Score Card: Halloween

Autumn has fallen and it’s time once more to celebrate the primal, compulsive instinct of fear. Rainestorm finishes its horror trilogy and goes to the well one last time to highlight 31 days of spooky scares that season the eerie atmosphere of Halloween.

John Carpenter

Writer/Director/Composer/Icon John Carpenter

And speaking of that very holiday, I find it difficult not to give the number one spot over to that classic slasher film that birthed the infamous killer known as Michael Myers, and tonight is no exception. The rightly-celebrated Halloween theme is as iconic as Bernard Hermann’s Psycho or John Williams’s Jaws.

If Alfred Hitchcock can credit Hermann for 33% of the frightening effect of Psycho, Carpenter can credit himself for saving his movie with a terrifying score. Even divorced from the film, those quick, high piano notes overlayed with long, low tones (and that ever present staccato chirp underscoring the whole thing), instill a feeling of dread and foreboding.

Carpenter credits composers Hermann and Ennio Morricone (who would later score Carpenter’s The Thing) as his primary influences for Halloween, as they restricted their scores to a particular instrument.

John Carpenter, being a keyboard player, composed the score himself out of sheer necessity. By his own admission, it is a very basic composition utilizing very few instruments, mostly a synthesizer. It’s so basic, in fact, that there are YouTube videos devoted to teaching it.

As Carpenter notes, much of Halloween just isn’t scary without the music. Indeed, if you compare scenes with and without the score, the latter choice is quite bland and ineffective.

It isn’t just the main theme doing the heavy lifting, however. Some of the more laconic tracks, especially Laurie’s Theme, magnificently foreshadow what is to come.

Laurie’s Theme from the Halloween score

There are two places where Laurie’s Theme is used most effectively: when chaste babysitter Laurie Strode walks home from school at the beginning of the film and when she makes that final, dreadful journey across the street to check on her misbehaving friends. These are two of the best scenes in the film and they would be lifeless and quite boring without that score to carry a sense of apprehension out to the audience.

The appropriately titled, The Shape Lurks, used whenever Michael Myers was chasing down Laurie Strode with that agonizingly slow pace, is the simplest theme of all, a series of one and two bass notes undercut with a high rhythmic chime that amps up the viewer’s anxiety.

The Shape Lurks from the Halloween score

All in all, John Carpenter’s Halloween represents a rare confluence of elements and events that form not just one of the most frightening films in motion picture history, but a score that stands apart as its own piece of work and ranks among the very best horror scores of all time.