It's John Carpenter 69th birthday. You want to celebrate, but how? You can't fight off aliens with your cool sunglasses (yet) or prevent the devil from entering our dimension (yet) or even get into a battle with your possessed car (yet). So what's a Carpenter fan to do, man?
Here's my humble suggestion -- let's talk about the music he's made for some of his best movies. Because if there's one thing among many that makes John Carpenter stand out from the directorial crowd, it's his ability to compose his own score.
So here are seven Carpenter movies that are elevated the best by the score Carpenter helped to create.
In the Mouth of Madness (1995)
I just really like the metal theme song Carpenter and Jim Lang wrote for the opening and closing credits. In fact, there's a lot of guitar stuff happening, just a lot of riffing around that works better than you's expect it to for a Lovecraftian tale like In the Mouth of Madness. But there's also a lot of weird, noisy percussive stuff in there too to remind you that the void between reality and fiction is full of unspeakable tentacle beasts and scary kids.
Prince of Darkness (1987)
This is not a dream. Not a dream. You are receiving this broadcast to remind you that Prince of Darkness is one of the best John Carpenter movies that most people forget about. In fact, Prince of Darkness is the movie that made it on the list in place of They Live because, while I think the scores have some similar qualities, the one for Prince of Darkness is much more complex and engaging. What gives this crazy story of alien Jesus trying to protect us from interdimensional Satan actual stakes is the score. It's thumping and chorale and makes you feel like you'd better check the window for crazy homeless people made out of bugs.
Most people might focus on the contemporary soundtrack from Christine, but man, "Plymouth Fury" all on its own really makes this score from Carpenter and Alan Howarth a stand-out. I'm not sure anyone else could sonically sell an evil car better than John Carpenter.
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
A lot of Carpenter's scores and soundtracks can veer towards the homogenous. I definitely would not say that about Big Trouble in Little China. Wild synth, wild, bumping bass lines, and a wild theme song that could only have come out of the '80s. You may have big trouble, in little Chiiiiiiina, but that's what makes the score so good.
The Fog (1980)
You can feel it -- the spray of the ocean dying out as the silence of night drowns out the lapping of dark water against the shore. Carpenter's ominous score for The Fog has this ethereal electric hum that feels like the fog itself, carrying with it the mysterious danger of that ominous piano line. It really feels like a cursed ghost ship is about to arrive.
Escape From New York (1981)
Let me just give you a sample of the lyrics from one of the songs in Escape From New York:
"This is hell
This is fate
But now this is your world and it's great
Pop a cork
Buddy, everyone's coming to New York!"
Carpenter goes tongue-in-cheek Sinatra? I mean ... how can you go wrong? And the rest of Snake Plissken's journey feels subterranean, dangerous and thrilling. Definitely one of Carpenter's absolute best.
What is there to even say? The theme for Halloween alone is the single most famous piece of music ever composed in the history of horror movies. It represents something primal, something almost supernatural. Carpenter's Halloween score is the quintessential sound of the slasher. Its creeping dread and jump scares combined into one awful yet catchy rhythm that has stayed within the cultural zeitgeist for decades.