In 1998 Varese Sarabande released a “20th Anniversary Special Edition” version of John Carpenter’s score for Halloween that featured the original score tracks in chronological order. Carpenter’s minimal score for his own slasher horror film is rightly cited as being one of the most iconic scores in film scoring history. It’s a simple score, using piano, synth keyboards and a few electronic “stingers” at carefully chosen spots where the on-screen action required. The story goes that Carpenter decided to compose the score after his original idea to have no music in the film seemed to backfire – without music the film was just not that scary. Having just finished revisiting the original CD release of the score for a review, I was surprised by how different the two releases actually are. And, although the Special Edition release boasts an additional 20 minutes to its running time, this “20th Anniversary” version is a good example where more is not necessarily better.
First off, the good points. Heard here, the music is in chronological order (something that I usually like in a score presentation). Highlights here include “Halloween 1978”, “The Shape”, “Lock The Door” and “End Credits: Halloween Theme – Reprise”. The original release features cues that are edited together in a way that enhances the listening experience. The main result of this is that the tracks are relatively long and have a structure to them. Hearing the original tracks in film order in the “20th Anniversary” version changes the emphasis of the score. The tracks tend to be shorter and there is less of a reliance on the title theme – the last 14 minutes of the album (excluding the final “End Credits: Halloween Theme – Reprise”) does not feature this theme at all as the cat-and-mouse stalking of Jamie Lee Curtis’ character unfolds. Another plus point is the sound quality. The “20th Anniversary” version appears to have been remastered, as the music sounds excellent and crystal clear (thought here is the odd exception to this). The piano fills the sound space with no effort and with very little distortion and the synths all sound clear and sharp. Another bonus (and I had to go back and listen to the two versions just to make sure) is that the music is in its original form in the “20th Anniversary” version. In the original release Carpenter adds a percussive beat to the title theme whenever it was played. In the “20th Anniversary” version, the Halloween theme has been left alone: as a consequence this original version has a more stark feel to it. Both versions work equally well and it is nice to have them both to listen to.
There’s only really one bad point but it’s a big one: dialogue (and effects). This “20th Anniversary” version has a liberal amount of dialogue and effects spread throughout the album. It tends to make the album sound like a “Story of Halloween” album (similar to the “Story of Star Wars” album I used to enjoy as a child). Some tracks are just dialogue and effects (e.g., “The Boogie Man Is Coming” and “Damn You For Letting Him Go!”) and these can be easily programmed out of the playlist. But several of the tracks feature dialogue and effects over John Carpenter’s score. A minor relief is that their inclusion of the dialogue does tend to occur either as an addition at the beginning or end of a track, where the music is not as prominent in the film or at points where the thematic material can be heard in music-only tracks elsewhere. “Halloween 1963” is a particularly notable example of how obtrusive the dialogue can be. Of the 28 tracks featured on the “20th Anniversary” release, less than half of them are music-only (amounting to approximately 25 minutes). It’s also worth noting that “Unlock The Door” features significant sound distortion that makes the track practically unlistenable.
It goes without saying that, in both releases, Carpenter’s music shines. Hearing the score in chronological order (as far as I can tell) changes the dynamic of the score compared with the earlier album that is tailored for the best listening experience. But the overall presentation of the “20th Anniversary” Edition is, for me, poor. I have yet to listen to a score where the addition of dialogue and effects is the better listening experience when compared to the music-only equivalent. I would still recommend the Special Edition release but make sure you either know how to programme your CD player to remove the dialogue-containing tracks or you burn yourself a new CD with the music-only tracks – it’s worth it for the 25 minutes of remastered music. The Halloween “20th Anniversary Special Edition” album is available both as a CD and as a digital download.
Audio samples can be found HERE and then click on blue arrow next to running time for samples of entire album or individual tracks.
- Halloween Theme* (2:23)
- Halloween 1963* (3:13)
- The Evil Is Gone* (4:08)
- Halloween 1978 (2:50)
- The Boogie Man Is Coming** (0:40)
- The Shape (1:42)
- The Hedge (1:35)
- He Came Home* (2:40)
- Trick Or Treat* (0:38)
- The Haunted House (1:44)
- The Devil’s Eyes* (1:35)
- The Boogie Man Is Outside* (1:27)
- Damn You For Letting Him Go!** (1:34)
- Empty Street (0:33)
- See Anything You Like?* (2:22)
- Lock The Door (2:52)
- He’s Here (0:55)
- Lights Out (2:50)
- Cut It Out* (1:18)
- Tombstone* (1:09)
- The Shape Stalks Laurie (1:33)
- Turn Around (0:33)
- Unlock The Door (2:09)
- The Hanger (3:04)
- Call The Police** (0:26)
- Last Assault (1:33)
- Was It The Boogie Man?** (0:32)
- End Credits: Halloween Theme – Reprise (3:33)
- * – Includes dialogue and effects
- ** – Dialogue only
Running Time: 51:46
Varese Sarabande VSD 5970 (1998)