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.
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.
Another past event has just popped up in the Memories section of my Facebook account. Apparently, 15 years ago I was watching Halloween at the National Film Theatre.
And apparently, I have scanned and posted the NFT notes for the screening.
As I remember, this screening was utilising a brand spanking new 35mm print that had been freshly made. The video and audio were sensational and a far cry from the print that was used at another cinema screening I attended a few years before this. That print was from the original release of the film in 1978 and was in a dire state. Although it was of historical value and great to see the BBFC card for the film from when it was released, it looked and sounded terrible.
I’m loving going through the Yorkshire Evening Post’s archives to reveal the ads used to publicise a film’s release. I fondly remember seeing these as a kid- little glimpses into a film’s grittiness and sleaziness when I was too young to actually see the film.
The other day I stumbled upon the original ads for one of my favourite films, Halloween.
I also came across the original film review which was very positive (which it should have been!)
In fact it appears that the film ran for quite a few weeks here in Leeds. The folks here have great taste!
But I’m especially loving the fact that a competition was run in the newspaper to publicise the film. I’m just astounded that the prices couldn’t have been more topical for the film’s content- a new set of knives, an endless supply of coat hangers, driving lessons (although Michael Myers seemed to get by without these when he escaped from Smiths Grove).
So, the day has finally arrived. Fanboys have been counting down to this release since the start of the year. Yes, even though the film was due to drop in October. This film is a direct sequel to the first film, the filmmakers told us. We must pretend Parts 2-8 didn’t happen.
So, whats it like?
It feels like some kind of faux sequel made exclusively for Netflix. Even John Carpenter’s score feels like a plastic pastiche.
It’s quite an achievement to make a horror film that has no tension or atmosphere. They have managed with this film. Which is such a shame. The original Halloween has atmosphere, tension and menace by the bucketload.
I have never rolled my eyes so many times during any other film. The starting sequence in which Michael is shown his old mask and then all the surrounding asylum inmates start to go crazy made me want to stab myself in the eyes. That was followed by a title sequence which made me scream ‘Oh please!’ in the cinema. A flattened and deflated pumpkin filmed in reverse becomes whole again. In fact it’s a good metaphor for the whole film- inadvertently funny yet tragic at the same time.
The only character I liked in this film was Michael. Some of his moments were the only moments of light in the whole affair. When asked to speak by his doctor (imagine an Omar Shariff impersonator doing a dreadful Donald Pleasance impression) Michael stamps on his head making it smash like the pumpkin at the beginning of those awful titles. Michael speaks through violence. Another moment has Michael walking through a house which he has adorned with his latest victims- like a very sick art installation. This was a nice touch and a great (and subtle) reference to the original.
But the worst aspect of the film were the nods to modern politics. There is a very obvious thread of ‘diversity’ that comes across as ham-fisted and very patronising. Theres a character whose gender is unconfirmed (looks like a boy, talks about getting back for dance class) but might be a girl. Strode’s granddaughter and her boyfriend go to a Halloween party dressed as Bonnie and Clyde- her as Clyde (male), him as Bonnie (female). Edgy. Except it’s not. There’s even the grotesque stereotype of the sassy black child. I honestly expected him to exclaim ‘What You Talking About, Willis?!’ Please have a diverse cast, please don’t make it so obvious so that it feels like tokenism.
There’s also plenty of references to Me Too, Times Up and The Sisterhood (I’m dry-heaving typing this). Laurie exclaims ‘Times up!’ at one point and screams over her colleagues who are talking over her. She will have her voice heard! The film further reinforces this sense of the sisterhood with a prominent scene really obviously placing Strode, her daughter and granddaughter all together in the frame (I could say more about this scene but I’d hate to spoil the film for you hahahaha). In fact this scene is so repellent that when I saw it I actually screamed ‘Oh *beep* off!’ in the cinema. But, the film depicted Me Too and Times Up a bit too well. Laurie is hysterical, irrational and deranged most of the time. Kudos to the director for holding up a mirror.
For a brilliant, deft, and innovative example of feminism and diversity in a film check out Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. The ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence epitomises ‘We Can Do It!’ in action and without the amateur dramatics. The scene in which she recruits the member for her expedition team is a far greater and emotionally moving demonstration of diversity and a sense of everyone being empowered to get involved and engaged.
Back to Halloween 2018. The references to the original film will have you rolling your eyes/wanting to scream/wanting to actually inflict violence. Theres a moment that copies the ending of the first film- but with a twist. It’s so obvious, heavy-handed and irritating that I felt like randomly slashing cinema seats with my keys. Whats more, they use footage from the 1978 film within this film which is a very risky manoeuvre. Especially when you’ve made an utterly inept piece of crap. It reminds the viewer that they could be watching a much, much better film instead.
But then that’s one of the few good things about this sequel- it means there there are screenings of the original in cinemas at the moment and a new Blu-ray release. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Oh, and for the record- this film isn’t fit to even be compared to Halloween 2 (1981). In fact, the argument should be about which film is worse? This or Halloween: Resurrection. Yes, it’s that bad.
A comic book type caper in which a posse hunts down vampires for a living.
This is at the lower end of John Carpenter’s filmography. It feels more intent with slick visuals and trying to come across as ‘cool’ than being a thought provoking piece of cinema with any kind of substance. We get nods to the Western genre with the posse. We even get a reference to The Searchers. That’s the deepest and most thought provoking thing in the whole film.
The only people this film is of interest to are the nerdier depths of the horror/sci-fi demographic.
In fact, this feels more like a TV movie than a proper film. The only innovation within this flick is that it’s ahead of it’s time in predicting the dearth of similar fare made to go straight to cable. As a matter of fact I saw this on the Horror Channel. I’m glad it found it’s rightful home.
Not the worst film I’ve ever seen but light years away from Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Someone’s Watching Me…
I’ve just reviewed Snapshot that was cheekily renamed ‘The Day After Halloween’ to capitalise on the success of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.
I remember the first time I saw this was on a copy of the soundtrack that I saw whilst browsing for soundtracks in the mid 90’s when I had moved to London to study film. ‘Well, I’ll be damned!’ I thought as I saw the title of the film and the same font used as for the original film. I was also amazed to see Sigrid Thornton on the album’s sleeve art. I had known and admired Ms Thornton’s work in the TV series Prisoner Cell Block H.
Now rewind a few years. It’s the late 80’s. I’m in Leeds after taking the bus from York to visit a brilliant film memorabilia shop called Movie Boulevard.
It’s here that I buy a quad poster for the film Halloween 2. I wondered why it said ‘All New’ on it.
”I remember when that came out, the ads eventually had a banner that said Not a Sequel to Halloween but it wasn’t in theaters for very long…”
So is this why the posters for Halloween 2 had the words ‘All New’ written on them? Had this small (but perfectly formed) film from Australia which had tried to market itself as a sequel to Halloween perplexed the makers of the real sequel to the film to such an extent that they had to tell audiences that this was the real deal, the real sequel? It would appear so.
This ‘All New’ addendum was added to both the American and British posters for the film (the British poster is earlier in this article)-
This also extended to the British and American/Canadian newspaper ads for the film-
I remember being traumatised by the Poster for The Fog before I actually saw the film. We had driven past The Odeon in York and I briefly glanced at it. As this was just a glance I thought I saw a woman lying in bed with a ghostly hand reaching out to grab her. I didn’t sleep for several nights after this.
I finally saw the film on video years later and loved it. Whereas Halloween is a killer on the loose movie, The Fog is a modern twist on the old fashioned ghost story.
In fact the plot comes from an event that happened in the late 1890s with a ship being lured onto rocks so that the gold onboard could be robbed and the people onboard left to perish.
The film makes light of this with a buried secret and buried treasure both coming back from the dead. People coming back from the dead in the film is also a knowing wink to the EC Comics of the 50’s and 60’s in which the dead avenge the living by coming back from their graves. The guilty who are still alive have to face those whom they wronged and with ghastly consequences. Theres also a feeling of ordinary people having to endure extraordinary circumstances with these specific comics and within this film.
Whilst the cast is amazing (watch out for the interactions between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis- they’re hilarious) the true star of the film is the fog itself. With this picture being made in 1980 the fog was real rather than being computer generated as it was in the appalling remake. The fog here is a living, breathing and very menacing entity.
This film also has some of the best cinematography in any horror film and its courtesy of Dean Cundey who had also shot the masterpiece Halloween. The anamorphic Panavision used here was inspired and this and the film’s lighting make the movie absolutely beautiful to look at.
Whilst this is an old fashioned ghost story there is also a modernity about proceedings with some sequences that are as nasty if not nastier than the other horror films of the day by their being committed out of frame or within the fog itself. Check out what happens to the men aboard The Seagrass and the way they are dispatched. The sound effects suggest breaking bones and slashed flesh whilst being obscured by the fog itself. Whilst other horror films were being more explicit with their blood and gore, Carpenter suggested these atrocities whilst not fully showing them. This was the correct approach for this film as excessive gore would have seemed out of place and quite cheap for this movie. Carpenter actually reshot scenes to add to the film as he didn’t think it was scary enough. I’m glad he didn’t go overboard (pun not intended).
Another thing to love about The Fog is the soundtrack. We get the simple piano motifs like in Halloween but also analogue synth atmosphere that really adds to the film as a whole. But most surprisingly there are fully blown baroque pieces that suggest something older and more classical- a reference to what happened years before in Antonio Bay and the resurrection of this piece of grisly history.
Add to the mix some pretty amazing special effects (look out for special effects genius Rob Bottin as lead zombie pirate nicknamed on set ‘Wormface’) and you have a rip-roaring ride that never outstays its welcome and always feels fresh, innovative and a joy to behold.
In fact this is one of Carpenter’s best films and is often overshadowed by Halloween. Its almost as if when a director makes a bona fide classic then any other film is destined to be unfavourably compared to it. The Fog and Halloween are both from Carpenter’s Imperial Phase and are both stunning pieces of cinema.