Composer of the Year: John Carpenter Came Home to Haddonfield With a Vengeance

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Out of all the reunions and homecomings this year, none were more exciting than seeing the Master of Horror John Carpenter return to Halloween. Even over Jamie Lee Curtis, who had previously reclaimed the Scream Queen throne with 1998’s Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, the idea of having Carpenter involved with the franchise was not only a dream for fans, but a major coup for Blumhouse. It legitimized their reboot, giving it an edge, made that much sharper by Carpenter’s score.

Musically, it wasn’t particularly surprising to hear how Carpenter and his band, which comprises of son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies, conjured all the right sounds for Michael Myers. After all, they were coming off of three successful years of recording and touring, which saw the release of both volumes of Lost Themes and a reworked anthology collection. What was surprising is how angry it sounded, as if Carpenter, too, had spent 40 years locked up in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium.

halloween david gordon green Composer of the Year: John Carpenter Came Home to Haddonfield With a Vengeance

Rather than simply flexing his minimalistic strengths, Carpenter added more muscle, slicing through David Gordon Green’s film with thunderous vitriol. With The Shape, he wired his march through Haddonfield, Illinois with industrial percussion, shuddering bass, and suffocating synths, only dulled occasionally by flourishes of midnight piano. And for Laurie, he pivoted from the previously melancholic theme to a hypnotic swell, embellishing the on-screen evolution from worrier to warrior.

For these reasons alone, Carpenter wound up spiritually directing the new sequel, layering the film with a tension that, much like his 1978 original, pushed the horror to terror. From the film’s true-crime beginning to its Straw Dogs-esque finale, there’s this dreadful anxiety that subtly insists upon Carpenter’s own willingness to break out, as if he’s like his own Shape, trying to stab the celluloid with each piano note and whiplash guitar line. It’s unnerving, to say the least, but that’s what you want.

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween

In the end, that’s all we wanted at Consequence of Sound, and as someone who loves an epic comeback tale, Carpenter’s return to Haddonfield was no doubt the most exciting story to watch unfold all year. Which says a lot for a year that also saw two members of Radiohead composing two Oscar-worthy films (see: Jonny Greenwood’s You Were Never Really Here and Thom Yorke’s Suspiria) and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson giving us his dreamy swan song with the equally dreamy Mandy.

But Carpenter is King, and, as the old adage goes, long live the Carpenter. In celebration, we spoke to the filmmaker and composer, reflecting on the evolution of the iconic theme, in addition to a myriad of goodies he has in store for the near future. Read on ahead and listen to the full conversation above as part of the latest episode of Halloweenies, our monthly horror franchise podcast, which will soon be leaving Haddonfield, Illinois for the dreamy confines of Springwood, Ohio.

Happy Halloween.

Well, it’s been a good year.

Yeah.

Did you have any idea that Halloween would be this big of a success?

No clue.

No clue?

No clue. No clue. No clue.

Halloween, Sacred Bones

What do you think hooked audiences this time?

I think they dug the story, and it’s a walk-down-memory-lane kind of deal, a little bit, you know?

What did you dig most about it?

I liked what David Gordon Green did with it. I thought he did a fantastic job. The style of the film I liked a lot. I loved Jamie’s performance. I love Jamie and her performance was fantastic — just fantastic.

Was it fun getting back together with some faces that you hadn’t seen in a while? Was that a big part of it, too?

Look, the whole thing was fun, but working on the soundtrack was really, really fun. It was great to go back and revisit the old score, and update it, you know, bring it into this century a little bit.

How has your relationship changed to both the score and the movie over the last 40 years?

Well, you know, you’ve got to realize, many sequels of varying quality have been made over the years, and they’ve been made for basically one reason only, and that’s to make money — and some of them are pretty, pretty wretched. I’ve just gotten used to it, you know? “Well, they’re gonna do it again, so…” and I hide my head, and sometimes it’s good, but more than not, it’s not good. That was my relationship, and I wasn’t expecting anything from it.

