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 Themes, set 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: