HOR­ROR IS STILL A HIT

A be­mused John Car­pen­ter is still cre­at­ing and per­form­ing mu­sic based on his orig­i­nal 1970s Hal­loween sound­track, writes Dan Cairns

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music - John Car­pen­ter’s Stephen Romei’s

Some in­ter­view sub­jects have a will­ing­ness to spill that makes al­most every sen­tence a mem­o­rable quote. Most are in the mid­dle: can­dour of sorts, but care­fully con­trolled, with the oc­ca­sional, of­ten un­in­tended, in­dis­cre­tion. Catch some on the wrong day, though, and the ex­pe­ri­ence is like play­ing squash against a mat­tress. No amount of ca­jol­ing is go­ing to prise open the clam.

Past in­ter­views with Amer­i­can film di­rec­tor and com­poser John Car­pen­ter have tended to be mol­lus­cu­lar, and so it proves now.

Dur­ing a break in re­hearsals for the live shows he and his band are bring­ing to Bri­tain, and ahead of his lat­est film, the 70-year-old hor­ror master, notorious for his re­fusal to re­watch his films and his un­will­ing­ness to dwell on the past, is pos­i­tively gnomic.

Car­pen­ter is revered by movie buffs for his of­fer­ings — As­sault on Precinct 13, Hal­loween, The Fog, Es­cape from New York, The Thing among oth­ers — and for the scores he wrote for them. He has of­ten, how­ever un­in­ten­tion­ally, con­veyed a sense that he thinks he could have been treated bet­ter. Does he feel he has re­ceived his proper due?

“I can’t con­trol that, and I’m not go­ing to ob­sess about it. In the be­gin­ning, as a young film­maker, I did. I read the re­views, I was like: ‘Oh my God.’ But I’ve been shat on for al­most every movie I’ve made. Af­ter a while, I just thought: ‘This is out of my con­trol, so why should I worry about it?’ So I don’t.”

Car­pen­ter first per­formed his film mu­sic live two years ago, with a band that in­cludes his son and god­son. The gigs were a blast: his hugely in­flu­en­tial elec­tronic scores were played at ear­shat­ter­ing vol­ume to au­di­ences dressed up in slasher-film ap­parel. Forty years on, the idea that he is now per­form­ing Hal­loween’s glacial key­board mo­tif in packed venues seems to both please and baf­fle him.

His early scores were self-writ­ten and played pri­mar­ily on syn­the­sis­ers, for bud­getary rea­sons. “It was all about ne­ces­sity,” he says. “And it was an­other cre­ative voice for the movie I could pro­vide. But it’s hard to do. Af­ter you’ve di­rected a movie, you’re stuck in the edit­ing room. And you can start think­ing: ‘Now you want me to sit down and do the mu­sic?’ ”

Sucked into the Hol­ly­wood stu­dio sys­tem in the mid-1970s, af­ter cut­ting his teeth in in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing, then spat back out in the early 1990s, Car­pen­ter’s days as a mid to big­bud­get di­rec­tor are long gone (more’s the pity).

Does he have any in­volve­ment with Hol­ly­wood now?

“If I’m not work­ing, I don’t go visit a stu­dio and stand there and wave at peo­ple. Sure, I’ll go in and have a meet­ing, but, look, I don’t hang with a lot of ex­ec­u­tives. I’m in and out.”

As for an itch to get back be­hind the cam­era, Car­pen­ter ad­mits it’s “still there, but it’s de­creased a lot. I had to stop af­ter a while — the work was just too stress­ful and hard. I wanted to have a life.” He doesn’t miss the stu­dio sys­tem one bit, he says, and holds to the view that, even if the stu­dios’ mo­tives are as merce­nary as they ever were, things were marginally more be­nign when he was in his di­rec­to­rial prime.

“Look, they’ve al­ways been pirates. But some of them at least were smart pirates who loved the movie busi­ness. These days, they don’t care. For all that, Univer­sal have been great on this film. They’ve paid me re­ally well.”

The film Car­pen­ter refers to is a new ver­sion of Hal­loween di­rected by David Gor­don Green, for which Car­pen­ter wrote the mu­sic. It’s his first in­volve­ment in the fran­chise — which spawned nu­mer­ous dire se­quels — since 1982. A di­rect se­quel to events in the 1978 orig­i­nal, it stars that film’s pro­tag­o­nist, Jamie Lee Cur­tis, re­turn­ing to do bat­tle once more with Michael My­ers. The glacial mo­tif is fea­tured again, on a sound­track Car­pen­ter de­scribes as “re­fresh­ing” the mu­sic that, four decades on, is still hailed as one of cin­ema’s most iconic scores.

Min­i­mal­ism re­mains a key fea­ture of Car­pen­ter’s film mu­sic. Back when he started, this was as much about his limited play­ing skills as his aes­thetic pref­er­ence, though he is a firm be­liever in mu­sic as a com­ple­men­tary tool. And a fierce critic of the op­po­site, “where the com­poser tells you ex­actly what to feel. But some­times, es­pe­cially in hor­ror films, si­lence works best — it can make a scene much more fright­en­ing.”

Mu­sic dom­i­nates Car­pen­ter’s life now, in a way cin­ema used to. In the past three years, he has re­leased two al­bums of non-film mu­sic and an an­thol­ogy of his movie scores.

He seems per­fectly con­tent with this state of af­fairs, rem­i­nisc­ing fondly about his child­hood as the son of a mu­sic pro­fes­sor “who at­tempted to teach me the vi­o­lin, which [a rare chuckle] didn’t go very well”.

And with that he is gone. Not one to stand and wave at peo­ple. In and out. But that’s OK. He’s the master of hor­ror, not chat.

Hal­loween sound­track is out through EVP Record­ings un­der li­cence from Sa­cred Bones Records. Read on page 15. assess­ment of Hal­loween,

John Car­pen­ter re­sists the com­poser ‘telling you ex­actly what to feel’ in films

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