Then Jason Blum, who’s Mr. Horror these days, he called me up and said, “Hey, let’s get together,” so we met, and he said, “Well, the sequels, this is gonna be made, whether we are involved or not, so why don’t we do it together? Why don’t we get aboard?” He wanted me to shepherd it through, kind of a quality control, I guess, I don’t know why.

And, you know, “Let’s find a good director, let’s do it.” And so, that was the premise by which we started. I said, okay. And then David Gordon Green came along — and Danny McBride — and they had a great story, and it was just a great idea. And it appealed to me, and it appealed to my… I have to admit, it appealed to my ego.

They said, “Let’s just pretend nothing else exists, except the first movie,” you know, and I said, “Oh, what a clever idea.” I liked that a lot. So, off we went, and Danny McBride killed it, but so did David Gordon Green, man. He killed it.

When you and David Gordon Green first talked about the score, what were some of the discussions?

Well, he knew what he wanted and where. So, he knew he wanted some of the old stuff from the movie, and he knew the movie really well, that was the one thing. It was kind of, uh, eerie. He knew it better than I did. And, so he knew where he wanted the main title, for instance, and where he wanted something new.

And so, we went through the whole thing that way: We went to have spotting sessions, I’m sure you know, but that’s what composers do with directors, you know? They sit down and the director says, “I want music here,” and the composer says, “Well, what do you want the music to be doing and saying, and what mood to you want to convey?”

Anyway, we did that, and it just—he knew. He’s very conversant in music. It was easy. So he knew exactly what he wanted and where. It was amazing. He knew better than I did, as a director, much better than I did. I’m kind of impressed by that.

john carpenter lost themes Composer of the Year: John Carpenter Came Home to Haddonfield With a Vengeance

Did you bring in what you took from those experiences recording Lost Themes I and II?

Well, I don’t know if I brought anything in. I bring myself along with the gig, everything—everything I’ve done, and everything I know about music, you know? It’s part of me. Just everything. Music is improvised, by myself. I just play it. My father made me grow up in a household full of music, and I just barfed that all back on the audience. [Laughs.]

So, that’s what I brought to it, and it was fun to revisit the old shit. I won’t say I was impressed, because that would sound egotistical, but, I’d say, “Wow, you know, that sounds pretty good.” We updated it with the new technology that’s available, and, I’d think, Oh my God, I wish I’d had this back then, but hey, now I can look good by just doing this. That’s fun.

You recorded the original Halloween score in three days. Do you think with this team that you have right now, you would have been able to get it done shorter, or do you think you would have needed more time? 

Man, I don’t know. We—to be frank, you know, we—to have a sane life, we need to not work that hard.

Yeah.

But in those days, you know, I was rip-roarin’ and ready to go. ”Ooh, put me in, coach,” you know, that kind of shit.

Yeah. Yeah.

Not anymore. But, uh, you know, that three days thing, I can’t do that again. That’s only for the young. [Laughs.] And there were no drugs involved in that.

[Laughs.] I was actually gonna ask about that. Because really, 72 hours. Wow. Do you recall when you finished the actual theme? Did you step outside for a moment and say, “Okay, I got this,” or something?

Well, that was… I knew that, “Okay, we’ve got this,” this part. Good. Now, I can—if I hit, if I can do, like, I don’t know, four or five pieces of music that would go in Halloween, that I could cut in anywhere I wanted to, then I’d be in great shape for the score. So, that’s what I did, I just sat down and, you know, scored with various intensity these pieces that went into the movie.

Speaking of intensity, the new theme. A few years ago, my brother suggested that the Halloween theme and Michael Myers are one in the same — you know, similar to the shark in Jaws.

Oh, thank you. Thank you.

And, you know, the way the innocence of the piano at the beginning evolves into that threatening bass, it’s almost a reflection on how this young kid has become this monster. But with the new one, it’s so incredibly punishing and harsh. Were you trying to reflect those 40 missing years?

Punishing and harsh!

Oh, it’s vicious. It’s a totally vicious score.

[Laughs] Ah, great!

It’s so angry and so course. Were you trying to reflect an older Michael?

Well, you know, I hadn’t even thought of it. I like what you’re saying, though. Can I use that in an interview?

[Laughs.] Go for it!

Okay, great, thanks. Uh, you know, I—no, not particularly. I just went along with what I saw, you know, that’s what we do. You know, we just started scoring off the beginning of the new movie, and we discovered the movie just like the audience does. “Oh, look at this.” So we hadn’t seen it before, and, you know, we started working on it.

”Wow, look at this.” “That’s a funny scene,” you know? Then we’d go back and look at our favorite moments, our favorite delivery, and the actors delivering lines. Oh, god, it’s great. You know, there’s a couple of places where it’s hilarious.

Totally.

Yeah, it’s just great, I love this, so. It was fun. I don’t mean to sound like a new-age hippie, but it was a great discovery. I mean, we got to discover this film, as we were scoring, and enjoy it, and enjoy the intricacies.

That must have been new to you, too. By the time you scored your own films, you knew them all back and forth, right?

Too much, yeah. I agree. Yeah, yeah. I did, and, uh—oh, you know, that—it’s really a pain in the ass, if you want to know the truth. Oh, it’s just, after a while, I just couldn’t—I couldn’t do the whole thing, the whole movie-making process, became a bit of a pain in the ass. And that’s—that’s beside the point. Uh, yeah. And this was a process of discovery, which was fabulous. Just fabulous.

Yeah.

I was lucky. I was lucky.

john carpenter halloween reboot music Composer of the Year: John Carpenter Came Home to Haddonfield With a Vengeance

Well, it’s interesting, too, because it’s a total 180 from everything you’ve done over the last five or six years, where you were orchestrating themes for nothing, which is the point of Lost Themes, and then now going into fresh visuals. Was there any anxiety about that? What was your thinking going into it?

You know what, it’s… It’s different when I have to do a job to an image. It’s different. I didn’t realize that before. I thought, ah, this is all the same. But it isn’t all the same. The images—because of my background, and my training, and, you know, how I came into the business — I realized, Oh, wow, you know, the image is next to the music. What a strange thing, and it’s just different—to me it’s different, probably nobody else thinks it’s different. So, that was an interesting—I mean, I’m just like an old hippie now. I’m old!

[Laughs] Would you want to keep scoring?

Hell, yes! Are you kidding? God, yes! Yeah, you get to stay in your house, you don’t have to go out to work, you work off your computer, you can, you know, take a break, have coffee. I mean, it’s fabulous.

Would you prefer doing something like Lost Themes or scoring films?

Both, both. I mean, they’re both great, but they’re involving music now. See, my first love, my muse, is cinema — I love directing. But it’s so hard, and I’m an old man now, and, see, I’ve made a bunch of movies, and they’ve all ganged up on me and started killing me! So I had to stop, you know, I can’t do this, you know it’s murder on you, but the music, doing the music — oh, hell, this is amazing! I mean, this is great!

Your father’s whole career was music. Do you feel you’re finally following in his footsteps?

A little bit, a little bit. My dad’s not really around to appreciate it, but actually, he did, he thought that scoring my movies was a career in music, so that was good, but that’s what he said. Well, I don’t know, man, I didn’t love it like I loved movies, I just didn’t love it — um, and, when you fall in love with a beautiful woman like cinema, you’re just not thinking very straight. I just said, “Come on, baby let’s go!” And she just kicked the shit out of me! But that didn’t matter, I didn’t care.

The label auteur gets tossed around so frequently, but having done literally everything in your movies, whether it’s the writing, to the filmmaking, to the actual scoring, there has to be a delight in looking back knowing you earned the title.

Yeah, it’s great! I don’t necessarily want to talk about the fact that it’s any good, but let’s just talk about the fact that I did it! Hell, it’s fabulous, I’ve had a great fucking life, I mean, it’s just unbelievable, and I have this second career now, I can’t believe it. I mean, it’s unbelievable, anyway.

