(Sacred Bones, out now)
Director John Carpenter is responsible for some classics of the horror and sci-fi genres, including Hallowe’en and The Thing. He’s also largely responsible for their soundtracks. In recent years, in fact, he’s turned his attention almost entirely to music, releasing his first studio albums, Lost Themes and Lost Themes II, with his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davies. Now for the first time, this anthology collects 13 of his best known soundtrack pieces together, starting with Dark Star in 1974 and ending with Santiago from Vampires in 1998.
Inevitably, thoughts turn to comparison with other icons of the soundtrack – Morricone (who worked on The Thing with Carpenter), John Barry, John Williams. Sadly, Carpenter’s bound to come off worst in that battle. While the best of that trio’s work stands perfectly well alone, most of what’s on offer here cries out for a moving picture accompaniment – great for scene-setting, less so for casual listening.
The riff from Assault on Precinct 13, for instance, was twenty times hookier, though admittedly less broodingly suitable for a film, when half-hinched by Bomb The Bass on Megablast.
Some of it has dated badly too. Porkchop Express from Big Trouble in Little China sounds like something the makers of Family Guy would use while spoofing an 80s cop show. The Gary Numan-esque Prince of Darkness sounds similarly parodic, an almost sitcom scariness. The Metallica meets Vangelis of In The Mouth of Madness gets its message across, but is also firmly of its time.
Nevertheless, there’s a curio value to the collection. Carpenter was a pioneer of the synth soundtrack. The spacey Dark Star must have sounded genuinely out there when recorded in 1973 and paved the way for many a sci-fi theme to come. And if the theme to Halloween calls to mind Jez and Superhans’ incidental music, surely that’s only a sign of how influential Carpenter has been.