John Carpenter’s 10 best original scores ranked!
John Carpenter. If you’re reading this, you’re really not in need of any sort of serious schooling about who Carpenter is and his legacy of remarkable, history altering and genre-defining motion pictures. And key to appreciating and understanding the power of Carpenter’s work is, of course, discussing his groundbreaking, synth-based music scores. Taking his musical training, a love of rock and roll, a newfound interest in the electronic and progressive sounds of Tangerine Dream and Italian horror film supergroup Goblin — and of course, the necessity of having limited budget for a musical score — Carpenter etched his own sound. And that sound has been imitated so much that it’s vital we every so often go back and appreciate the source.
And while every John Carpenter score (many of which were orchestrated with the aid of his frequent collaborator Alan Howarth) is good, these 10 are — we think — his very, very best.
See if you agree…
10. They Live: Muscular, slow-grooving soundtrack finds Carpenter in his blues/trucker rock mode to support his meandering tale of alien paranoia and media manipulation in LA. Lazy and full of swaggering humor and camp machismo. Orchestrations by Alan Howarth.
9. The Fog: Carpenter had long-cited Italian horror film scores — specifically the work of Goblin — as an influence on Halloween‘s score and this one is also a Euro-steeped work, hyper-Gothic and eerie. The funny thing is, so popular was Carpenter in Italy at this point that you can clearly hear The Fog score’s influence on the work of Fabio Frizzi for his score for Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond.
8. Big Trouble in Little China: Carpenter has always had a knack for creating music that taps into the essence of his heroes and villains and his theme for his 1986 martial arts fantasy romp Big Trouble in Little China is no exception. Tough, sneering and sexy with a hint of lumbering “big lug” humor, Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score amusingly blends guitar-based trucker rock with fat, ’80s synth pulses for a fun, energized piece of work… for an equally amusing film. Now, the Coup de Villes song at the end is another matter entirely…
7. Ghosts of Mars: Star Ice Cube urged Carpenter to discover digital composition software like Pro-Tools and those experiments are evident in this chrome-plated space western that — thankfully — people are just starting to re-discover and adore. We love the film and we REALLY love this score, a amalgamation of Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13, Prince of Darkness and other key Carpenter scores but doused in the heavy metal guitar shredding of Steve Vai and Buckethead. An absolutely kick-ass achievement.
6. Prince of Darkness: Carpenter asked composer Ennio Morricone to imitate his style for Morricone’s amazing work on Carpenter’s 1982 thriller The Thing. With Prince of Darkness, Carpenter took elements of Morricone’s remix and ran with it. Prince of Darkness is a creepy, pulsing, synth-washed master class in aural dread that amplifies the movie — which really isn’t one of JC’s best — substantially.
5. Halloween III: Sure, there’s no Shape in sight and Carpenter didn’t direct, but he did provide the wall-to-wall score for this curiosity, a horror classic that takes place in the Halloween universe. And freeing himself from the confines of the body count classic he created, enabled him to make an all new landscape of music that stands among his best. Atmospheric, dense, relentless and emotional, this is an amazing electro-soundtrack achievement.
4. Assault on Precinct 13: Carpenter’s blueprint for the minimalist sonics that he would continue to explore and evolve throughout his career, Assault is still breathtaking; an intense, sexy and moody score that has been endlessly influential. Totally bad ass music.
3. Christine: Oh man! You wanna feel just how awesome and powerful the score for Carpenter’s Christine is? Pop in the CD while night driving at 3am through the dead city streets and just FEEL it. Pulsing, moody, dread-filled, this is a car-centric and pop-tinted progression of the Halloween score and it’s probably this writer’s favorite of all the Carpenter soundtracks. The movie rocks hard too.
2. Halloween: What more can we say? The film broke records, broke ground and steered American horror on its course. And the score draped over Carpenter’s minimalist visuals pre-dated MTV, making Halloween one of the first American cinematic rock videos. Halloween is almost ALL about this music. Iconic, important and rousing.
1. Escape From New York: Some might say that Halloween is Carpenter’s best score and there’s an argument there for sure. But for our money, Escape From New York is the one that stands tallest, a sexy, sleek and rough retro-western score with a new-wave and electro-edge that is built around the outlaw Snake Plisskin and his greasy, violent adventures. The theme is a fist pumping anthem. A masterpiece.