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Comments about the soundtrack for Halloween (John Carpenter)

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Filmtracks Sponsored Donated Review
• Posted by: Jonathan Jarry   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Monday, July 28, 2008, at 8:53 a.m.
• IP Address: donated.filmtracks.com

(The following donated review by Jonathan Jarry was moved by Filmtracks to this comment section in July, 2008)


Halloween: 20th Anniversary Edition: (John Carpenter) Unequivocally one of the most renown and effective horror movie theme, the simple-yet-unsettling Halloween main title theme composed by John Carpenter for his third feature film has remained to this day unsurpassed. It is funny that our primeval fears seem to be better expressed through a very simplistic array of synthesized instruments rather than in a huge symphony orchestra. John Carpenter knew that and composed a wonderfully-frightening minimalist score for the now-famed Halloween movie, the story of an escaped mentally-ill killer who now stalks babysitters on Halloween night. Although the score gets repetitive at times, composed primarily of only four cues (the Halloween theme, Laurie's theme, the haunted house motif, and the stalking theme), it gains appreciation in effectiveness. Twenty years after the release of the original motion picture, Varhse Sarabande has produced a new revised edition of the Halloween soundtrack, now mixing the music with excerpts of dialogues and sound effects from the movie for a disturbing listening experience.

The soundtrack album begins with the main title rendition of the Halloween Theme, played by a short-stringed piano and accompanied by synthesized strings, low agogo, and a string ensemble. The renowned piano motif, while offering the listener a peak into the mind of the killer, Michael Myers, is made even more unsettling by the choice of rhythm. As the composer mentions in the liner notes, "the rhythm was inspired by an exercise [his] father taught [him] on the bongos in 1961, the beating out of 5-4 time." This creates in return a sense of panic and a loss of security to our 4-4-trained ears, as the main motif seems to be cut short, returning too rapidly, not finishing its development. It is merely an illusion, one the composer has exploited to the fullest. The strings accompanying the piano are playing what would later be associated with the character of Laurie. However, it is not a modern and relieving type of theme for the lead character, as it rather plays on the ultimate fate of the character and the inevitable clash between her and Myers.

As for the rest of the score, it is comprised mainly of synthesizers, the piano playing a very important part, as does the percussion. The strings more than adequately set up the tension and the sense of horror throughout the album. Also worthy of noting is the choice of instrument Carpenter makes whenever something surprising and horrible is seen on screen. In modern-day slasher movies, most composers choose high-pitched violins to express shock and to pull their audience six feet above their seats. In Halloween, the composer instead decided to use sudden low electronic atmosphere sounds, combined with high metallic synths, and I must say that it works even better. Not only do you jump every time this happens, but you also feel the disgust and repugnance at the crime that has been committed (one such moment comes near the end of the second track entitled Halloween 1963, when Michael's parents witness their six-year-old son's very first murder).

Finally, the selection of cues and dialogue snippets and the way they were arranged to complement one another is brilliantly done. My only displeasure comes from the irritating repetition of the same motifs over and over throughout the album. After having listened to about half the album, you have virtually heard it all. A lot of tracks are repeated throughout the soundtrack, only given different names. This is perfectly understandable from a movie perspective, since John Carpenter didn't have much time to compose the score, and the music, even if repetitive, is quite effective in every scene. However, as a stand-alone listening experience, it drags near the end and it made me reach for the fast-forward button on my remote a number of times, especially in the reprise of the stalking theme.

All in all, the 20th Anniversary Edition of the Halloween soundtrack by John Carpenter is ingeniously effective and scary. It is a very slow and patient kind of music, unlike some modern chase-scene-centered horror flicks, never bursting into sudden action-oriented cues. In this way, the music perfectly fits the persistent and stoical ways of Michael Myers. The music can be so idle that you feel there is no way to escape the wrath of the Shape. One needs to be reminded that it is a minimalist score, but one that works truly well. It is redundant in a lot of places; however, it beats several contemporary horror scores in sheer malignancy and raw terror. For a score to make you see shapes in night's shadows, it has to be highly skillful, and John Carpenter's Halloween is certainly that and more.... ****






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