Going back to the Halloween score for a second, I noticed that the final track, “Halloween Triumphant”, has kind of a dancy sort of feel to it…

Yeah, I think we ought to put it out as a dance record. [Laughs.] I really do!

It would absolutely kill at a festival.

I know it, man. I mean, all we have to do is put a big bass drum, an electronic drum, and we got it! We’ll send it out to all the DJs that can play it and kids can take Ecstasy and dance!

I imagine that was happening at the Halloween show at the Palladium.

Well, I don’t know, well, we played a little bit of it. I don’t know about the drugs, but yeah.

Did you have your live show in mind when you were doing the score?

No, no, no, no. No, we didn’t, and the live show, essentially it morphed into, “Let’s play John’s themes from John’s movies,” which the audience seems to like, but we just added the new Halloween, like you said, “Halloween Triumphant”, but we didn’t do it as electronic type disco stuff. That’s what I really wanted to do. I wish. I can’t convince anybody else but you!

Just toss it out there and confuse the hell out of ’em.

[Laughs.] Yeah.

Well, on the opposite side of dance, there’s a lot of guitar in this score. Granted, Alan Howarth had pretty much welded it into the series back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, so it’s not exactly new to Halloween, but it’s far more effective here. Did you have to have any consideration not to go too heavy or too light with the guitar?

Well, we could put a guitar solo on everything, but I don’t know if it would work! You know, yeah, and I have somebody who can really play guitar in Daniel Davies, Dave Davies’s son, and I just love to let him go, but it’s different work. What it all comes down to is what works for the movie … but we let loose in some places.

You’re a big gamer and I wondered if that had any influence on this.

[Laughs] I didn’t think of that, but I think there’s a part of me that’s dying to do a game score, I’m just dying to do it, but I don’t think anybody will hire me. No one thinks about me to do music for games, that’d be great!

There have been so many interpretations of the Halloween theme, especially last year with Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. Have you ever listened to any of them?

Yeah! There was one for Escape from New York and it was incredible, I can’t remember the name of the group, but it was guitar-heavy with solos, and I thought, Shit, this is great! Can’t remember now, yeah, I love them.

The best use of the Halloween theme, though, was the wrestling tag team, the Samoan Squad team, and as they entered the ring they played the theme on a tiny little boom box. They weren’t in the big venues, they were in the tiny ones.

Oh god, that’s funny.

Every artist has their hits, and you always hear about how they’re tired of them. Does that happen with Halloween at all, or did this kind of rejuvenate it?

No, no no. It doesn’t end, and playing it is a joy, because my son plays the main scene — the “da da da da.” He plays all the bass, and I love it now! You know, I have minimal chops as a musician. I just can’t play that fast anymore, nor do I care to play that fast anymore. So I just have other people to do the dirty work.

Speaking of other people, we recently had a chat with Tommy Lee Wallace, who says you keep in touch. I brought up the Coup de Villes to him and we both wondered if there was any interest on your end to make this happen. I know Nick Castle showed up at one of the shows recently…

I know what we should do. We should do one of these concerts that I’ve been doing and the three of us should get up and do the main title from Big Trouble in Little China, and that would be fun to do, I would love that. But, uh, I don’t know, I’ve talked to Nick about it, he’s all ready to go, he’s all set to go.

Do you ever think about going back and doing a rock album?

I don’t think about it much anymore — I used to — but I’d love to do one. But I get to express all my shit now in the Lost Themes stuff, you know, and I don’t have to sing, which is hard to do, hard to sound good, it’s hard.

What are some rock albums of all time? They change for me every day.

Tell me about it, oh, tell me about it, I know.

What are some that have stuck with you over the years?

Well, some of the stuff that I grew up with, I still love a great deal, you know? Like The Beatles. You realize, I was a kid when The Beatles came out and they were unbelievable! The music was unbelievable, and it was a stunner to hear them. They were just so unique, and they would do an album like every three or four months! I mean, are you kidding me? I don’t know how they did it.

Earlier this year, I caught a documentary on Rubber Soul, which covered how that album pretty much came out because they needed something for a Christmas release, and they did the whole thing in a month.

