Here’s to John Carpenter’s Most Horrifying Musical Moments


The only things more feverishly worshipped than John Carpenter’s horror movies and cult classics are the soundtracks that go along with them. Carpenter, who scores the majority of his flicks and has penned some of the most recognizable tunes ever to waft through a crowded theater, is big on partnering screaming heroines with stark, minimalist musical scrims, building tension to the point where you can cut his scenes with a knife. (Or stab them, more appropriately.) The iconic piano plinks of the Halloween theme, the dark synths and strident strings from Assault on Precinct 13, the metal edge of Ghosts of Mars — Carpenter spent as much time perfecting the background noise for his creepy, oozy, spattered moments as he did his plot points, and now he’s stepped away from the director’s chair and into the studio.

Carpenter’s first solo album, Lost Themes, drops February 3, and the record capitalizes on all of the sonic hallmarks we’ve come to expect from the champion of terror. The Brooklyn Academy of Music will be celebrating the work of Carpenter all month, showing several titles spanning the length of his career, for its John Carpenter: Master of Fear series, starting with Halloween February 6. (Carpenter was scheduled to sit down with NPR’s Brooke Gladstone at BAM to chat about all things Lost Themes, Michael Myers, and more, but the event has been canceled.)

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite Carpenter music moments, so just avoid saying “I’ll be right back!” when you run off to grab your headphones.

The Halloween Theme

The ultimate slasher-flick song, the Halloween theme manages to send a chill down your spine with little more than a frenzied flurry of piano keys. Approximately nine gajillion installments and remakes of the movie exist, and they’ve all recycled or reimagined Carpenter’s original composition.

The Assault on Precinct 13 Theme

What goes with muted shots of a rifle outfitted with a silencer? Synths, if you’re John Carpenter. Assault on Precinct 13 has an undercurrent of electronic beats and synth explorations running throughout the film, with the theme serving as one of Carpenter’s more recognizable contributions to cinema.

“Love Siege,” Ghosts of Mars

Despite the fact that Ice Cube is one of the top-billed stars in the Ghosts of Mars cast, the soundtrack didn’t tap the rapper for a few lines, but instead favored some insane metal shredding courtesy of Steve Vai, Buckethead, former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, and Anthrax. “Love Siege” involves nearly all of the names listed above, with Carpenter leading the heavy charge.

The Fog Theme

Carpenter’s penchants for piano and synths both come into play here, though the super-dramatic, Phantom of the Opera–worthy organ vibes at the beginning definitely help set the tone for the 1980 thriller.

Alice Cooper’s “Prince of Darkness”

OK, so Carpenter didn’t write this, but Alice Cooper’s single from Carpenter’s movie of the same name deserves an honorable mention here. Cooper had a featured role in the 1987 film, and a cut of the track can be heard blasting through a poor guy’s headphones shortly before Cooper kills him by stabbing him in the gut with a rusty bike part.