own films, but also ‘the movies in your mind’ claims the press release. It’s not an empty boast, as those with tickets for the Usher Hall will find.

Time to revisit Carpenter’s back catalogue of movies before that, I reckon.

 

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