John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween is a very effective, low-budget “slasher” horror film set in suburban America. Psychotic murderer Michael Myers escapes from a state mental institution 15 years after murdering his sister, and returns to his hometown where he continues on his killing spree. Babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is unaware of the peril she is about to be in as Myers’ focuses his attention on her. Although the plot is simple the film itself is expertly realised and regularly features in “Greatest Films…ever” lists (the film was selected in 2006 by the US National Film Registry as being a film that is “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”). Part of the film’s success can be put down to John Carpenter’s own iconic score for the film.
The centrepiece of Halloween is Carpenter’s memorable title theme. It is heard in full in the first cue “Halloween Theme – Main Title” and then again a number of tracks including “Shape Escapes” and “Loomis and Shape’s Car”. As with a lot of themes simple is best, but listening closer it’s surprising how much complexity there actually is contained within the theme. The basis of the theme is a repetitive ten-beat pattern (1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2) that acts as the propulsive bedrock on top of which a repeating 3-note motif (the actual theme?) is placed. These ostinato patterns set up an uneasy tension and variation in the theme is created with various pitch changes. The additional layering of ascending synth strings raises the tension even more. Carpenter’s Halloween theme appears to be associated with Michael Myers’ character (“The Shape”) giving him a emotionless, relentless quality that is important for a character whose face you cannot see. Carpenter injects surprises, shocks and horror not with the theme itself but with additional embellishments of the music such as the addition of synth stingers whenever something shocking happens on the screen (e.g., “Shape Escapes”) and by careful placement of when the theme begins and ends in the film. Read the rest of this entry »