John Carpenter Was On A Tight Deadline To Create Halloween’s Signature Score


As far as horror movie scores are concerned, few are as iconic as John Carpenter’s synth-driven masterpiece for “Halloween.” The movie’s main theme — that ominous tinkling of the piano — is so powerful that not only does it bring to mind scenes of a menacing Michael Myers stalking Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), but it has also solidified itself as essential October listening whether you’re a fan of the “Halloween” franchise or not. 

The soundtrack is iconic not just for its killer sound, but also because of how it came to be. Carpenter himself created the music solely out of necessity — the film’s minuscule budget didn’t have much to spend on the soundtrack — by putting his own musical talents to good use. At the time, he wasn’t a bonafide composer by any means, but he managed to pull together an infectiously impressive score that frightens just as much as it gets stuck in your head. But perhaps what is most impressive about the entire music-making process for “Halloween” is that Carpenter created the film’s now-classic sound in an insanely short amount of time. 

A creepy soundtrack in record time

John Carpenter has always had a hand in making the music for his films, a practice which started with his directorial debut “Dark Star.” His scores are typically heavy on the synthesizer, and in the case of “Halloween,” it is exactly that tinny synth sound that helps create such a drastic overarching feeling of dread throughout the film. Because the original soundtrack for “Halloween” is so effective, it’s easy to assume it took a long time to pull together. However, in a conversation with Interview, Carpenter explains that the time it took to write the “Halloween” soundtrack was surprisingly small.  “I had three days to record the score for ‘Halloween,'” he says, going on to say that this extremely small amount of time was actually a vast improvement from the single day he had to write the music for his previous film, “Assault on Precinct 13.”

Three days is a crazy small amount of time to whip up one of the most memorable scores to any horror movie ever — “Halloween” is up there in terms of memorability with Goblin’s soundtrack for Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” and the two-note theme music from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” — but what’s even more impressive is that the “Halloween” theme itself was written in only a single hour. Carpenter tells Consequence of Sound that, “That theme was done in like an hour. We moved on,” alluding to the strict three-day time constraint that he and composer Dan Wyman had to compose in. Wyman and Carpenter were clearly struck with inspiration that allowed them to create one of the most recognizable scores in scary fast time.

Is it scary enough now?

The story for “Halloween” is simple. Michael Myers, an escaped madman who murdered his sister when he was only a child, stalks and kills a group of unsuspecting teenagers on Halloween night. Only Laurie Strode, the quintessential Final Girl, manages to escape death by Michael’s kitchen knife. For 1978, the film was revolutionary for its plot and helped pave the way for the modern-day slasher genre that horror fans have come to know and love. But at the time when Carpenter showed an un-scored version of the film to a film executive, the executive was not impressed. 

In an article for Dazed, Carpenter says, “Being told that [it wasn’t scary] wasn’t the greatest moment of my career,” however, this particular critique only inspired Carpenter to increase the film’s fear factor. In order to do that, Carpenter turned to the score. Anyone who’s ever watched the original “Halloween” knows that Carpenter’s soundtrack bolsters the film beautifully. It is persistent and menacing just like Michael Myers, and it doesn’t really leave you even after the film is over. The use of the synthesizer adds a hollow, haunting quality to the film as well that helps immerse viewers into the panic and terror of Laurie’s world. If the film wasn’t scary before the soundtrack, that definitely changed as soon as Carpenter sat down and scored it (a feat which he completed without scoring to image, by the way). 

Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone saying that “Halloween” isn’t scary, and even Carpenter seems a bit miffed by that one executive’s opinion. He tells Dazed, “Everyone has an opinion, you know? This was the opinion of this one executive.” However, once it became clear that “Halloween” was a true, scream-inducing masterpiece, she changed her tune. “She later admitted she was wrong, so it’s fine,” says Carpenter whose quick composing skills led to creating one of horror’s most unforgettable earworms of all time. 



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