I actually think John Carpenter is as great a musician and composer as he is a film director.
A great example is his amazing soundtrack for his 1980 masterpiece, The Fog. Just as the film was a traditional ghost story rooted in the past but taking part in the present, his soundtrack completely conveys this.
There are the pianos and synths present on his scores for Halloween and it’s sequel but there are also musical nods to the past representing the timelessness of the campfire story being told to us as it plays on the screen. In fact, the starting story by John Houseman told to the assembled children around a fire on the beach makes an appearance as the first track on the soundtrack.
But it’s also worth noting how Carpenter conveys the concept of the fog within the music. There is the recurring motif on some tracks of air being released and spreading out. The way the fog moves is also represented on some tracks with a sense of it gliding through the music as a living, breathing malevolent being (the start of the epic Antonio Bay especially demonstrates this).
I felt like I have grown up with this soundtrack as I bought the Varese Sarabande edition in 1994 when I arrived in London to study film analysis, the 2000 Silva Screen edition which featured even more tracks not present on the previous edition but it is the 2012 Silva Screen edition which is the most complete edition you can buy. It contains cues not used on the original album all of which are great and the whole album is also remastered.A lot of these cues were used on the Special Edition DVD which was released in the early 00’s.
An essential soundtrack to an essential film, The Fog is an example of Carpenter firing with all six guns.
An iconic soundtrack for an iconic movie, Krzysztof Komeda’s score for the 1968 classic Rosemary’s Baby broke so many rules just like the film itself did.
Firstly, the lead track ‘Lullaby’ had the audacity to take a piece of music traditionally used to soothe a child to fall asleep, completely subvert it and imbue it with an added layer of more menacing intent. In the context of a film about the birth of Satan’s baby by the unbeknownst Rosemary Woodhouse after her husband Guy has sold his soul in order to further his acting career, the lullaby as a piece of music and concept has been completely reappropriated and for evil means.
The film’s score conveys the narrative’s descent into all things demonic with easy listening tracks such as ‘Christmas’ from the calmer start of the movie nestling shoulder to shoulder with other more unsettling tracks on the soundtrack’s tracklisting.
The horror of what Rosemary will go through after she has become pregnant as she suspects that all is not as it should be and that darker forces are at play are also effortlessly represented through the film’s music. The flute playing of ‘The Coven’ and the warped, deranged sonics of ‘Expectancy’ and ‘Panic’ perfectly convey the horror of Rosemary’s term and brings to mind the scenes she starts to crave raw meat and walk through New York traffic as if in a trance. This is until we get to the full-on craziness and unhinged horror of the track ‘What Have You Done To It’s Eyes’ with Rosemary finally getting to see the being she has given birth to. Just as Rosemary can’t believe the full horror of the infant she sees for the first time (with the audience never seeing what she sees) we get a taste of her revulsion and shock through the discordance of the track suddenly assaulting our ears.
And then when she protests the fact that her offspring is being rocked too violently and takes over only to visibly fall in love with her child, the title track Lullaby starts playing again. A truly unnerving scene accompanied by the perfect track.
The dark side of motherhood perfectly sonically executed by Komeda, this is an example of a horror film needing a perfect soundtrack to fully realise it’s vision. Thankfully this happened.
I recommend to you the La-La Land edition of this soundtrack with the original tracklisting being augmented by bonus tracks used in the film but not finding their way onto the original album. This is all killer (pun not intended) and no filler.
I was 14 and the exact right age to watch Taxi Driver for the first time. The perfect movie about alienation being watched by a moody teenager who felt completely alienated.
I would regularly venture from my hometown of York to the bustling neighbouring city of Leeds and it was on my next excursion after seeing Taxi Driver that I sought out the UK quad poster in a film memorabilia shop called Movie Boulevard (unfortunately long gone). The perfect movie (it’s still my favourite film to this day followed by John Carpenter’s Halloween and John Waters’ Female Trouble) had to have the perfect poster. And it did.
Lead character Travis Bickle walking down a New York street, completely alone in one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world. The tagline ‘On every street in every city there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody’ is one of the poignant and apt in film history.
It’s strange how a film and it’s iconography can take on a life of it’s own. The ‘You talkin’ to me?’ line is one of the most quoted amongst cineastes and the general public alike but is also misunderstood and misinterpreted when taken out of context. Stills from Taxi Driver have also been taken out of context and made into posters to be hung on teenager’s walls. Strangely they seem to dwell solely on Travis holding guns which is alarming. I’m glad the studio made UK quad emphasised the loneliness aspect rather than the macho/firearms angle.
I can still remember the first time I watched The Warriors. It was one of my brother’s favourite films and I was captivated from the first frames showing the neon of the Wonder Wheel at Coney Island and the following nocturnal subway scenes. Then we see different gangs from different boroughs travelling to a kind of ‘big gang summit meeting’ if you will, each with their own identities, uniforms and threats of danger. Utterly intoxicating.
The soundtrack is a mix of the actual pop songs that several key scenes in the film hinged upon such as ‘In The City’ and ‘Love is a Fire’ and the dark, twisted psychedelia incidental music composed by Barry De Vorzon that was also a huge part of the film. Tracks such as The Fight and Baseball Furies Chase feature on the original soundtrack tracklisting and illustrated their respective scenes perfectly.
