John Carpenter
Anthology: Movie Themes 1974-1998

(Sacred Bones)


“I’ll always be deeply, deeply in love with movies. It was my first love but I do not love the amount of stress and the amount of aggression it takes to make a movie. It just kills you. Music is just such a relief.” So John Carpenter told The Quietus in an interview last year in the lead-up to his first-ever live performances (a mature debutante at the age of 68). And even though this new release is an anthology of soundtracks that date back to those early flushes of his first artistic love, with all the customary stresses and aggressions which that period entailed, there’s a sense of freedom to this music which is palpable when consuming it as a single, coherent piece. Removed from Carpenter’s films, his magpie-like approach to multi-generic composition is exhilarating.

The darkness of his filmmaking is never far from the surface here, but it’s remarkable how different, how bold much of this anthology feels despite its being divorced from its intended context. ‘In The Mouth of Madness’ (I’ll use the film name from now, rather than writing “the theme from” every time) is full, rip-roaring shlock-metal, ‘Escape From New York’ bounds along in the manner that Blade Runner-era Vangelis might had he spent a little more time listening to Killing Joke, and ‘The Thing’, arguably the highlight of this collection, is a harrowing, bruised piece whose creepiness is almost tactile in its neck-breathing closeness.

Yet most of these selections hang together in a beautifully natural fashion, appropriately reflecting the work of a filmmaker whose versatility is matched only by his instant-recognisability. Other than a slight stumble during ‘Starman”s goofy, bawdy closing strains, this compilation flows as a cogent whole. A true auteur, Carpenter’s every move works perfectly within his wider catalogue, and this anthology is no exception.