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Thursday, October 14, 2021

Behind the Music That Kills: An Interview With the Master of Horror, John Carpenter

For over 40 years, Michael Myers has existed as one of the greatest icons in horror. Coming into existence in 1978’s Halloween, Michael’s violence and terror have only been rivaled by few slashers in the genre. “He is supposed to be the boogeyman, a force of evil,” says director, writer, and music composer John Carpenter. Carpenter, alongside film producer Debra Hill, shaped Michael – creating a being that represents the darkness like no other. Carpenter continues, “The Shape, Michael Myers, is an all-purpose boogeyman. In other words – Godzilla was an all-purpose monster […] You think about Michael Myers, he is really flexible.”

Since that of the 1978 film, its 1981 sequel, and the non-conical Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Carpenter has remained distant from the Halloween franchise; that is until the 2018 entry directed by David Gordon Green, written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride. The 2018 film stands as a canonical sequel to the 1978 film – disregarding all the other films. Green set out to create a new trilogy within the franchise, the next chapter being this year’s Halloween Kills. Though Carpenter is not acting as director or taking part in the writing of these films, his creative contributions take form in each of the film’s musical scores.

While Carpenter is acknowledged so often for his filmmaking, the impact of his music cannot go ignored. There’s an interesting story where, upon sharing the original Halloween with an executive – where no music or sound was present – said producer did not like the film. It wasn’t until the executive saw Halloween with its score that it captivated them.

Throughout so many of his films Carpenter has created his own scores; his passion for electronic music coming to him early in life, partially thanks to his father’s musical work and discovering the synthesizer through the science fiction film Forbidden Planet (1956). This latter point has been of great influence on him throughout his career, electronic music making for the overwhelming musical presence in his films. Even in his personal material the synthesizer is a strong component within his craft. It’s an instrument heavily used throughout the horror genre – its sounds straddling auras tranquil, unsettling, ethereal. Speaking to the synthesizer’s prominence and relationship to horror, Carpenter says, “It’s [used because it’s] cheap, that’s why. I don’t know why that connection is there, but the synthesizer has a unique sound. It’s like none other; I knew that early on.”

Whether making his own music or scoring Halloween Kills, Carpenter works alongside his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies. In starting work on the soundtrack for this film, Carpenter expresses what he and the team brought into the scoring process. “We started on the Halloween movies with two things. One, we have the midi from the original score; by that I mean, we have the original score I did years ago – the various songs with that. Then we tend to update them, adapt them, and use parts of them there and there. Once we’re dealing with the movie and we’re watching it, then we can work with new material – that’s all improvised.”

Part of this updating comes in the form of the revamped Halloween theme – perhaps one of the most iconic songs in horror next to The Exorcist theme. This time around, the song kicks with an added industrial tinged bass, an added choir-like singing section sprinkled there and there. Compared to the late ‘70s, there’s so much more musicians can do today with audio equipment – with such new innovations inspiring Carpenter’s reinterpretation on the classic tune. “[There] are brand new sounds that are constantly being updated,” he says in discussing the restyled take on the Halloween theme. “That’s where the inspiration comes from. Brand new sounds, it’s unbelievable. We’ve come a long way since 1978.”

When working on the music for Halloween Kills, Carpenter tends to approach the material knowing that a tone will be involved, while primarily relying on having the visuals present before him. “I generally know what I want to do in terms of atmosphere [coming into a film], but we score to the movie. It’s exact; I want the final cut in my computer and then we start scoring to it. I don’t think about [particular musical ideas] ahead of time.” In further discussing how he translates image/action to music, he shares, “There is no one rule for all of it. Depends on where we are in the story, or what the characters are involved in or generally the thematic material going on. There are a lot of things taken into account. But there are no rules. Sometimes you can counterintuitively score something; go in the other direction, go soft, quiet – sometimes that works.”

Much like the previous soundtrack, the material on the Halloween Kills soundtrack displays an array of sonic intrigue; from gently flowing compositions stirring with mystique, to the most riveting of adrenaline rushes, eliciting the feel of a stalker in pursuit of his prey. One such track that reflects the latter is the record’s first single, “Unkillable.” “It was fun to see it take shape,” Carpenter states regarding the origin of the song. “We just went with the scene; the scene guided us.”

While most of Carpenter’s time with Halloween is now predominantly based around music, the passion for his and Hill’s character is still ever present. Yet though Michael tends to get a lot of the attention from fans, Green’s films aim to elevate that of 1978’s final girl – Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Curtis has appeared in other Halloween films since the first two, however, the Laurie in this new trilogy displays new depth – a woman hurt by horrific trauma, yet also strengthened, ready to face her demon head on. Given that progression and all Curtis has done in her career, Carpenter is beyond proud of her. “Jamie’s awesome. She well deserved the [Golden Lion for Lifetime] Achievement award at the Venice Film Festival. She has developed into such a fine actress – she is a force of nature. Her character [Laurie] – she is a person.”

Whereas other iconic slashers have had their fair share of reboots/remakes over the years, Halloween by far has been among one of the more adapted works (for good and bad). But for Carpenter, these tributes and interpretations bring a great joy. “It’s fabulous. All of this is fabulous. Never expected this. It comes out of nowhere; it’s great, it’s a gift. Everything about the movie business is surreal. There’s nothing normal about it.” He expresses added praise for Green’s vision and what he has done with Halloween’s story and its characters. “[David] is a really talented director. He took Halloween by the throat. I’m very impressed with him as a director.” And these aren’t just nice words, for Carpenter is thrilled for Halloween Kills. “[The film] kicks ass. It’s the ultimate slasher movie. This is a horror film times ten. That’s what I love!

Though its sometime away, Carpenter waits with equal excitement and patience in scoring Green’s final entry in this new Halloween trilogy, Halloween Ends. As far as potential musical ideas, Carpenter stands by his practice. “We are going to wait and see. The tone of the movie is the most important thing, where the characters go is the most important thing. We’ll wait and see. It’ll be great I tell you.”

I and Bloody Disgusting would like to thank John Carpenter for his time in partaking with this interview. You can catch Halloween Kills in theatres and on Peacock this weekend.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/interviews/3687222/behind-music-kills-interview-master-horror-john-carpenter/

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