The Lowdown: It’s been a long time since John Carpenter scored a movie. It’s been an even longer time since he scored a Halloween movie. Now, exactly 40 years after the 1978 original, and 36 years since he last sat behind the keys for the franchise (see: 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch), the Master of Horror returns to Haddonfield, Illinois. Much like The Shape we’ll see in David Gordon Green’s forthcoming reboot, Carpenter sounds angry and brutal, as if he’s been sitting in a room, not seeing the wall, looking past the wall, looking at this film, inhumanly patient, waiting for some secret, silent alarm to trigger him. Death has come to your little ears — and that’s hardly fancy talk.
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The Good: As every die-hard fan knows, the music is what saved Halloween. When Carpenter initially showed a scoreless cut of the film to producers, they mostly shrugged and yawned, which is why he spent a whirlwind three days knocking out what has now become one of the most iconic scores in the history of film. Naturally, that sort of urgency wasn’t necessary for Green’s reboot, and couldn’t possibly be replicated, but that energy lingers throughout this entire score. From beginning to end, there’s a dreadful anxiety to the mix that insists upon Carpenter’s willingness to break out, as if he’s trying to stab the celluloid with each piano note. It’s unnerving, to say the least, but that’s what you want.
Not since Carpenter’s organ-heavy score for 1981’s Halloween II has he come off this menacing. This is angry music, no doubt informed by the rage on both sides of this dueling narrative. Each track revolving around The Shape comes wired with industrial percussion, shuddering bass, and suffocating synths, only dulled out occasionally by flourishes of midnight piano. And whereas Laurie’s theme was once meditative and melancholic, it’s now hypnotic and empowering, offering a necessary evolution from the worrier to the warrior. In between, Carpenter tosses a blanket on the scenery with balmy textures akin to his recent soundscapes on both volumes of Lost Themes.
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The Bad: While a few tracks come close, it would have been interesting to hear Carpenter bring “The Myers’ House” theme into the 21st century. That track has always been an essential cut off the first two scores and really adds a moody pace to the proceedings. Then again, perhaps that kind of patience doesn’t belong in Green’s film. Also, it would appear we still haven’t learned from The Phantom Menace. This sucker is littered with spoilerific track titles on par with “Qui Gon’s Noble End”, none of which we’ll list here. So, those looking to get a head start listening might want to wait or look away. It’s astounding the studio let him get away with some of these track names.
The Verdict: There was never any doubt that Carpenter would deliver something exceptional. If his recent work with both Lost Themes albums proved anything, it’s that he clearly hadn’t lost his touch when it comes to music. The problem with those two volumes, however, is that they often sound as if he’s still stuck in the past, waltzing around motifs that wouldn’t make it past 1988. But Halloween is assuredly modern. In fact, it’s arguably the most modern score he’s ever composed, cutting with a minimalistic edge that might make Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross blush. Even so, the score never loses that Carpenter charm, keeping a tight grip on its origins without sneezing from all the dust.
He came home, alright.
Essential Tracks: “The Shape Returns”, “Prison Montage”, “Say Something”, and “The Shape Is Monumental”