Week 11: “The Music of John Carpenter & Ghosts of Mars”
I don’t know about you but I absolutely love the music of John Carpenter. Ever since seeing his film Halloween (1978) for the very first time his music was what nightmares come from. I remain not only a die-hard fan of the Halloween franchise but of Carpenter’s music as well. I would even go as far as to say that I love his music more than the movie.
I recently pulled three of Carpenter’s scores from off the shelf – In the Mouth of Madness (with Jim Lang), Prince of Darkness (with Alan Howarth), and Ghosts of Mars. It was In the Mouth of Madness that prompted me to pull out the scores but it was Ghosts of Mars that I had on constant repeat for three days. If you’ve never seen Ghosts of Mars then you’re probably not a die-hard horror fan and should go no further. If you are of the initiated then you know what I’m talking about when I say that this is one of Carpenter’s most satisfying scores that can exist on its own away from the movie. It’s not just a score but a rock ‘n roll nightmare as only Carpenter can do. Some of this feel and mood was in In the Mouth of Madness but not so much in Prince of Darkness (despite the film having “The” Alice Cooper in it). I remember seeing Ghosts of Mars on opening night in 2001 and was completely blown away. Not only was it a futuristic version on Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) but it also had Ice Cube, Pam Grier, and Natasha Henstridge (not to mention a who’s-who of up and coming actors like Clea DuVall and Jason Statham and some of Carpenter’s repertoire Joanna Cassidy, Robert Carradine, Peter Jason, and more). I absolutely loved this movie!
This isn’t saying much as I generally love every John Carpenter film. I do love some more than others. If there is one thing you can always depend on with a Carpenter film is that they are never dull and that they are always exciting and entertaining and never predictable. The same can be said of his scores. Sure Halloween is a classic but you cannot deny that he’s done better work with Escape from New York, Christine, and Big Trouble in Little China (all with Alan Howarth), to name a few.
Ghosts of Mars’ score holds a special place with me as it is one of the few that Carpenter did not collaborate with another composer so you get a sense that this is pure Carpenter at his finest. Carpenter’s collaborations with Howarth produced some of the best scores for horror films but hearing Carpenter “pure” is always a treat. It also happens that Assault on Precinct 13 is one of my favorite films of Carpenter’s and doing a futuristic remake was a brilliant idea (at the time). Unfortunately, the film doesn’t play as well now as it did when it was first released but that doesn’t mean the score doesn’t!
Like I said, Carpenter’s scores can exist outside the film better than most other film scores and I can testify that I’ve listened to all of his scores a hundred times more than I’ve seen the movies. The great thing about his scores is that they never feel like they’re only for a movie. Listen to his score for Vampires (1998) or They Live (1988) or The Fog (1980) and don’t tell me those aren’t some amazing scores.
When I watched Ghosts of Mars the other day it felt dated. It felt old school Carpenter (but then again there isn’t really a new school Carpenter). The film doesn’t hold up nearly as well as The Thing (1982), They Live, or Prince of Darkness, but remains one of his more fun films like Escape from L.A. (1996) or Body Bags (1993) or Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992). I guess it doesn’t really matter since his music is timeless like the feeling you get from watching Big Trouble in Little China and They Live. The music exists outside of time itself creating a flawless quality signature to his music.
Whether you’re a fan of Carpenter’s films or not his music and film scores are up there with Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Danny Elfman, Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Hermann, Harry Manfredini, Basil Poledouris, Tyler Bates, and countless others who have contributed to some of our favorite horror films over the decades. Even if Ghosts of Mars is no longer one of his greatest films Carpenter’s score for that film is one of his greatest as a composer.
Plus, I have a dream of hearing Carpenter and Prince do an album of just those two jamming together. Now that would be a dream come true!