Horror legend John Carpenter explains the trick to making a terrifying film score

Contributed by
Dec 29, 2014, 4:43 PM EST (Updated)

Legendary filmmaker John Carpenter has been cranking out spine-tingling horror films for decades, and it was his own homemade soundtracks that made a few of them so terrifying. So, what’s the trick?

The director was a recent guest on NPR, and he opened up about his work as a composer on iconic films such as Halloween and The Fog. It’s a fascinating interview for any cinema fan, especially considering his simple little tracks have been freaking us out for years (see: Halloween).

With his debut album, Lost Themesset to drop in February 2015, Carpenter chatted about why he started scoring his movies and what skill set he used to do it. Basically: He was too broke to hire a composer, so he used a few tricks his music-professor father taught him to work up some simple tunes, and the rest is history.

Check out an excerpt below:

“Well, the secret to composing and performing "Halloween" was my father. He was a music professor. He taught me 5-4 time when I was 13 on a pair of bongos of all things. And 5-4 time is bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. Bop, bop, bop. Bop, bop. So I simply sat at the piano and I rolled octaves, so that's how it came about. It was simple, repetitive and, like you said, causes tension in the audience. They're waiting for something to change…

Well, it started - as a defense - it started from low-budget student filmmaking when I was at USC. Nobody ever had any money to buy a score or higher a composer to write a score and an orchestra to perform it for your student films, so you had to beg, borrow and steal. So I provided some very simple scores for student films. And as I moved into feature filmmaking, I brought that along because once again, we didn't have any money, so I was cheap and I was fast.”

The full interview is also available to stream:

(Via NPR)

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