Top five most memorable scores by John Carpenter

From Halloween to Big Trouble In Little China, here are Carpenter’s five best movie scores

illustration by Ganya Cinema Art

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK – John Carpenter’s 1981 dystopian action flick (set in the near future of 1997!) is a firm favourite amongst some fans, and his towering score for the film is equally revered. The ‘Main Title’ track – arguably the director’s most accomplished work – is a layered, pulsating masterwork, but the rest of the score here is similarly impressive, chiming perfectly with the film’s violent pseudo-apocalyptic setting. ‘Arrival At The Library’ begins with that sparse Halloween-like soundscape before swelling up to Carpenter’s trademark dark and ominous synth stylings.

HALLOWEEN – There are some scores that become so entwined in the psyche of the film itself, that without them, the film itself simply wouldn’t be work. Halloween is one of those. Lacking the funds for an orchestra to achieve his vision, Carpenter instead opted for a stripped-down piano melody, and the rest, as they say, is history (it’s said to have only took him three days to compose the film’s entire score). It’s fair to say this composition is up there with John Williams’ simple two note shark intro and Bernard Herrmann menacing strings announcing a deranged Norman Bates as the most preeminent and recognisable horror motifs in the history of the genre.

ASSAULT ON PRECINT 13 – Again, knocked out in a record three days by Carpenter, the music for his low-budget 1976 contemporary urban homage to Rio Bravo is a brooding slice of sustained heavy synth. The stunning main title track drips with cool menace and has been reworked by seemingly every single dance music subgenre over the years. Unsurprisingly, it’s also been sampled a fair amount of times by modern electronic artists and hip hop stars, mostly noticeably in Afrika Bambaataa’s self-titled ‘Bambaataa’s Theme’.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – Like the film itself, the score for Carpenter’s manic martial arts fantasy is a considerably good-natured and entertaining affair. Ditching the stereotypical, westernised kung-fu movie music, the director instead opts for a rock and roll-heavy affair. His beloved synth is still evident, however (this was 1986, after all) and the film’s most recognisable composition, ‘Pork Chop Express’, is certainly an obvious and playful blending of both styles. Carpenter also teamed up with some of his past collaborators to form a band called Coup De Villes to perform the film’s title track.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS – While his work here for the second instalment in what Carpenter himself has labelled his Apocalypse Trilogy may not be as instantly familiar as the stuff from his golden creative period, this is the filmmaker in uncharacteristically dialled-down mode, and all the better for it. The epic ‘Opening Titles’ track below is particularly subdued compared to Carpenter’s usual standards, but it remains an intriguing and atmospheric piece of work (much like the underrated film in question).

Discover John Carpenter’s filmography on CHILI.

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