Well fuck me. I really fucking fucked this up guys. I completely missed the 4 year anniversary of this blog thing on March 1st. So in order to make it up to you I’m gonna do something a little different. Instead of the usual round of sexy thrillers I’m gonna rank the John Carpenter soundtracks (a buddy of mine actually suggested it so full credit goes to him, you know who you are).
One weird caveat to note before we begin is Carpenter didn’t score all of his films. The Thing, Starman, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, The Ward and the handful of TV movies he did (except Body Bags) all bear someone else’s music. But just to throw a monkey wrench in here I’ll unofficially include the features (not numbered but still mixed in) so you know where I would rank them. And what the hell, Halloween II and III will be included too because even though Carpenter didn’t direct those he still scored them. I know the TV movies are getting left out in the cold on this but it wouldn’t have been much of a contest anyway. The soundtrack to Elvis would definitely get my number one spot between those.
Ok, without further ado, here a goes:
(Starman (1984)- Generic and uninteresting. It sounds like a really shitty B movie soundtrack.)
16. Village of the Damned (1995)- One of Carpenter’s worst films (I really need to see it again though, it’s been a long time) and the soundtrack isn’t so good either. The synth string work tries to get you excited but is tiresome and fails.
15. Ghosts of Mars (2001)- Dreadful. Generally speaking I don’t like Carpenter’s guitar based soundtracks as much as his synth ones and he goes for full on metal music here (not that I’m against metal by the way). He even calls in Anthrax, Steve Vai and Buckethead to employ his magically dexterous fingers to glide through the trite score. The only reason this ranks above Village of the Damned is because Village’s is so boring. Ghosts at least has a hint of something happening, some direction. I guess I just don’t agree with that direction.
(The Ward (2010)- Nothing too interesting going on here but you can hear small flashes of Carpenter’s earlier style. I’ll give Mark Kilian credit for trying to incorporate the Carpenter sound with his own but it doesn’t quite work. And that woman’s incessant “la la”-ing is irritating as hell.)
(Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992)- It’s pretty ‘n all but standard fare.)
14. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)- Aside from the main theme that’s all guitar-ed out there actually is a bunch of synth on here. But it’s uninspired with not a lot to sink your teeth into. The movie as a whole is underrated but the music doesn’t help my case very much.
13. Vampires (1998)- Another underrated Carpenter picture in my opinion, but once again the soundtrack sure ain’t. It’s hard rockin’ with a country edge at times and not nearly as good as Escape from L.A.’s attempts at some of the same material. If he really wanted this to be like a western he should’ve scored it more that way.
12. Dark Star (1974)- There are glimmers of what was to come but he hadn’t quite gotten there yet. A little interesting but overall not very.
11. The Fog (1980)- It’s a not as good Halloween soundtrack. More ambient and droning sounding. It’s less definitive which means it’s more forgettable.
10. Halloween II (1981)- Same shit as the first but the arrangements are worse.
9. Prince of Darkness (1987)- Not bad atmosphere with some religious touches like the choir-esque synth and organ. But overall it comes off as leftovers touched up and reworked slightly from his previous film, Big Trouble in Little China.
8. They Live (1988)- Everyone agrees that this is one of Carpenter’s finest films but I never found the music to be all that great. It’s kinda boring and just plods along. The military tinge to it works well enough but doesn’t offer any memorable themes.
7. Halloween III (1982)- Even though it’s yet more of the same shit it’s done better than II but still not as good as the first time around.
(The Thing (1982)- I tried to find out why Carpenter didn’t score this one but couldn’t find any explanation really. Maybe it was because he was doing the soundtrack to Halloween III that year and didn’t have time to score his own feature? Kind of a weak theory but I have no fuckin’ clue. Anyway, it worked out ‘cause Ennio Morricone mimicked Carpenter’s sound so faithfully that it’s seamless. Apparently Carpenter had no input either and just went with whatever Morricone came up with. In fact it’s weird to think what this picture would sound like without Morricone’s music. Would a genuine Carpenter soundtrack have been better? Who knows? Strange.)
6. Escape From L.A. (1996)- The nu metaly/industrial sound that’s going on here is actually a lot of fun. More than anything this music sounds like it doesn’t give a fuck and that’s what makes it so appealing. Sometimes it’s 007 influenced, sometimes it’s western influenced, it’s all over the goddamn place. There’s something for everyone.
5. Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)- There’s really only one piece, the main theme, but it’s fuckin’ strong as shit. (fun fact: Carpenter modeled this one after Led Zep’s “The Immigrant Song” and the theme from Dirty Harry by Lalo Schifrin)
4. Christine (1983)- It’s a little unfair because of all of the 50’s pop tunes on this but hey, that’s just the way it goes. The selection of hits is phenomenal and even manages to sound eerie in the context of the film. But even if I were ranking this soundtrack purely on Carpenter’s original pieces it would still come in this high. It’s like if The Fog and Halloween soundtracks had a baby. There are some tremendous themes here.
3. Halloween (1978)- Classic. Every note is instantly recallable and downright creepy.
2. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)- Not only does this one sport the usual dark ambient tracks but also totally synthed out 80’s pop. Carpenter himself even sings the title track! This soundtrack is also an important nod to the future because Carpenter would eventually ease off his trusty synth after They Live and turn to the guitar as a showcase instrument more (starting proper with In the Mouth of Madness). But this is the beautiful blend of both instruments. They come together like Jack Burton and Wang Chi (Jack being the guitar and Wang the synth) to fight the three storms and Lo Pan. The great inclusion of Asian sounding themes and simulated instrumentation further adds to the east meets west motif. I can see this being incredible cheesy for a lot of folks but I love the shit out of it.
1. Escape From New York (1981)- Everything from the cocksure swagger of the title theme to the Duke’s disco inspired jam to the chaotic dash across the 69th street bridge, it’s all fantastic music. Everything about it works incredibly well. Carpenter has a sparseness to his style that you can hear on all of his soundtracks but it’s the most effective here. There are several layers of synth on each track but each one has plenty of breathing room. He manages to always keep things tense and extremely exciting. This is Carpenter’s finest work musically in my opinion. I dare you to put this shit on and not get pumped the fuck up. If you didn’t feel like watching the movie before, you will.