But luckily for Warriors fans, La La Land Records released a remastered and expanded edition of the soundtrack that features a huge amount of De Vorzon’s music that featured in the original film but wasn’t included on the tracklisting for the original soundtrack. There are also tracks unused in the film that are just as brilliant and released for the first time.
Hence, we finally get the music exactly as it features in the film for the opening scene (this has been unreleased until now), the sinister and disquieting music used for the scene in which the rollerskated Punks and The Warriors confront each other in the Union Square subway station and the music used when The Riffs learn the truth about The Warriors and that they didn’t kill Cyrus.
This music is absolutely essential to the film and makes this expanded edition just as brilliant as the original release. Bask in the glory of this nightmarish score that perfectly accompanied this tale of a crime-ridden Big Apple that was rotten to the core, full of criminal delinquent youth but more exciting and brilliant because of it.
And to finish, here’s some pictires of The Warriors soundtrack on 8 Track!
It was dreadful news when I heard about film maestro composer Ennio Morricone’s recent passing. He was one of the greatest film soundtrack composers of all time with his scores lending the sonic landscape for so many cinematic masterpieces.
My favourite soundtrack by Morricone is the score he composed for John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982. He didn’t even get to see the completed film when he wrote and performed the soundtrack as Carpenter was in the midst of editing the film and so it was from this incomplete state that Morricone came to write and realise his musical accompaniment.
Just as the film starts slowly and builds in intensity, so does the soundtrack with the beautiful Humanity- Part 1 with it’s underlying menace as almost a warning of the full-on dread and horror to come. This is followed by the cello-heavy warnings of the track Shape as the music starts to build up as do the film’s events.
The sudden change in the film’s events are expertly captured on the next track Contamination as random discordant sounds multiply layer upon layer whilst getting faster and faster whilst becoming more mutated until the track is akin to aural insanity. Just as certain irreversible events within the film (I’m being ever so careful not to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it!) leave the audience feeling that this is completely uncharted territory for both horror and sci fi, the music feels the same- a piece of music like this has NEVER been heard on a film soundtrack before and the effect is startling, disorientating and brilliantly effective.
The next track Bestiality is full of sturm und drang with it’s slabs of cello building up and up, again layer by layer until it reaches a shocking conclusion. It perfectly mirrors the action within the film. The Antarctic research unit has been rocked by events that will make sure that it’s never the same again.
A major theme within the film is that of the ominous silence and deafening quiet as the members of the research unit have to wait it out to see who will be the next to manifest signs of being the next host of the alien intruder, contemplate what can be done when this happens and how they will determine who the next will be. This disarming sense of silent and disquieting dread is also captured on the soundtrack and effortlessly conveyed in Morricone’s music. The stirring Solitude, the electronic pulse and distress signal of Eternity (here Morricone shows that he can excel not just when writing for an orchestra), the underlying dread, menace and claustrophobia of Wait, the heartbeat of Humanity- Part 2 that slowly builds into a low simmering manifestation of underlying menace and the impending terror of events to come.
This is all stellar stuff and completely revolutionary for the horror genre and film in general. This is music that has been conceived by a composer who has dared to think outside the box to accompany a film made by a director who has dared to do the same. This is a big reason why The Thing is a masterpiece and still beloved by fans and critics alike today.
The edition of the album that I bought was the 1991 CD by the ever brilliant Varese Sarabande (pictured below).
The album has now actually been remastered from the original master tapes and this edition will be next on my purchase list.
Hammer Studios goes full-on late Sixties with this shake-up of how they advertised their films to reflect the radical new era. This was an attempt to get away from their previous image which was in danger of looking and feeling stale and archaic. How did they do this? By using humour!
A peach of a soundtrack to look at is the Trunk Record’s compilation of some of the De Wolfe library music that was used within George A Romero’s masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. The fact that Romero used muzak that would be played inside a shopping mall within a film set in a shopping mall was both genius and audacious.
To use music that was intended as background music at best and drag it centre stage and use it within a film that would be placed under the microscope and examined closely by both critics and audiences was quite a gamble. Would the plastic music cheapen the film and dilute it’s power? Would critics and audiences alike ridicule the film because of the music used within it?
The answer was a resounding NO! Romero’s vision was so precise, well defined and strong that the use of library music added yet another layer of meaning to the film. Hence we get the goofy genius of The Gonk by Herbert Chappell, the otherworldly and futuristic Figment by Park, the strangely introspective and minimalist Desert de Glace by Pierre Arvay and the melancholic Sun High by Simon Park all used to underscore and emphasise key scenes within the film.
Just as the tracks gave Dawn of the Dead more meaning, so the film also gave the tracks a new dimension of meaning. It was the cinematic equivalent of Andy Warhol’s silk screens of Campbell soup cans and their being analysed in art galleries after being taken out of the supermarket. Genius.
I’ve heard songs from Dawn also used in schools programmes, porno movies, episodes of The Sweeney and Prisoner Cell Block H. That’s a testament to the tracks brilliance and versatility.
This collection of these songs hangs together very well indeed and feels like revisiting old friends as Dawn replays in your head as you listen to them. Essential.