Searchlight: John Carpenter

John Carpenter

He does not need an introduction. John Carpenter is one of the Masters of Horror. A maverick, visionary, and extremely influential, Carpenter’s work taps into the visceral, primal fears we all know too well, driving our nightmares with iconic imagery and pulse-pounding suspense, with his tongue firmly in cheek for a lot of it. He knows what scares us, and knows we need a nervous laugh to release the tension. He’s quite adept in the sights and sounds of suspense. Here, we’ll let the sights take a seat so the sounds can take center stage.

Whether you’re a fan of his films or not, you’d be hard pressed not to admit that the soundtracks for Carpenter’s well-known films are among the most memorable scores ever. Strikingly simple, yet extremely effective, Carpenter knows just how powerful a shrill tone against a background drone is to heighten the suspense. The sinister percussive piano work in Halloween taps directly into our fear center, and remains one of the most easily recognized scores in horror history, ranking right above the theme for Friday the 13th.

Beginning with his early short films through Ghost of Mars, Carpenter has composed the scores for seventeen of the films he directed. Each soundtrack is unique and completely fitting with the tone of the film, becoming an integral part of the experience. The score for Assault on Precinct 13 is completely different from The Fog, and then changes gears again for films like Big Trouble in Little China, capturing the essence of the film while maintaining that classic Carpenter edge. Strangely enough, Carpenter did not produce the soundtrack for one of his most iconic films, The Thing. Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) actually scored that film. Incidentally, some left over music from Morricone’s The Thing score was used in the official soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.


The Thing SoundtrackToday, Carpenter likes to spend his time playing video games, and writing and performing music. Starting with 2015’s Lost Themes, Carpenter released an instrumental album of music worthy of any of his films. These ‘lost tracks’ have become many writer’s personal soundtrack when pounding out their creepy tales. The following year, Lost Themes II added more tunes for our personal soundtrack. Carpenter recently released Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998, re-recording many of his favorite tracks, songs that he performs live in concert. He even covered Morricone’s main theme from The Thing.

Innovative and highly influential, Carpenter’s music knows just the keys to penetrate our minds and tap into our deepest fears. Many writers I know, myself included, find that writing to his music in the background just helps the words flow. There’s no way you can listen to the Halloween soundtrack without getting creeped out, in a good way. It’s part of the ‘Carpenter Experience’. Now, put on your headphones and crank up some Lost Themes, or one of his many soundtracks, and let the creepiness flow through you and send a shiver down your spine.




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