The long list of movies he's directed has struck fear into the hearts of millions - but it's John Carpenter's theme music that sends a chill up many a spine, too. With our Lee Cowan we head into the mind of a musical master of horror.
Even on a bright Southern California day, an otherwise cheerful house feels sinister -- thanks to that hauntingly familiar theme echoing from somewhere inside.
John Carpenter was just a few years out of USC's film school when he composed it to add melodic malevolence to his classic, "Halloween."
To hear an excerpt from John Carpenter's theme from "Halloween" click on the audio player below:
Theme from "Halloween"
Cowan said, "It's that sort of repetition and the audience is kind of waiting for something to change."
"It's putting you on your nerves,' said Carpenter. "Like, 'What is going on? Let's get this thing changing. Come on, now! Stop this repeating over and over and over again!'"
"'It's driving me crazy!'"
He seems benign enough at 69, but remember, Carpenter also wrote and directed the film, too -- unleashing Michael Myers to the world.
"I wanted the audience not to know whether he was human or supernatural," Carpenter said. "He had no character. He was blank. He was simply evil.
"He's like the wind, he's out there. He's gonna get you."
"And that's what's the most terrifying," said Cowan.
"Oh hell, yeah. Oh yeah. It's what you don't know about, what you can't see is out there."
Released almost 40 years ago, "Halloween" not only launched Jamie Lee Curtis to stardom; it made Carpenter the king of things that go bump in the night.
"I was just this kid with long hair trying to make a movie with a bunch of cute actresses, that's all," he said.
"But look what came out of it, though."
"Yeah, it's great. I was lucky. It was fun. God, it was fun."
The critics weren't enthusiastic at first, but world of mouth soon spread, and it became one of the most profitable independent films of its time.
"I went to New York, I remember this famous screening where I got to sit outside and listen to the audience scream at 'Halloween.' It was like a symphony. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard. They screamed at all the places I wanted them to scream. And I thought, 'Oh man, that's something!'"
There have been so many "Halloween" sequels it's hard to count. Carpenter said his original idea was to never make a sequel to the original. "No story left. There was nothing left to say. Boy, was I wrong!" he laughed.
Carpenter is long past being asked what scares him, but he always seemed to tap into what scared us -- whether it was death lurking in "The Fog," a possessed Plymouth in "Christine," or evil awakened in "Prince of Darkness."
And he composed the themes for all.
"I mean, for most people directing a film is enough work, let along scoring one on top of that," said Cowan.
"That's correct. Shows how stupid I am!" Carpenter laughed.
In fact, there are so many, he's put them on a new movie theme album called "Anthology" -- and he's about to head out on tour.
Despite it all, he has one more score yet to write -- the one to what he insists will be the LAST "Halloween" sequel. He's executive producing, and he's bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back as well.
He refused to give away anything ("No, I'm not going to give you anything! No, no no no!"), but finally offered this: "It's pretending the other sequels didn't happen."
It's hard to take a classic and make it better, but if anyone can, it's John Carpenter who, like his name implies, builds the scariest moments piece-by-piece, but lets our imagination drive the nail in the coffin.
To watch the original trailer from "Halloween" click on the video player below:
For more info:
- "Halloween" (1978) available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and via Digital Download
- "Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998" by John Carpenter (Sacred Bones), available on CD (Amazon), Vinyl (Amazon), Digital Download (Amazon, iTunes) and Streaming (Amazon, Apple Music and Spotify)
- John Carpenter "Anthology" tour dates
- Follow @TheHorrorMaster on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram