At the end of August, just in time for spooky season, legendary composer, writer, director and somewhat newly minted touring musician, John Carpenter released a new single, Skeleton, on Sacred Bones Records. This was Carpenters first new music since returning to the Halloween franchise to score 2018’s Halloween and his first new non-film release since the stellar 2015/16 full lengths Lost Themes I and Lost Themes II. Skeleton was released with the B-side Unclean Spirit
Skeleton is classic John Carpenter, but departs a bit from his soundtrack work. The first layer introduced is a driving 4/4 sequence with just enough wobble to give the track a bit of industrial drive. The progression is pretty simple, but the layered countermelodies bring out all sorts of interesting nuance. Skeleton also incorporates some big guitar parts that blend nicely and nod to the crunchy tones from In The Mouth of Madness or Christine.
For its part, Unclean Spirit seems like it would fit very well into a Halloween film, or as a resolution track following of the eerie, octave jumping call and response of The Fog.
It’s definitely a must-listen, and given that this is our favorite time of year, I would suggest diving into some of John Carpenter’s classic themes and non-film recordings as well.
John Carpenter is probably best known as a horror director…not just a horror director, but maybe the best known and most influential genre director in American cinema. And the thing about genre directors that makes them almost more impressive than more mainstream directors is an uncanny DIY ethic: an ability to make something out of nothing, to pull magic from the air with whatever tools are offered…sort of the John Lennon “give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it” mentality.
And John Carpenter has always brought that ethos to his music. No budget? No problem. No time? Don’t need it. We’ll get a deceptivelybig sound.
I read that Carpenter composed and recorded his entire Assault on Precinct 13 theme in a few days on an EMS VCS3, which I believe retailed for about $500 in 1969. And the Halloween theme was made in a similar manner. The film was made for $320,000. The Shape (Michael Myers) was a spray painted William Shatner mask and a pair of coveralls. The film didn’t have a sountrack (or soundtrack budget), so Carpenter wrote the entire score in 3 days and recorded it on borrowed synths in under 2 weeks.
Today, 42 years later, Halloween is a classic film and that creepy 5/4 theme is one of the most recognizable and eponymous pieces in film history. And it lives outside of film as well. There is not a synthwave or darkwave, or whatever artist on the planet who doesn’t cite John Carpenter as a key influence both sonically and practically. I’ve made entire albums based just on things I learned from studying John Carpenter. We all owe him royalties.
As singularly creepy as the themes for Halloween, The Fog and The Thing are, there is also some very interesting diversity in the John Carpenter catalog. I would point to: the jug-jug action theme from Big Trouble in Little China, the somewhat soaring C Maj theme from Starman, and of course, the electronic showtune blues from They Live.
Skeleton is available on vinyl in several color options from Sacred Bones Records. And while you’re shoppng, consider picking up Lost Themes, Lost Themes II, John Carpenter’s Anthology and the 2018 Halloween OST.
And if you’re considering a Halloween franchise movie marathon this week, it’s good to know that there is no canon beyond Halloween I and II. I read (somewhere, sometime in a nerd forum) that the original plan for the franchise was to make a two-part slasher and then work with a different story every year. But after Halloween III, America was knee deep in the 80’s and only wanted slasher franchises, so we never got to see the anthology strategy play out. Anyway, here’s my suggested viewing order:
Halloween III (standalone)
Halloween I, Halloween II, Halloween IV, Halloween V, Halloween VI (aka Halloween Paul Rudd). This will get you through the entire cult plot.
Halloween 2018. Tying a through-line back to the OG films.
Halloween H20 (aka Halloween LL Cool J). A divergent timeline 20 years after the original.
Halloween Resurrection (aka Halloween Busta Rhymes). Totally standalone, but there is a Jamie Lee Curtis intro!
Halloween Rob Zombie and Halloween Rob Zombie II. I think they’re underrated.