Yeah! Do you believe it? I mean it’s unreal! So, uh, the talent, the genius of those guys. I mean, yeah I loved a lot of those groups, I loved The Doors, The Who, all that stuff, but yeah. I listen to a lot of the recent pop music and some rock music, and most of it’s derivative now, it’s unbelievable. I just hear things I’ve heard before, and it’s like what? Really? And, so, I’m not a big rap fan, um, it just, I don’t know why, maybe I’ve closed my mind off to it.

There’s been a lot of hip-hop that has cited your music. Dr. Dre for The Chronic 2001 used the Halloween theme.

[Laughs] Yeah, he did, he did. I don’t think he paid me for it, either. Yeah, I don’t think he did. I don’t know, maybe he did.

Well, you two are in California, you should meet up sometime. [Laughs]

Well yeah, my my. “Where’s my money?” I’m going to say to him.

Looking ahead, I know that the last time we talked, you had mentioned you were working on Lost Themes III

Well, yeah, we’ve been putting together some music. It isn’t anywhere near done, the group is kind of splitting up. Just temporarily!

My son’s going over to Japan. He’s a Japanophile, he loves Japan, so I think he has a couple girlfriends over there. I’m not sure, but he’s going over there to hang out and go to see some girl groups he loves over there — Japanese “idol groups”, he calls them. My godson, he and his wife are going to have a baby

So the group is not intently working on anything, but we’ll get back together and work on some more stuff, get some rest now after Halloween. We need to rest and keep out of sight. I don’t think we need to bug anybody now.

What if they knock on your door for the sequel that’s obviously happening?

We’ll be ready, we’ve all already talked about it, and if they don’t, uh, fuck ‘em. [Laughs]

Cody Carpenter, John Carpenter, and Daniel Davies, photo by Sophie Gransard

Cody Carpenter, John Carpenter, and Daniel Davies, photo by Sophie Gransard

I imagine you’re following everything that’s happening with the Warriors right now?

Oh, the Warriors, you know I love the Warriors. They had an incredible game last night. I’m so proud of them. They lost, but I’m proud of them. Two of their greatest players weren’t available, and they still, they just gave Toronto a run for their money. I’m ah, watching, kind of with a wary eye. I’m watching LeBron and the Lakers, but everywhere LeBron goes, the media follows him, it’s unbelievable!

Yeah they do. I’m a Miami fan, so when he came down there I had all these people hating my team, and I’m like, “Wait, what the hell, nobody cared about my team two months ago, what the hell is going on?”

Isn’t it odd?

Yeah, it’s weird, and he still just shows no signs of slowing down.

It’s incredible!

He’s an anomaly.

At his age, and he’s still just pulling it off! Amazing, and I think …  he was in the movie with whats-her-name?

Amy Schumer.

He was good! Damn, he could act if he wanted to.

LeBron James as Michael Myers

LeBron James as Michael Myers

Yeah, you have an icebreaker if you ever want to meet him. He recently just posted on Instagram that he was watching Halloween II with a mask on. He’s a huge horror fan.

Yeah, I saw that. I also think he’s involved with the reboot of Friday the 13th

Which is interesting. I wonder if he’ll be in it.

Yeah, he could be! I think he should be the killer — I think he should put on the hockey mask.

I have to imagine Hollywood is why he’d take the Lakers deal. It’s not like the team is that enticing to him right now.

No, no, not really, ut maybe we’ll make him be in the south end of the playoffs, I don’t know, I don’t really know.

Do you buy too much into the drama going on with Kevin Durant and Draymond Green?

I don’t like it. Steph Curry said they have a “brother” relationship, they bicker like brothers, I don’t know, I hope it’s okay. I hope they can play together.

People forget how much drama there was between like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, so who knows. In the meantime, thank you for everything. It’s been an incredible year and I can’t wait to see what you do next.

Thanks so much! Take care, happy holidays.

Halloween is currently available on Sacred Bones Records. The film itself has a digital release of December 28th and heads to your home on Blu-Ray with all sorts of special features on January 15th.